Thursday, April 17, 2014

The origins of some Scottish place names

Place Names like Ecclefechan, Auchterarder, and Tumuntoul both fascinate tourist s and bewilder locals simply because they do not know their origins. Scottish place names are a combination of Pict (Celtic language), Scots Gaelic, Norse, and English languages, with a few other influences thrown in.

(Prestwick for example comes from the Old English for, priest's farm: preost meaning "priest" and wic meaning "farm" or settlement. The town was originally an outlying farm of a religious house.

The Picts lived in the east of Northern Scotland before and after the Roman Conquest (6000BC and 800AD) and represent the purist indigenous group of Jock Tamson’s Bairns. Picts (‘painted ones’) was the name the Romans gave to a confederation of tribes living beyond the reach of their empire. (North of Stirling and Aberfoyle) . Despite their reputation for barbarism they were by all accounts a cultured group and left their mark in many place names in the east of Scotland (Caledonia). Picts lived in settlements and not in towns but they did have leaders or chieftans.

Pit (as in Pitlochry, Pitsligo, Pittenweem) refers to Pictish farms. To the Picts rivers were rather important and Aber (Aberdeen, Abernethy, Aberfeldy) referred to a place where two rivers met or a river met the sea.

The Irish-Scots (‘Scottias’ a Briton word meaning ‘raider or pirate’) were originally from Northern Ireland and eventually settled in the west of Scotland and Galloway around 500 AD. Argyll was known as Dal Riata and the Scots spoke Gaelic. After the defeat of the Southern Picts (9th Century) by Kenneth Mac Alpin the new kingdom was called Alba.

Gaelic-speaking Scots replaced Aber with Inver, (Gaelic for the mouth of a river). The custom was to end each place name with the name of the river. For example, Inverness (River Ness), Inverkeithing ('mouth of the Keithing/Ceitein). Inverurie (River Ury). Another Gaelic prefix in place names was Kin, meaning the head or top of something e.g. Kinross and Kinlochlevrn.

The Pict/Gael mixed forged the Scots and they lived in Scotia (Scotland). Often Picts and Scots words were mixed as in Kincardine (Pictish Carden meaning thicket). There are six different Kincardines in Scotland.

Ach- (or Auch-) is from the Gaelic word meaning “field”. Ach is generally a prefix used in the lowlands, whereas Auch is the highland variety. Auchterarder for example is ‘the upland field of the high stream”, Auchinleck a flat stone field.

Dun- (or Dum-) is the Gaelic word for “fort”, and was used mainly in fortified cities like Dundee and Dumbarton (fort of the Britons); Dunoon (River Fort). Drum means ridge such as Drumnadrochit(Ridge of the Bridge).

The further North you travel in Scotland the more Norse influence you may find. For example Kirk or church as in Kirkwall in Orkney. Sutherland (or Southland) was the southernmost province of a Norse kingdom. Colonsay Kolbein’s island, and Rothesay Roderick’s island .

The final phase of naming came with the spread of English as the main tongue of Scotland. Market towns were called "burghs" (pronounced 'burra"). Some had the word included in their name, like the English boroughs: Edinburgh, Musselburgh, and Jedburgh. The influence of the Anglo-Saxons came much later as in Haddington and Coldingham. Coatbridge cottage place bridge, and Motherwell our Lady’s Well.

Ecclefechan (small church 12 th century Welsh influences) and Tomintoul (Gaelic Hillock of the Barn).

Edinburgh (G) Thought to be derived from the older place name Eidyn (Celtic Common Brittonic language). Din Eidyn, or dun, a hillfort on a slope associated with the kingdom of the Gododdin.
Strathclyde Strath (G) river Clyde (P) cleanser
Glasgow (P) Green hollow

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