Keith Briggs

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Percy Hide Reaney 1890–1968

Reaney was one of the greatest scholars of English place-names and personal names of the mid-twentieth century, yet details of his life are little known. Only one short obituary was published, and his death was not noted in the Journal of the English Place-Name Society. He has no article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and no Wikipedia page. To partially correct this lack, some basic facts are collected here, all taken from the sources [O], [M], and [S] listed below. Bibliographic details are collected from various other sources.

Percy Hide Reaney was born in Sheffield on 11th April 1890 (the birth year of 1880 sometimes cited is incorrect), as the eldest of six children; he came from a Yorkshire family which was not well-off. His birth was registered in Ecclesall in the second quarter of 1890. He gives a few glimpses of his early school life in Sheffield in his 1967 book The origin of English surnames, when he discusses nicknamess for teachers on pages 219 and 220. He won a scholarship to the University of Sheffield and then became a schoolmaster in Penrith, llminster, Wallasey, and eventually in 1916 went to Sir George Monoux Grammar School in Walthamstow, as Classics Master. He was to remain at this school until his retirement in 1950. He married in 1917 and had three children (Kathleen 1922, Olive 1925, Norman 1930; his wife's maiden surname was George).

The obituary [O] stated that “he evidenced a degree of detachment to many, was reserved and retiring and seem [sic] to seek no escape in sport or social activities”. Memories of Reaney by Old Monovians from [M] are largely negative as to his character. He was described as stern, a bogeyman, lacking joie de vivre, and was nicknamed Kipperface. Apparently he conformed to a Molesworthian stereotype of an English public-school master, yet he must have been very competent in his knowledge of Latin and Old and Middle English. He did inspire in some students an interest in onomastics.

Reaney's earliest linguistic researches were on the dialect of Penrith, on which he published a book and a short paper in phonetic script. He began his serious place-name work with the publication in 1930 of a volume on the place-names of Walthamstow. This was to lead on to his two major EPNS volumes on the place-names of Essex and Cambridgeshire. All Reaney's books and papers were destroyed in the second world war, yet he was able to resume his researches after receiving copies of books from a group of ten Swedish scholars who had heard about his misfortune (details in the preface to A dictionary of British surnames). His 1960 work The origin of English place-names is still one of the best general introductions; it is mostly of of solid scholarship, is written in a lively style, and has well-chosen illustrative examples throughout. The only competitor is Cameron's English place-names (1961, new edition 1996). Reaney collected much material on Suffolk place-names, but did not complete any publications on this subject.

Reaney's later work was on English surnames, with a dictionary and a survey volume. The first edition of the dictionary had several reprintings and was revised in 1976 by R. M. Wilson. The third edition eventually became the basis for the current definitive reference work, the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (2016).

Reaney obtained a PhD in 1931 (London), a LittD in 1935 (Sheffield), and was made FSA and FRHistS. At various times he was a member of the councils of the English Place-Name Society, the Philological Society, and the Essex Archaeological Society, and was chairman of the Walthamstow Antiquarian Society. After his retirement, he lived in Tunbridge Wells. The University of Sheffield has an important archive of his papers, including much correspondence with other major scholars of his time.

  • [O]: J.B.B./A.J.H.: In Memoriam: P. H. Reaney, M.A., Ph.D., Litt.D., F.R.Hist.S., F.S.A., Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society: Volume 2 (third series), 162 (1968).
  • [M]; Memories of Old Monovians.
  • [S]: Catalogue of the Reaney archive at the University of Sheffield.

Books by Reaney

  • Percy H. Reaney, Records of Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Penrith, Kendal: Titus Wilson, 1915.
  • Percy H. Reaney, A grammar of the dialect of Penrith (Cumberland): descriptive and historical, with specimens and a glossary, Manchester: The University Press, Longmans, Green & Co. 1927.
  • P. H. Reaney, Essex, London: Knopf (1928). Reprinted 1970 with a new foreword by K. C. Newton, Wakefield: S. R. Publishers.
  • P. H. Reaney, The place-names of Walthamstow, Walthamstow: Walthamstow Antiquarian Society official publication no.24 (1930).
  • P. H. Reaney, The place-names of Essex, EPNS (1935).
  • G. C. Moore Smith (revised with additions by P. H. Reaney), The family of Withypoll: with special reference to the Manor of Christchurch, Ipswich, Walthamstow Antiquarian Society official publication no.34 (1936)
  • P. H. Reaney, The place-names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, EPNS (1943).
  • P. H. Reaney, A dictionary of British surnames (1st edition), London: Routledge and Paul (1958).
  • P. H. Reaney, The origin of English place-names, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul (1960).
  • P. H. Reaney & Marc Fitch (eds.), Feet of Fines for Essex, volume IV 1423–1546, Colchester: Essex Archæological Society (1964).
  • P. H. Reaney, The origin of English surnames, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul (1967).
  • P. H. Reaney, The Church of St Mary, Walthamstow, by the late P. H. Reaney; edited and with a final section by A. D. Law, London: Walthamstow Antiquarian Society (1969).
  • P. H. Reaney & R. M. Wilson, A dictionary of British surnames (2nd edition), London: Routledge and Kegan Paul (1976).
  • P. H. Reaney & R. M. Wilson, A dictionary of English surnames (3rd edition), Oxford: OUP (1997).

Articles by Reaney

Synopses by KB are added in [...] when the article title is uninformative.

  • P. H. Reaney, ʃɛfild daiəlɛkt, Le Maître Phonétique 28 (1913) 141.
  • P. H. Reaney, nɔːðən iŋgliʃ: pasədʒ from Thackeray'z ɛsi ɔn ʍaitbeːt, Le Maître Phonétique 28 (1913) 145.
  • Percy H. Reaney, daiəlɛkt əv piːrəθ (pɛnriθ, kʌmbələnd, Le Maître Phonétique 29 (1914) 74.
  • P. H. Reaney and H. B. Walker and wɔːke, iŋgliʃ ʃɔːt e, Le Maître Phonétique 29 (1914) 70–71.
  • Percy H. Reaney, Mockbeggar Hall, The Modern Language Review 19 (1924) 469–470. [Recurring house-name]
  • Percy H. Reaney, Essex Place-Names in "-ing", The Modern Language Review 19 (1924) 466–469 [Epping, Ing, Goddings, Stebbing, Terling, Roothing, Hedingham].
  • Percy H. Reaney, Unfractured forms in thirteenth-century Essex place-names, The Review of English Studies 4 (1928) 331–334 [Cases like Weald and Chadwell compared to Waud and Caldwell].
  • P. H. Reaney, Mayland (Essex), The Review of English Studies 17 (1941) 337 [Nayland, which has an attached remnant of an inflected article, is not comparable].
  • P. H. Reaney, Cirket, Notes & Queries 196 (1951) 173 [Surname from Southcott].
  • P. H. Reaney, Notes on Christian names, Notes & Queries 196 (1951) 199–200. [Antedatings of names in the Oxford Dictionary of Christian Names (2nd ed., 1949)]
  • P. H. Reaney, Incumbents of parishes, Notes & Queries 196 (1951) 437. [Suggestions for filling gaps in Newcourt, Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Parochiale Londinense 1708]
  • P. H. Reaney, Float-net, Notes & Queries 197 (1952) 124 [Fishing term].
  • P. H. Reaney, Pedigrees of villeins and freemen, Notes & Queries 197 (1952) 222–225 [Family connections indicated by naming patterns in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries].
  • P. H. Reaney, Michell or Mitchell, Notes & Queries 197 (1952) 525–526 [Given names and surnames].
  • P. H. Reaney, Three unrecorded O.E. personal names of a late type, The Modern Language Review 47 (1952) 374 [*Feldwine, *Pyttwine, Springwine].
  • P. H. Reaney, Notes on the survival of Old English personal names in Middle English, Studier i Modern Språkvetenskap 18 (1953) 84–112.
  • P. H. Reaney, Clovesho and Mildenhall, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archæology XXVI (1954) 220–224. [Demolishes the suggestion that Clovenho in Suffolk was the Clovesho of the Anglo-Saxon synods.]
  • P. H. Reaney, Reeves and greaves, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archæology XXVI (1954) 233 [No etymological connection between the terms].
  • P. H. Reaney, Roger Ascham, Margaret Rampston and Salisbury Hall, Notes & Queries 202 332–333 (1957) [Ownership history of Salisbury Hall in Walthamstow].
  • P. H. Reaney, Lafham, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archæology XXVIII (1958) 101 [Lafham near Hadleigh is not Lavenham].

Reviews by Reaney

  • Percy H. Reaney, Review of: The Place-Names of Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire by A. Mawer, F. M. Stenton, The Modern Language Review 23 (1928) 353–354.
  • Percy H. Reaney, Review of: The Early London Dialect by Barbara Alida Mackenzie, The Review of English Studies 5 (1929) 470–471.
  • Percy H. Reaney, Review of: The Place-Names of North Devonshire by Bertil Blomé, The Modern Language Review 25 (1930) 492–494.
  • Percy H. Reaney, Review of: Die Londoner Vulgürsprache in Thackerays Yellowplush Papers. Dargestellt auf historischer Grundlage by K. Steuerwald, The Review of English Studies 7 (1931) 487–489.
  • Percy H. Reaney, Review of: Die soziale Herkunft der neuzeitlichen Dialektliteratur Englands by Ernst Felix Hoeve, The Review of English Studies 7 (1931) 243–246.
  • Percy H. Reaney, Review of: A Book of London English, 1384–1425 by R. W. Chambers, Marjorie Daunt, The Review of English Studies 8 (1932) 463–465.
  • Percy H. Reaney, Review of: The Place-Names of Devon by J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer, F. M. Stenton, The Review of English Studies 9 (1933) 365–367.
  • P. H. Reaney, Review of: The Place-Names of Northamptonshire by J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer, F. M. Stenton; The Place-Names of Surrey by J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer, F. M. Stenton, Arthur Bonner, The Review of English Studies 11 (1935) 246–248.
  • P. H. Reaney, Review of: The Place-Names of Warwickshire by J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer, F. M. Stenton, F. T. S. Houghton, The Review of English Studies 14 (1938) 373–374.
  • P. H. Reaney, Review of: The Place-Names of the East Riding of Yorkshire and York by A. H. Smith, The Review of English Studies 16 (1940) 246–247.
  • P. H. Reaney, Review of: Non-Celtic Place-Names in Wales by B. G. Charles, The Review of English Studies 16 (1940) 374–375.
  • P. H. Reaney, Review of: Cockney Past and Present by William Matthews, The Review of English Studies 16 (1940) 491–494.
  • P. H. Reaney, Review of: The Place-Names of Wiltshire by J. E. B. Gover, Allen Mawer, F. M. Stenton, The Review of English Studies 17 (1941) 246–247.
  • P. H. Reaney, Review of: The English Hundred-Names. The South-Western Counties by O. S. Anderson; The English Hundred-Names. The South-Eastern Counties by O. S. Anderson, The Review of English Studies 20 (1944) 337–338.
  • P. H. Reaney, Review of: The Place-Names of Middlesex, apart from the City of London by J. E. B. Gover, Allen Mawer, F. M. Stenton, S. J. Madge, The Review of English Studies 21 (1945) 76–77.

Reviews of Reaney's works

  • George T. Flom, Review of: A Grammar of the Dialect of Penrith (Cumberland). Descriptive and Historical, with Specimens and a Glossary. by Percy H. Reaney, Modern Language Notes 43 (1928) 412–415.
  • J. E. Gover, Review of: The Place-Names of Walthamstow by P. H. Reaney, The Review of English Studies 8 (1932) 363–364.
  • E. H., Review of: The Place-Names of Essex by P. H. Reaney, The Geographical Journal 86 (1935) 552–553.
  • Ch. Bémont, Review of: The place-names of Essex by P. H. Reaney, Revue Historique 177 (1936) 453–455.
  • F. M. Powicke, Review of: The Place-Names of Surrey. The Place-Names of Essex. The Place-Names of Warwickshire (English Place-Name Society, volumes XI, XII, XIII.) by J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer, F. M. Stenton, P. H. Reaney, History 22 (1938) 348–350.
  • G. V. Smithers, Review of: The Place-Names of Essex by P. H. Reaney, The Review of English Studies 15 (1939) 119–121.
  • H. C. D., Review of: The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely by P. H. Reaney, The Geographical Journal 102 (1943) 35–37.
  • Simeon Potter, Review of: The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely by P. H. Reaney, The Modern Language Review 39 (1944) 65–67.
  • E. Miller, Review of: The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. by P. H. Reaney, The Economic History Review 14 (1944) 104.
  • David Douglas, Review of: Place-Names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. English Place-Name Society, vol. XIX by P. H. Reaney, History 29 (1944) 203.
  • Angus McIntosh, Review of: A Dictionary of British Surnames (1958) by P. H. Reaney, The English Historical Review 75 (1960) 325.
  • F. E. Harmer, Review of: The origin of English place-names by P. H. Reaney; English place-names by Kenneth Cameron, History 47 (1962) 102–103.
  • Simeon Potter, Review of: The Origin of English Place-Names by P. H. Reaney, The Review of English Studies 13 (1962) 62–64.
  • W. F. H. Nicolaisen, Review of: Origin of English Place-Names by P. H. Reaney, The English Historical Review 78 (1963) 148–149.
  • Roger Lass, Review of: The Origin of English Surnames by P. H. Reaney, Foundations of Language 9 (1973) 392–402.
  • John Insley, Review of: A Dictionary of English Surnames, third edition by P. H. Reaney, R. M. Wilson, Medium Ævum 62 (1993) 140–141.
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