the rich poetry of Scottish place names, the layers of ancient
people and their languages stand out clearly. It is no exaggeration
to speak of poetry. In the poem " Canedolia, " by
modern Glaswegian poet Edwin Morgan, an imaginary stranger asks
about Scotland, and receives only place names in reply. "
How far?" asks the stranger, and the answer comes:
largo to lunga from joppa to skibo from ratho to shona from
ulva to minto from tinto to tolsta from soutra to marsco from
braco to barra from alva to stobo from fogo to fada from gigha
to gogo from kelso to stroma from hirta to spango.
And what do you do in those places ? " asks the stranger.
foindle and fungle, we bonkle and meigle and maxpoffle. we scotstarvit,
armit, wormit, and even whifflet. we play at crosstobs, leuchars,
gorbals, and finfan. we scavaig, and there's aye a bit of tilquhilly.
if it's wet, treshnish and mishnish.
the above are actual places, and the poem goes on to name such
evocative points on the map as Wamphray, Blinkbonny, Scrishven
ingredients in the modern Scottish mix of peoples are diverse.
Working back through time immigrants include Asians from former
British colonies; Poles and Italians fleeing poverty or oppression
in Europe; much earlier, French-speaking Normans; Vikings from
Scandinavia; Anglo-Saxons--the original English; Scots from
Ireland; and Picts who fought the Romans in the first century
Picts left their mark in many place names, particularly in the
east of the country. Names beginning with Pit (Pitlochry, Pitsligo,
Pittenweem) referred to Pictish farms. Those starting with Aber
(Aberdeen, Abernethy, Aberfeldy) spoke of the place where two
rivers met or a river met the sea.
names speak of the claims staked by the Gaelic-speaking Scots.
They replaced Aber with Inver, giving us Inverness, Inverkeithing
and Inverurie, and introduced the prefix Kin, meaning the head
or top of something--hence Kinross and Kinlochewe. The place
name Kincardine is testimony to the union of Picts and Scots:
The Gaelic Kin is joined to the Pictish Carden, meaning thicket.
There are six different Kincardines in Scotland.
the Anglo-Saxons christened homesteads, which grew into towns
like Haddington and Coldingham, while the Norsemen gave names
to a host of settlements, particularly in the far north. The
extreme north of the Scottish mainland is given the apparently
upside-down name Sutherland (Southland) because it was the southernmost
province of a Norse kingdom. Some of these Scandinavian names
repeat themselves, changing slightly from place to place as
they echo the far corners of the vanished Viking empire: Tinwald
near Dumfries, Dingwall on the Cromarty Firth, Tingwall (one
each in Orkney and Shetland) and Thingvellir in Iceland are
all based on the same Norse root name, meaning an open-air parliament.
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, Jedburgh.
Meanwhile, aside from human settlements, the main features of
the landscape-- mountains, glens, rivers--kept and still keep
their Gaelic names. These two languages, English and Gaelic,
are what native Scots speak today.
George F. The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origins, Meanings,
and History. NewYork: Publishing Center for Cultural Resources,1946.
Jamieson, John. "A dissertation on the origin of the Scottish
language. In Jamieson's dictionary of the Scottish language.
Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1867.
Kirk, William L., Jr. "From Kirkhaugh to Kirk." In
The Augustan Society
Omnibus Book 13,ed. Sir Rodney Hartwell. Torrance: Directors
of the Society, 134-136.Maxwell, Sir Herbert.
A history of Dumfries and Galloway. Edinburgh: William Blackwood
and Sons, 1900
."Scottish Naming Customs." Dumfries & Galloway
Family History Soci Newsletter. Nov 1988, p. 10.st.
List of the Latin
Names of Places in Great Britain and Ireland.
to Scottish Culture