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dwelling on what is now the Welsh border. Their
marks may still be recognised by the skilled observer
almost all over Scotland from Galloway northwards,
and very specially in such a Hebridean isle as Barra.
Curious to relate, if we want to find the one living
race which is a tolerably pure representative of these

1 The name Aryan was not actually applied to this great family of
languages till about 1846.



CELTIC NAMES. XIX

'Iberians' 1 of old, both in build and speech, we must
journey to the south shore of the Bay of Biscay and
see the Spanish Basques, the folk whose uncouth
speech, 'tis said, the Devil gave up learning in despair.
In sooth, the Basque tongue is but a poor specimen at
the best.

Naturally these old ' Iberians ' would give a name to
every prominent physical feature in the land ; but what
these names were we can hardly in any instance tell.
Their tongue is dead, drowned by the many later
comers in almost utter forgottenness. Written monu-
ments of any kind the British ' Iberian' has none.
However, Professor M'Kinnon thinks a pre-Celtic
element may still be dimly recognised in the modern
Gael's vocabulary ; and there are a very few Scottish
place-names which may with some confidence be
identified with Basque roots, e.g., URR, name of the
river which runs by Dalbeattic, which is almost
certainly the Basque ur, ' water,' and ISLA, a river in
Forfar and Banff, il- being very common in Basque
place-names. Besides these, Sir Herbert Maxwell
offers to us a handful of Galloway names of which
he can make nothing, and which he thinks may be
Iberian. This is only conjecture ; and, to take just one
of the names he mentions, Cutcloy may quite possibly
be Celtic for 'hut of stone' cf. W. cut, "a cot,' and G.
clack, cloich, ' a stone.' Professor Rhys has done his best
to discover for us some more of our aboriginal, or ' Iver-
nian ' names, as he prefers to call them. His method
(Rhind Lectures, 1890, No. 3) is, if he can find Scottish
names not readily explainable from Gaelic, which

/ 1

resemble the names of some princesses, heroes, or

1 So called from Iberia, an ancient name of Spain, though it is only
a careful guess to say that Britain's aborigines came from Spain.



XX PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

divinities, mentioned in the earliest Welsh and Irish
legends, then he conjectures that these Scottish place-
names must be pre-Celtic, because all three countries
have them in common. Such a method is precarious,
and in no given case has he reached demonstration.
See List, s.v. ATHOLE, BANFF, CLYDE, DUNFERMLINE,
EARN, ELGIN.

After these dim aborigines came the Celts, most
westerly band of the Aryans. Till about ten years ago
it was considered a settled commonplace of philology
that the Aryan's home was somewhere in Western Asia,
among the sources of the Oxus, to the north of Persia.
Here, again, all is changed. Max Mtiller almost alone
remains by the old flag; and now the suggestion,
perhaps first made to Europe by our own Dr Latham,
and developed by the acute erudition of Schrader,
Penka, and others, has been almost universally
adopted, 1 viz., that the Aryan's cradle and nursery
must have been among the wide, swampy plains of
Central Germany. The skull-men, with their measur-
ing tapes, have fairly routed the men who clave
to the dictionary alone. Among the first of the many
wandering sons to leave the old Aryan home was the
Celt, who went West with the sun, filling what is now
France and Belgium, and the lands fringing thereon.
It is thought he must first have entered Britain by way
of Essex and Kent ; when, we cannot say in years B.C.,
but it was at the end of the great Neolithic Age, for
he brought bronze tools and weapons with him. What
we have here to say about the Celt can lay no claim to
original research ; and now that reliable information is
so easily obtained, e.g., take Professor M'Kinnon on
Gaelic and Professor Rhys on Celts in the admirable

1 See Isaac Taylor, Origin of the Aryans, 1889, chap. i.



CELTIC NAMES. XXt

new edition of Ckambers's Encyclopcedia, we need say
but little. However, a few remarks are absolutely
necessary for the intelligent appreciation of our subject.
'Tis pleasant to be able to state that, after long dispute,
the main facts about the Celtic race and languages in
Britain are now practically agreed on by all scholars.
And though there must be a good deal of conjecture
still we cannot help it yet whatever is said about
Scottish Celtic place-names by Drs Skene and Reeves,
or Professor M'Kinnon, may be accepted as in all
probability correct ; moreover, though Joyce deals with
Irish names only, he gives us much sure and valuable
guiding.

It is likely the first disturbers of the swarthy 'Iberian'
were the Goidels, then, after a time, the stronger
Brythons. The physical characteristics of the 'Iberian'
and the newer race are somewhat difficult to dis-
tinguish ; but we all think we know the Celt when we
see him a big-boned, short-skulled man of fair com-
plexion, with red or tawny yellow hair, strong, often
somewhat fierce in look. The Goidels, or better Gadhels
Gadkel is just Gael, dk being quiescent- and the
Brythons same root, indeed same word, as Briton
these are the names by which the two great branches
of the Celtic race in Britain are now commonly known.
It is only in popular parlance that 'Gaelic' is confined
to the tongue of the Scottish Celt. The Gadhelic race
comprehends the Irishman, the Manxman, and even the
Cornishman. Perhaps we should explain, however,
that, like good patriots, the Scottish Dr Skene calls the
Cornish Gadhels, while Welsh Professor Rhys tends to
class them with the Brythons. From the few inscrip-
tions which have come down to us, and from the man}*
proper names recorded by Ca3sar, it is now considered



XX11 PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

certain that the most of the ancient Gauls spake a
Brythonic speech, practically identical with Welsh ;
points of contact with Gadhelic tongues are harder to
find, but they do exist too. In both Gaul and Britain
Brython was stronger than Gael, and largely supplanted
him all over England and Wales, and sou them Scotland
too, leaving to the Gael only Ireland and Man, and
remoter Scotland.

Thus, when we come to examine the Celtic place-
names of Scotland, we must expect to find two types
or groups of names. Yet the stronger Brython has
made but little permanent mark among us, and the
names indisputably his are few; north of the Grampians,
almost none. The Gael and the later-inflowing Saxon
very nearly killed him out. The Gael or Gadhel again
includes, in Scotland, both an invader and an invaded.
Before the Brython entered the whole land seems to have
been peopled by the wild, woad-stained Caledonians,
those Picti, 'painted men,' of whom so many early
historians have to tell. The name first occurs in
Ammianus Marcellinus, c. 378 A.D. Our earliest native
writers, Gildas, c. 550, and Nennius, of the 7th century,
thought them a foreign people, who first landed in
Orkney. Until the beginning of the 6th century the
northern two-thirds of Scotland was all Pictish, there
being both a northern and a southern kingdom of the
Picts. The boundary between the two was the massive
backbone of the Grampians and that ridge which is
now the eastern frontier of Argyle, Drumalban, ' ridge,
backbone of Alban,' the Celt's name for Scotland. The
Niduari who occupied Galloway were Picts too. In the
year 498 the true Scots, 1 the men of Ulster, came over
in their wicker boats, conquered all Argyle and the
1 'Scots' never meant anytking'lbut Ulstermen till the llth century.



CELTIC NAMES. XX111

Isles, south of Ardnamurchan, founded the kingdom of
Dalriad Scots, and imposed their speech there too.
Even as the Jute and Angle, whose prows were fast
turning towards England at this same time, imposed
their speech on all England, and have left very few
Brython names in any thoroughly English shire, so
those Scoto-Irish, in course of time, imposed their
tongue on all Scottish Celts, and largely, though not
so universally, stamped their impress on the nomencla-
ture too. But from the first the difference between
Erse and Pictish must have been small. Were there
no other evidence, the names in the Pictish region of
the mountains, lochs, and rivers, names which so rarely
change, would amply prove this.

A run through Joyce's Irish Names and Places will
soon convince any Scotsman that his names and the
Irishman's are largely alike ; e.g., all the Bals- or Ballys-,
all the Carricks-, so common in those parts of Scotland
nearest Ireland, as Carrickaboys, Carrickcow, Carrick-
glassen, &c., and all the Kils- and Knocks-, of which
there are scores in either land. The Pict had his own
distinctive marks, it is true. In the Postal Guide list
for Wales and for Ireland there is not a single Fetter-,
For-, or Pit-, all sure sign-manuals of the Pict. But to
argue, like Professor Rhys, from the pronunciation in
Aberdeenshire (once Pictish) of / for vj, fat for what,
&c., and on almost no other evidence, that Pictish was
not an Aryan speech at all, is surely precarious indeed. 1
But this branch of our subject can never be thoroughly
expiscated, owing to almost total lack of material.
Scottish education practically began, and almost wholly

1 But see too pp. xix, xx. Near Cullen is a cave called by the
natives ' Fal's mou,' i.e., whale's mouth. This the Ordnance Survey,
in their ignorance, have marked in the map as Falmouth !



XXIV PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

spread, through the Donegalman Columba and his far-
travelling monks, of whom the earliest were all Irish-
bred ; and down to the middle of the 16th century all
Gaelic put into writing in Scotland was practically
identical with Erse. The Book of the Dean of Lis-
more, which dates so late as 1512-40, is the first known
MS. of any consequence in Scottish Gaelic.

To draw the dividing line between names Brythonic
and names Gadhelic is a more needful matter. Here
is a problem, interesting but delicate, which has caused,
and perhaps still causes, not a little debate. Here two
of our greatest living authorities are not yet quite
agreed. Professor Rhys of Oxford has elaborated his
theory about the Picts being non-Aryans in his recent
Rhind Lectures. In his former work on Celtic Britain,
he was inclined to think the Picts Brythons, but said that
some of them in Lothian may possibly not have been
Celts at all, quoting in support of this such unCeltic
names as Inchkeith, Pencai^land, &c. But Dr Skene's
verdict is generally held the true one. In his early
work, The Highlanders of Scotland (1837), he tells us
Pictish was ' a sort of low Gaelic dialect partaking
largely of Welsh forms.' But when we quote another
sentence from his mature work, Celtic Scotland, i. 225,
edit. 1886, ' The generic terms do not show the existence
of a Cymric [Welsh] language in the districts occupied
by the Picts,' it will be seen that for Welsh in the
earlier sentence he would now write British. In Celtic
Scotland (i. 211) Dr Skene examines the list of Pictish
kings handed down to us, and shows that the earlier
part is made up of purely Irish or Gaelic names, all
belonging to the Northern Picts, but that the later
part shows more connection with the Southern kingdom,
and more largely partakes of British, especially Cornish,



CELTIC NAMES. XXV

forms. The southern kingdom stretched over Perth-
shire south to the Forth. This was the region inhabited
by the tribe whom the Romans called Damnoiiii, prob-
ably the same men as the Damnoiiii of Cornwall.
And probably this same Pictish race, in Ireland called
Ci-withniyh (descendants of Cruithne), the Firbolg of
Ireland's legendary history, once occupied all Ulster.

So much for the region north of the Forth. The
student will find it worth while to try and understand
how things lay in the south too. To begin with, in the
far south-west, or Galloway, as in neighbouring Ulster,
there were Picts, the Romans calling the tribe here
Niduari (see Nrrii). Then all Dumfries, Berwick, and
most of Roxburgh and Haddington were early tenanted
by the same great tribe which peopled most of Northern
England, the Briyantes, a Brythonic or Cymric race.
For, of course, all the old kingdom of Cumbria or
Strathclyde, stretching from Clyde to Ribble, was Bry-
thonic. Even after the northern part of this kingdom
was incorporated with Scotland, c 1 . 950, we find the
people called in 12th-century charters, '' Strathclwyd
Wealas ' or ' Walenses,' i.e., Welsh or foreigners. But
from the testimony of charters also of David I.'s reign
(1124-53) we learn that by his time the spoken Cymric
must have practically disappeared from Strathclyde.
Even by the days of Kenneth M'Alpine, first king
of the Scots, c. 850, the Brythons of Scotland had been
overrun and largely eclipsed by the Gaels. Next, the
Damnonii once spread from Twecddale away through
Lanark to Ayr, Renfrew, and Dumbarton, and south to
the Lowther Hills, and north, as we have seen, to the
Tay, perhaps a little further. In Tweeddale, probably
in West Lothian too, the tribe went by name of Gadeni.
Here the place-names have a strong Cornish cast, whilst

B



XX vi PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

both Gaelic and Pictish forms are scanty. The typical
Gaelic auchen-, bed-, craigen-, and mack-, and the
Pictish auchter-, for-, and pit-, are here few and far
between. 1 Wherever we find the letter / and the
familiar auchter- and pit-, there the Gael or Pict must
have been. They are never found in Wales. But, wher-
ever we meet the letter p, there probably the Brython
pitched his camp. 2 That letter seldom occurs in true
Gaelic; it is chiefly found in a few imported words
like pibroch, from piobair, which is just our English
' piper.' At a very early stage p vanished from true
Gaelic ; witness that word which must be one of the
oldest in every tongue, athair, the L. pater, Eng. father ;
also ore, a pig or sea-pig, i.e., whale, the L. porcusjound in
ORKNEY, which is, curiously enough, perhaps the earliest
Scottish name on record. Strabo (bk. ii.), who preserves
for us the narrative of the great voyager Pytheas, c.
330 B.C., gives it in the form 'Op/ca? ; even then the p
was gone. A modern Gael, even when he sees p printed
before him, will often read it b iompacliadh (conver-
sion) he will pronounce imbacha, &c. ; thus, too, he will
make poll, a pool, into bol, as in BOLESKIN, &c. But,
curiously enough, in some quarters the reverse process
is found, and that even where Brythonic influence is
hardly possible, e.g., in the Hebrides the Norse bol not
seldom becomes pol, see p. Ixv ; BONSKIED, Pitlochry,
is pronounced by some natives Pownsktitch ; a. 1300 we
find ' Palgoueny ' as the spelling of BALGONIE ; and
c. 1320, Prenbowgal for BARNBOGLE.

As p is not found in pure Gaelic, all the pens or
pins must be Brythonic, the Gaelic being ben. There
are only two pens north of Stirling PENDRICH, just

1 Cf. Professor Veitch, History of the Scottish Border, 1878, chap. i.
3 Pit- itself is an almost unique exception.



CELTIC XAMES. XXVli

beyond the Forth, and PENNAN, near Fraserburgh ; but
the latter's origin is unknown. A common prefix, never
found in pure Gaelic or in Irish, is pit-, pitte-, petti-,
first met with in the Pictish Gaelic entries of the Book
of Deer ; e.g., ' pette mac Garnait,' homestead of Gar-
nait's son, &c. Neither Brython nor Gael ever use pit- ;
e.g., Gaels call PITLOCHRY Bailechlochre, and this is the
general rule, the G. baile, ' house, hamlet,' being the
equivalent of the Pictish pit-. But names in tra- or tre-
are pure Brythonic ; for this is the W. tref, Cornish, tre,
also Ir. treb, house, home.

A fierce battle has been waged over the question, ' Is
the common prefix aber-, " at the mouth" or " confluence
of," a purely Brythonic form or no ? ' Welshmen have
always been eager to assert that, 'aber- is Welsh, pure
and simple, the Gael always uses inver-.' The ber
or ver is the same root in both, the scholastic spellings
being abhir and inbhir, and this bhir is evidently cog-
nate with the Eng. bear, ~L.ferre, Gk. (j>epeiv. The oldest
extant spelling is abhor (see ABERDOUR); but in old
charters we often find the Brythonic p for b (see ABER-
ARGIE, ABERDEEN, &c.). The a in aber- is thought to be
ath, pron. ah, a ford ; for aber- is sometimes found in a
name where there is no river-junction or mouth, but
where there is or was a ford, e.g., ABERNETHY, near Perth,
and ARBIRLOT, the old Aberelloch. Down the river
Nethy from Abernethy we find Invernethy, where Nethy
and Earn actually meet. This much is certain about
aber- and inver-, that in Wales there are scores of abers-,
but of invers- not a solitary one. But if aber- be a sure
sign of the Brython, which is not quite certain, we may
from it alone gain a pretty fair idea how far he ever
spread himself in Scotland. He must have travelled
all along the east coast from St Abb's to Inverness



XXV111 PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

witness Aberlady, Aberdour (Fife), Abernyte, Aberdeen,
and Aberdour (Aberdeen). He must also have travelled
inland from the east coast in every direction for a con-
siderable distance; see Aberfoyle, Aberfeldy, Abergeldie
(Braemar), Aberchirder (Banff) ; and as far west as
Aberchalder on the Caledonian Canal. But on the
west coast, and north of Inverness, aber- barely exists.
There is none in Argyle, land of the Dalriad Scots;
none in Selkirk, Peebles, Lanark, Stirling, Dumbarton,
Renfrew, Ayr, land of the Damnonii ; none in Galloway,
land of the Picts; and none in Cornwall, which is
Damnonian too. Speaking generally, if aber- is to be
our clue, the Brython hardly touched the land of the
northern Picts at all. Then, in Aberdeen, Kincardine,
Forfar, Perth, and Fife, land of the southern Picts,
there are said to be seventy-eight invers- and only
twenty-four abers-, which proportion probably indicates
that here the Brythons were the later comers, because
no place-names readily change. In Forfar the abliir
gets hardened into ar, as in AHBROATH, the famous old
Aberbro thick, and ARBUTHNOT, at first spelt Abir-
buthenoth; just as fotkir, later fetter, becomes in this
region hardened into for. Thus we have FETTER-
ANGUS and FETTERNEAR in Aberdeen, but FORDOUN
and FoRTEVIOT, the old Fothuirtabaicht, further south.
Dr Skene would like to lay it down, as a rule, that ar
and for belong to the southern, aber and fetter to the
northern part of this north-east corner of Scotland,
making the Mounth or Grampians the boundary. But
this rule has many exceptions ; e.g., FORGLEN and
FORDYCE stand north of the line, and FETTERCAIRN
and FETTERESSO south of it. But, to return from this
digression, and to complete the discussion of dbcr-, it
may be remarked that, on the whole west coast, the soli-



CELTIC NAMES. XXIX

tary instance is one which would not easily be guessed
under its cheating mask, viz., APPLECROSS in West Ross,
which is a modification of Abercrosan or ' Apurcrossan,'
the Crosan being a little burn there. The initial a docs,
very rarely, get rubbed off, and BERVIE may be, though
certainly BERWICK is not, a case in point.

To sum up then in the study of the Celtic names the
aid of the Welsh dictionary will occasionally be required
for the district south of the Grampians, particularly
Tweeddale ; but by far the largest number of our place-
names are to be interpreted from the dictionary, and by
the laws, especially the pronouncing laws, of Scottish
Gaelic. True, more names may have had a Brythonic
origin than at first sight appear ; for Zeuss in his great
GmmmatLca Ccltica(18o3) gives it as his opinion, that
the divergence between Gaelic, in its broadest sense,
and Welsh began only a few centuries B.C., and in the
days of Julius Ca\sar must have been very small.

By far the best known form of Gaelic is Irish ; and
Scottish Gaelic is as much a variety or dialect of Irish
as Broad Scots is of Anglic or Old English being
nearer Connaught Irish than any other. Perhaps the
most distinctive note of the Scottish tongue is, that the
primary accent is always on the first syllable. In some
grammatic peculiarities Scottish Gaelic is more like
Manx than Irish, which means, in other words, that
Gaelic and Manx have ceased to develop at a further
or later stage of disintegration than Irish ; and to this
day a Manxman can understand a Gael better than a
man from Erin's isle.

Already have we heard that scores of Scottish names
are identical with names in Ireland. But let it be
clearly understood that, more than this, the assistance
in our study to be gained from names in Ireland is



XXX PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

immense, assistance splendidly systematised and clari-
fied for us by Dr Joyce in his two handy volumes.
The aid from Ireland is all the more precious to the
scientific student, because we possess copious remains
of early Irish literature, annals, historic poems, and the
like, which give us the early forms of many of the Irish
names. Abbot Tighernac, c. 1080, and the Annals of
Ulster have quite a number of Scottish names too ; and
sometimes we get forms as old as the 5th or 6th cen-
tury A.D. From these early, uncorrupted forms scholars
can usually tell with certainty the meanings of the
names. Irish names are much easier to interpret
because they have never, to the same extent, been so
mangled and corrupted as in Scotland, either by Dane
or Englishman. Again, the Scottish student is not
nearly so fortunate as his Irish neighbour, because
early Gaelic literature is sadly wanting. Not that
early Scotsmen could not handle a pen, and handle
it well ; but their writings have not been allowed to
survive. For this we have to thank the kindly atten-
tions of our invaders ; not so much the armies of
England's two Edwards', though they did their share
but rather the rough hands of pagan Vikings from
Norroway, who hated an}'thing which seemed to smell
of the mass, and who consigned hundreds of precious
Scottish MSS. to the sea or to the flames. These same
rude pirates have made early Celtic MSS. very scarce
all over Britain. This country contains only about six
MSS. which date before 1000 A.D. ; but the Celtic
clergy fled from their native cells to the Continent,
bearing their books with them ; and the libraries of

1 Cf. Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, 1881, vol. i. pref.
pp. vi. sq., where the gross neglect of our own public record -keepers
in early days is much commented on, and Edward I. vindicated.



CELTIC NAMES. XXXI

Central and South-West Europe have now rich store of
early Celtic MSS., not less than 200 in all. However,
the subjects of these continental MSS. make them to
be seldom of much service for place-names. Nor do
the many later bundles of Scottish Gaelic MSS. in the
Edinburgh Advocates' Library and elsewhere yield us
much fruit either. Of annals or topographic works
they are said to contain hardly any, though there are
rare exceptions, like the Islay charter of 1408.

Of tsvo other precious survivals every student of
Scottish history has at least heard :

(1) The Book of Deer in Aberdeenshire ; for the
touching origin of the name DEER, or ' tear,' see the
List. This manuscript contains the gospel of John,
and parts of the three other gospels, in Latin; and
then, what is important for us, in the blank spaces of
the MS. parchment was costly in those days there
are written in Scottish (or Pictish) Gaelic, grants of land
and privileges to the church of Deer, containing several
place-names. The MS. is all written in one hand, which
some say is of the Oth century, though others make it
as late as the reign of David I., c. 1150.

(2) The Pictish Chronicle of the monks of Brechin,
a brief work writ in Latin, but clearly a translation
from the Gaelic, and containing a good many examples
of place-names, which will all or very nearly all be
found embodied in our List. It breaks off at the
year 966, and its date cannot be much later. Besides,
we have several instructive name-forms in Abbot
Adamnans well-known life of his great predecessor,
Columba, of which one MS. dates from 710 A.D. Then,
from the days of King Alexander I., 'the Fierce,'
onwards, we have the copious Abbey Chartularies,
whose stores of names of hill and dale, of town and



XXX11 PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

hamlet, have largely been made available by the zeal
of the Bannatyne Club. Specially have we to thank
the huge industry of Cosmo Innes and Brichan in the
Origines Parocldalcs, which, alas ! cover only half of
Scotland (see Preface). The famous Inquisitio de



Online LibraryJames B. (James Brown) JohnstonPlace-names of Scotland → online text (page 2 of 26)