Dr Sheila Young

Dr Sheila Young

Honorary Research Assistant

Dr Sheila Young
Dr Sheila Young

Contact Details



I graduated from Aberdeen University in 1978 with an MA (Ord), studying subjects as diverse as French, Religious Studies, Scottish History and Zoology! I then did a Post-graduate Diploma in Careers Guidance at Napier University, Edinburgh. I spent the next 16 years living and working in The Netherlands, Australia, Thailand and New Zealand, where I taught English as a Second Language. In 2000 I returned to the Aberdeen area to live and decided to return to university to do a degree in Scottish Cultural Studies. At the same time I started up my own business, Compass Educational Services Ltd., a small consultancy offering inter-cultural training. I worked and studied concurrently and graduated in 2009 with a 1st class honours degree in Scottish Cultural Studies. After having a well deserved rest for a year, I joined the Elphinstone Institute's MLitt programme and then began my Phd research into hen parties, which I completed in 2016.

 A considerable part of my degree was in Scottish Archaeology and when I'm not thinking about my PhD topic, Pre-wedding Rituals for Women in the North of Scotland, I am usually to be found down a trench.



Research Interests

Oral History; Hen Parties; Blackenings; Place Names; Inter-Cultural Communication; Christmas traditions       


Current Research

Prenuptial Rituals in Scotland: Blackening the Bride and Decorating the Hen was published in 2019 and was based on my doctoral research into pre-wedding rituals for women in Northern Scotland. Pre-wedding rituals are surely some of the most distinctive features of Scottish cycle of life traditions, so my book will examine the form, meaning and function of these customs as they are practised today, their local and regional variations, as well as how they have evolved and how they are communicated and perpetuated. I will focus particularly on the contemporary hen party and the blackening. 

The hen party and the blackening give women the opportunity to engage in collective activities which license otherwise taboo behaviour. What impact does this have on group and individual identity, on attitudes towards the marriage and on society’s attitudes towards women? My book  goes some way towards answering these questions and helps us gain a better understanding of the social function of the traditions we see around us. Through examining the small we discover the big.  Pre-wedding rituals have much to tell us about women as they approach marriage in the twenty-first century.

As part of my PhD research into hen parties I created a typology of hen party games and activities.

I am currently researching how 'new Christmas traditions' are created. When two adults come together and create their own unique form of the Christmas festival, what are the processes that take place to achieve that? How is the 'new Christmas festival' neogiated? Are the stockings left on the end of the bed, or are they downstairs hanging over the fireplace? Do the festivities follow the same routine to the letter each year, or is there perhaps a new theme every year? Turkey and all the trimmings or beef? Who decides, and how is that decision made? Does it matter, and if so, why? 


Teaching Responsibilities

I currently teach inter-cultural communication, and dress and adornment to our Mlitt students. 

Further Info

Conference Papers


"Stick that in your f****** PhD!": The Dilemma of how to Respond to Aggressive Behaviour during Fieldwork, 34th Nordic Ethnology and Folklore Conference, University of Uppsala, Sweden, June 12-15, 2018.

'Starlight and Storm: The Route Names of Lochnagar', Memorial Symposium, Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, July 24-27, 2017.

'If These Walls Could Talk': Transient Dwelling Spaces as Pop-Up Theatres, SIEF, Gottingen, Germany, March 2017.

 'The Route Names of Lochnagar', Bill Nicolaisen Memorial Conference, The Scottish Place-Name Society, Edinburgh, November 2016.

'"Networks of Love": From Community to Competition in Women's Prenuptial Rituals in Northern Scotland', American Folklore Society Conference, October 2016.

'Over Hill and Under Hill: The Contrasting Role of the Journey in Two Pre-wedding Rituals for Women in Northern Scotland', FEECA, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland, July 1-3, 2016.

'The Role of Costuming in Two Pre-wedding Rituals for Women in Northern Scotland', 33rd Nordic Ethnology and Folklore Conference, Copenhagen, 2015. 

'Blackening the Bride and Decorating the Hen: A Cultural Analysis of Pre-Wedding Practices', Folklore Society Conference, University of Wales, Cardiff, 2013.

‘The Eternal Ascent: An Exploratory Treatise of Mountain Route Names’, Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland, University of Kent, Canterbury,  April 15-18, 2011.




Prenuptials Rituals in Scotland: Blackening the Bride and Decorating the Hen (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books)

'The Role of Costuming in Two Pre-wedding Rituals for women in Northern Scotland', Cultural Analysis, 15 (2) (2017), 29-57.

'The Evolution of the Contemporary Blackening', Folklore, 128 (3) (2017), 244-270.

'The Eternal Ascent: An Exploratory Treatise on Mountain Route Names', The Journal of Scottish Name Studies,  10 (2016), 137-205.

'A filthy, dirty and abominable practice which should be put a stop to', Heirskip, Buchan Heritage Society Magazine, April 2016. 

'Medieval Torture, or Just a Bit of Fun?' Leopard Magazine, June 2016.

‘Oil and Gas Field Names in the Central and Northern Sectors of the North Sea: their provenance, cultural influence, longevity and onshore migration’, Nomina,  32 (2009), 75-112.

‘Lochnagar Route Names’,  Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, No. 201 (2010), 76-85.



2018 Co-winner of The Ratcliff Prize 2018  for an important contribution by an individual for the study of folklore and folklife. Awarded for her doctoral thesis 'The Hen Party: A Study of the Form, Meaning and Function of a Prenuptial Ritual for Women.'

2008 Essay Prize. Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland.

‘Oil and Gas Field Names in the Central and Northern Sectors of the North Sea: their provenance, cultural influence, longevity and onshore migration’.