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Durham First

What's in a Name?

What 'Dunelm' means for each graduate and for our Alumni Community

Tim McInnis

'Dun' is Old English for 'hill', and 'holme' Old Norse for 'island'. Hill-Island, or Dun Holm was the ancient name for Durham which, in medieval times, was Latinised to 'Dunelm'. But the city was much more than a mere point of interest on the map. When kings to the south and north referred to Dunelm, they respected it as a quasi-sovereign state within a state.


Dunelm minted its own money, raised armies, convened parliaments, administered its own laws, and regulated markets. So powerful was Dunelm that at the turn of the 14th century, the Prince Bishop of Dunelm was unofficially regarded as England's king to the north. Of course, Dunelm represented much more than this. Building upon the intellectual foundations laid down by the Venerable Bede, Dunelm thrived as an international centre of scholarship. Owing to the shrine of St Cuthbert in the Cathedral (architecturally far ahead of its time), Dunelm was a place of spiritual devotion, communal worship, and healing. The hub of all this political, military, religious, academic, legal, and economic activity was Palace Green.

The historic attributes associated with Dunelm are those of strength, organisation, independence, intellectual curiosity, innovation, reflection, action, community life, and achievement. What a legacy of meaning for all those who are Dunelmensis - Latin for 'of, belonging to, or from Dunelm.' This legacy extends to all Durham alumni who have been fortunate to come under its influence.

It is a long-standing academic convention that those who graduate with Durham degrees claim the Latin name Dunelm as an important credential on business cards, curriculum vitae, and biographies. This is similar to graduates of Oxford, whowrite Oxon, and those of Cambridge, who use Cantab.

Durham alumni find the name 'Dunelm' so replete with meaning that they will be glad to learn the Development and Alumni Relations Office is more intent than ever to use the name comprehensively. For example, the alumni online community is; every alumnus/a is offered a Dunelm email forwarding address; and, most importantly, our worldwide alumni community will now be badged as 'Dunelm'.

Past names like DUSADA (Durham University Society - Association of Durham Alumni) and NAFUD (North American Foundation for the University of Durham) will in future become, respectively, Dunelm Society UK and Dunelm USA. All alumni who have banded together around the globe will be formalised into country chapters, asin Dunelm China, Dunelm Saudi Arabia, Dunelm Australia, and Dunelm Argentina and so on.

Out of all proportion to its size, the little hill-island once known as Dunelm influenced the whole of the United Kingdom. Today, through our students, scholars, and alumni, we are similarly influencing the whole of the world. Our Dunelm heritage - and all that it connotes - gives us pride in our identity and purpose. My Office shall always remember and honour the name 'Dunelm.'