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Terris Ecclesice Glasguensis, made by Prince David,
afterwards David I., and now printed in the Chartulary
of Glasgow, is perhaps the oldest authentic example of
such documents. The Chartularies of Glasgow, Pais-
ley, St Andrews, Holyrood, and Melrose are perhaps
those most deserving of note. But when, as is often
the case, the chartularies have been written by scribes
wholly ignorant of Gaelic, their phonetic attempts at
the spelling of a place-name often sadly disfigure the
real word (see AUCHTERMUCHTY, &c.). Sometimes they
get a little more blame than perhaps they really
deserve, e.g., we are commonly told that the far-famed
name IONA is just a scribe's error for loua, the Latin-
ised form of Hy, Hii, as the name is in Bede. Hy, of
course, is the English Bede's way of representing the
G. aoi (ui), ' isthmus,' lona being so called because it
and its near neighbour, Mull, once joined. But the
whole truth seems to be, that the isle's Gaelic name
was aoi uain, ' green isthmus ; ' for both Cuminus, or
St Cummian, c. 657, first man to mention the place,
and also Columba's second biographer, Adamnan, name
it Hyona ; cf. the List, s.v.

As an example of what we may find in a charter, and
of how little after all place-names change, even in 750
years, take the following list, being all the names men-
tioned in the charter (in the Paisley Chartulary)
granted by King Malcolm IV. to Walter, Stewart or
Seneschal of Scotland, in 1158: 'Francis (i.e.,
Normans) et Anglis, Scotis et Galovidiensibus



CELTIC NAMES. XXX111

de terris de Reinfrew, Paisleth, Pullock, Tulloch,
Kerkert (i.e., CATHCART), Le Drip, Egilsham, Lochynoc,
et Inerwick, Inchenan, Hastenden (i.e., HASSENDEAX),

Legerwood, et Birchensyde, Roxburgh,

St Andrae, Glasgow, Kelcow, Melross.' Among

others, there are the following noteworthy personal
names : ' Colvill, Sumervilla, et Macus ; ' the latter
has not yet the appended -rill to make him Maxwell.

The Celt gave names to all Scotland, so we must be
prepared to find thousands of Celtic names to study ;
but, unfortunately for those who wish to make sure of the
true pronunciation of a puzzling name, Gaelic is now
spoken over less than half its old area, It has been
retreating up the glens ever since the days of foreign,
Saxon Queen Margaret, and is destined to retreat
farther still, till finally, at no distant future elieu
fur/aces ! it must give up the ghost altogether, even as
Cornish has already done. Take the region north of
a line drawn from Forres to Campbelton, and throw in
the upper valley of the Dee, and there, roughly speak-
ing, is the area in which Gaelic is still a living speech.
But Gaelic lived on in most parts of Scotland much
longer than is commonly thought. We have the
evidence of George Buchanan that it was spoken in
Galloway down to the da} r s of Queen Mary. It lingered
in Glenapp (south of Ballantrae) a full century later ;
and it probably continued to be the vernacular of some
in Fife till quite 1700. Little wonder then that
Galloway and Fife, though now English in speech, are
crammed with Celtic names. South of the above-
mentioned line we cannot be so sure about the real
pronunciation, and consequently, the real meaning of
many of the names. But, nota bene, it will not always
do to trust local pronunciations and interpretations,



XXXIV PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

even when given by a true Gael. Loch MAREE, so
universally and wrongly thought to be ' Mary's Loch,'
is a good case in point.

No sure progress can be made until at least some-
thing is known of the difficult laws of Gaelic inflection
and pronunciation; and, of course, Scottish Gaelic shares
its chief difficulties with all the other Celtic tongues.
The inflections are sometimes a little difficult, because
they largely take place within the word, e.g., nom. ,cu,
' a dog ;' gen., the very different-looking coin, ' of a dog,'
earn, 'a cairn,' cuirn, 'of a cairn,' &c. Then it is the rule
and this is of great moment for our study that when-
ever certain consonants come between two vowels they
aspirate or add an h ; these aspirating (and the tyro may
well call them also exasperating) letters are b, c, d, f, g,
m, s, t ; e.g., Adam in Gaelic is Adh&mh, and Adamnan,
more correctly Adhamnan, is the diminutive, ' little
Adam,' 'Adie.' For the extraordinary results produced
on the name Adamnan by these aspirations, see p. xcv.

The laws of pronunciation arc yet more difficult.
Many must heartily re-echo the wish that Gaelic, like
Manx, had been written phonetically, according to
sound, and not according to what Professor M'Kinnon
calls ' the strict and highly artificial rules of the
schools.' 1 As things now stand, there is probably no
language in the world in which the eye can give less
help to the tongue. Of course, there is method in the
seeming madness ; but, to an untrained eye, the spelling
gives almost no clue to the sound, and is usually
altogether misleading. Thus, an ordinary English-

1 Dr Stewart in his Grammar (pp. 29-35, 3rd edit. ), and we could
have no higher authority, points out many ways in which Gaelic spell-
ing ought to be simplified. This could so easily have been done a
century ago, before the Bible was printed ; and those who love the
old speech cannot but feel that it is a pity it was not.



CELTIC NAMES. XXXV

man consulting a Gaelic dictionary will find himself
altogether at sea. The majority of the numerous
diphthongs could, with advantage, be spelt with a single
vowel, 1 and the uncouth-looking triphthongs, aoi,iai,iui,
are really imneeded. But it is the ' aspiration' which
causes the chief troubles. When U gets next any letter in
the middle or end of a word it has always a tendency to
eclipse its neighbour, and to make both it and the h silent
altogether. Thus, many of those strange mtis and dh's,
with which Gaelic is so thickly peppered, have no sound
at all ; e.g., Amhalghaidh, which looks such a mon-
strous mouthful, subsides into Owlay, so well known to
us in the name Macaulay. Hence, too, such pronuncia-
tions as Strabungo for STRATHBUXGO, Stracathro for
STEATHCATHRO ; and, as we have already seen, Gael
for Gadhel here dli is called evanescent. The usual
sound of mil and Wi is v, as in d<i.mh an ox, hence
DATA, and in da Ikarr, 'two heights,' or DAY ARK.
Sometimes it is nearer w, as in Craigwhinnic, the G.
creay mhuine, 'crag of the thicket;' sometimes the
r-sound goes all the way to b, though not in good
Gaelic, as STRATHBUXGO ='Mungo's vale:' and then
often, as we have seen above, the aspirate and its
neighbour have no sound at all. Yet more puzzling is
it when the original consonant falls a\vay altogether,
leaving only the //, or else leaving no trace at all; thus
G.fc.da, 'long,' unaspirated, gives us the name Loch
FAD in Bute, but aspirated it gives us the names of
Ben Arrow and HADDO House.

Another matter of crucial importance is the accent.
In Gaelic, which here differs from Irish, the accent

1 The vowel sounds in Gaelic are so varied that they can only be
learned by considerable experience. They also differ a good deal in
different localities, and in different centuries (</. KYLE, MULL, &<?.).



XXXVI PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

tends to fall on the first syllabic. Thus, in many names,
the second or unstressed syllable is corrupted by
indistinct pronunciation, e.g., Damhach becomes DAVA,
or oftener falls away altogether ; e.g., ackadk, ' field,'
has in hundreds of names become ach or auch. Almost
never has the final syllable survived in a name. But
there is one interesting example at least. In a charter
of Malcolm the Maiden, c. 1160, in Cosmo Innes' Col-
lections for the History of Aberdeen and Banff '(p. 172),
we read of a place in the Don Valley, 'Brecachath
quod interpretatur campus distinctis coloribus;' and
there is still a Breakachy, or ' speckled field,' near
Beauly, and in Caithness. Similarly, tulach, ' a hill,
mound,' usually appears in names as Tully- or Tillie-,
as in TULLYMET and TILLIECHEWAN, though we have
the whole word in TULLOCH, and the second syllable
intact in MORTLACH. According to Professor M'Kiimon
it is a firm rule in Gaelic phonology, in compound
names, which Gaelic place-names usually are, that the
accent falls on the qualifying word or attributive.
Attention to the accent in the native pronunciation
will thus save many an incorrect guess at a name's
meaning ; thus Knockan would mean ' little hill,'
(dimin. of G. cnoc), but Knockan, ' hill by the river '
(abkuinn), an being here the qualifying word ; thus,
too, TYRIE, the name of a farm near Kirkcaldy, might
from its look mean 'king's house' (ticjh righe), but
when we know it is accented Tyrie, it can only be the
G. tir, tire, ' land, a bit of land.'

English speakers often put ' The ' before a name, as
' The Methil,' ' The Lochies ' (see p. Ixxx); in Gaelic the
article is almost never prefixed to a place-name, except
in the form f ; ANSTRUTHER, ' the river,' is a rare excep-
tion. The nominative of the article, an, is then rarely



CELTIC NAMES. XXXV11

met with ; but the genitive na, in plur. nan, before
labials nain, is very often met with ; e.g., Babmbruaich,
' villasfe on the bank.' Coirmmuriskin. ' ravine of the

O

goblins,' Bealach-?iam-bo, ' pass of the cattle.' The
na of the article is very liable to abrasion or corrup-
tion : c.f/., it may become simple a as in Dalarossie, or
simple n as in Kil/dnver, or may even slip down into
i, as in Cullicudden (cf. the Welsh y, as in Bettws-y-
Coed, ' house in the wood '). It is worth remembering
that, except in feminine polysyllables, the gen. plural
of a noun is always just the same as the nom. singular.
With masculine nouns beginning with a vowel the article
is an t', or f, as in TOB, 'the bay.' The same is true
of feminine nouns beginning with s, here the t eclipses
the s; as in the names COLINTRAIVE and KIXTAIL,
which are in G. coil an t'snaimJt, and cinn t'sailc.

The media? b, d, y approach in sound much nearer to
our English tenues p, t, c, and are often found inter-
changing in names. Final dk often sounds like /,; or
ck. (cf. ARDVERIKIE). The letter d seems often to insert
itself, as in the Galloway names, Cullendeugh, Cullcn-
doch, and Ciillenoch, all, as the accent shows, from G.
euileanach, 'place of hollies'; also, as in DRUMMOND,
G. dromainn, and in LOMOND, Old G., Lonine. The -s 1
of the English plural in scores of cases affixes itself to
Gaelic names, as in CRATHES, LINDORES, WEMYSS. The
Eng. diminutive -ie is also very freely found, generally
representing all that is left of some ending in -ach, as
in BRODIE, CAMLACHIE, &c., but also representing
sometimes no Gaelic syllable, as in BANAVIE and

LOGIE, from G. Ian able and lay, respectively.

******

Of all Scottish place-names those sprung from Celtic
lips show by far the most sympathy with nature. The



XXXV111 PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

Celt's warm, emotional heart loved to seek out the
poetry and colour in the world around, and many of his
place-names show that ' stern nature was his daily
companion and friend.' Indeed, the majority of Celtic
names, be it noted, give either the simplest possible
description of the site named, or describe some promi-
nent feature, or else the colouring or appearance
of it as it strikes the eye. A very large number of
Gaelic names mean simply, ' house on the bank,' 'village
by the straits/ ' field of stones,' or the like. The first
two of these are represented in Gaelic by those Cockney
terrors TIGH-NA-BRUAICH and BALL-A-CHULISH ; whilst
that mouth-filling name, which awes even a Scots-
man, MACHHAHANISH, Kintyre, just means 'thin plain'
or ' links,' plus the Norse nish, i.e., ness. Thus we may
almost venture to lay it down as a general rule that
the simpler the meaning conjectured, the more likely
is it to be correct, e.g., take the somewhat puzzling-
looking name, MENSTIUE, near Alloa. This we could
never explicate without the aid of its old spelling,
Mestreth (sic 1263). This is most likely just the G.
magh sratha, ' plain of the valley ' (at the foot of the
Ochils), the final gh and th having now both vanished ;
though we suppose it is at least possible that the mes-
represents G. mias, ' fruit.' From what has been said
the reader will not be surprised to find that the words
for ' water,' ' river,' ' stream,' occur very often in names
dobhar or dor (see ABERDOUR, &c.) ; abhuinn or an
or AVON; dbh, found in AWE and AVIE-MORE, and in
A-RY, the bh here being quiescent ; also uisg, uisge,
painfully familiar in the shape and sound of that 'strong
water,' commonly called ' whisky ;' this word we see in
COR-UISK and in ESK. In England the same root rings
the changes on almost all the vowels, as in Ax, Ex,



CELTIC NAMES. XXXIX

Isis, Usk, and Ux (in "Oxbridge) ; whilst Ox- in Oxford,
and Ouse, are probably brothers of the same family.

Whether the last rule be accepted or not, there is
no question that personal acquaintance with a spot is
highly desirable before making any attempt to solve
its name. One sight of a place may prevent ludicrous
mistakes, and may also suggest with a flash the real
meaning. BOLESKIXE, from the look of the word,
might well be Pollanaskin, Mayo, i.e., 'pool of the eels;'
but, from the look of the place, it must be boll (or poll)
eas cumkan (pron. cuan), ' pool of the narrow waterfall.'
It was personal inspection, too, which brought that
happy inspiration which translated COLIXTRAIVE, on
the quiet Kyles of Bute, as coil an t'snaimli (pron.
traive, for t eclipses s, and n changes to its kindred liquid
r), ' corner at the swimming-place/ where the cattle
for market were made to swim over. ARDEXTHYVE,
opposite to Oban, has, of course, a similar origin.

Where Gaelic names now survive in an English-
speaking region, and to some extent in Gaelic-speaking
regions too (for few Gaels can spell their own tongue), the
place-names are apt to get so corrupted by generations
of illiterate speakers that one requires to know, not
only the look of a place and the true pronunciation
of its name, but also something of the lines on which
these corruptions or alterations usually run. We
already know how apt b and p are to interchange, so
too are d and t; e.g., take AULDEARN, near Nairn. It
has nothing to do with auld or earn, but is the G. edit
fhearna (fh mute), 'river of the alders.' Again, take that
kirk whose name Burns has made undying, ALLOWAY,
near Ayr. This is probably a corruption of G. allt-na-
bheath (vay), ' river of the birches,' and so identical with
AULTBEA, away up in West Ross-shire. This word allt



xl PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

is a very remarkable one, for it means both ' river,'
' glen,' and ' heights on either side a glen,' thus being
plainly akin to the L. altus, high. It recurs again and
again in Gaelic names, in the guises of All-, Alt-, Auld,
Ault- (see List). As showing the length to which the
Gael can go in flinging away his alphabet, we may cite
the name BEALLACHANTUIE, on the Atlantic side of
Kintyre, meaning ' pass of the seat,' G. suidke; but the
name is now pronounced Ballochantee, which means
that all that is now left of the six letters suidhe is the
final long e !

The commonest names are those giving a bare, brief
description of the site named ; next in frequency are
those which give the general appearance of the place
as it strikes the eye rough (yarbh) or smooth (min,
also ' level, gentle-looking '), straight ((leas) or crooked
(cam), black or dark (dubh), speckled or spotted (breac),
long (fada) or short (gearr), little (beg) or big (mor) ;
such names as GARVOCK, 'rough field,' MINAHD, 'smooth
height,' MORVEN, ' big ben,' are legion. Almost all of
Nature's common colours figure largely in the sym-
pathetic speech and nomenclature of the nature-loving
Gael. Specially common are dubh, black, which every
one knows in the guise of Duff, but often also sounded
dku, as in DOUGLAS, DHU HEARTACH, ROSSUHU ; and
ban and ( /io?Mi, white, light-coloured, clear to the view,
as in BANAVIE, BANNOCKBURN, CARFIN, FINDON.
Names denoting red or reddish are also plentiful.
Here we have two words, dearg, ' red,' also, ' the colour
of newly-ploughed land,' as in Ben Dearg ; when the
d is aspirated it sounds almost like j, as in Barrjarg,
red height,' near Closeburn. The other word is ruadk,
familiar to us all in the name of Rob Roy, ' red Robert/
with his ruddy tartan plaid ; but also pronounced rew,



CELTIC NAMES. xli

and something very like roch, as in TANNIEROACH,
' reddish meadow.' The dli is preserved in the spelling
of the name RUTHVEN, though the name itself is now
often pronounced Rivven. Green, chief colour in
Nature's paint-box, is gorm. Every one is familiar
with CAIRNGORM, and every lover of Scottish song
has heard of ' Tullochgorum,' i.e., 'green hillock.'
Then there is glas, grey, pale, wan, as in Strathglass,
GLASSFORD, and probably also in the name of the great
Western Metropolis. On that much-controverted sub-
ject, the etymology of GLASGOW, see the List.

Few objects make a more striking feature in a land-

J O

scape than a clump or forest of trees ; thus we are pre-
pared to find tree-names bulking largely in Gaelic
topography. Common as any, perhaps, is heath (bay),
the birch, one of the few natural or indigenous trees of
Scotland. This we find pure and simple in Beath and
Beith, where the th retains its sound ; often the ill is
mute as in AULT-BEA, West Ross-shire, and CARNBEE,
near Anstruther. Through aspiration of the b such
forms arise as ALLOWAY, just referred to, and DARNA-
WAY (G. dobhar-na-bheath), near Forres. The word
dair, gen. dam, an oak, its derivative darach, an oak-
wood, and its cognate doire, a grove, have also many
representatives. We have the simple Darroch at Fal-
kirk,&c., and we have a Scottish as well as an Irish Deny,
close to Crathie. Then there are DAR-VEL, AUCHTER-
DERRAN, and DAL-JARROCH, near Girvan, &c. The
Gaelic for an elm is leamhan (louan), which appears
in many a dress. One of these is the very common
name LEVEN. The Yale of Leven was once called
Levenax or LENNOX, whilst the old form of Loch
LOMOND was Lomne, which must just be leamhan;
and its sea-neighbour Loch LONG is perhaps the Loch

c



xlii PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

Lemannonius of Ptolemy. He, by the way, wrote
c. 120 A.D., but he is supposed to have taken his names
from an old Tyrian atlas, and so the forms he gives are
probably a good deal older than this date. Leman-
nonius must be from leamkan ; but INNER-LEITHEN
is probably not, as some think, from this root. Humbler
plants have also contributed their quota, like the sedge,
siosg, as in DERNA-CISSOCK, Wigton, and the rush,
luachair, as in LEUCHARS.

If trees and plants give feature to a landscape,
animals have their own prominence too. And the Celt
was very fond of raising a monument to his dumb
cattle by means of a place-name ; e.g., the Gaelic for a
cow is bo, = L. bos ; this we find in the name which
Scott has made all the world know by the Lady of the
Lake, Bealach-nam-bo, i.e., ' pass of the cattle/ bealach
being better known to most of us in the shape 01
BALLOCH ; then there is BOCHASTLE, and BOWLAND,
near Galashiels, which has no connection with archery,
but is just ' cattle-land.' Madadh, the wild dog or wolf,
is commemorated in LOCHMADDY and POLMADIE. The
ordinary dog is cu, gen. coin, as in Loch Con, and
probably also in its neighbour, Ben CiiONZiE. The
unsavoury pig, muc, has left many a sign of his former
abundance, as in AUCHTERMUCHTY, DRUMMUCKLOCH,
and MUCKHART, all of which imply the site of a swine-
field or pen. Even the swift-gliding, shy otter, doran,
gives name to Ben Doran ; and so forth.

Not only did the Gael give the names of animals to
many spots associated with them, he was also con-
stantly seeing in some landmark a resemblance to some
part of an animal. Most common of all do we find
druim, L dorsum, the back, especially a long back like
that of a horse, hence a long hill-ridge. Sir H. Maxwell



CELTIC NAMES. xliii

names 198 instances in Galloway alone, and we find
them everywhere DRUMCLOG, DRUMLANRIG, DEUM-
SHEUGH, DROMORE, &c. DRUMMOXD and DRYMEN are
just the G. droinainn with the same meaning. Then
there is crubha, a haunch or shoulder, hence the
shoulder of a hill, as in CRIEFF, whose name just
describes its site ; on the other side of the hill is
CULCRIEFF, 'the back of the haunch;' see, too, DUM-
CLIIEFF and DUNCRUB. Sron, the nose, the equivalent
of the Norse ness, and of the English name Naze, is
found in a good many names of headlands, where it is
always spelt stron, but the t is like the t in strath, a
mere Sassenach intrusion to enable the poor Lowlander
to pronounce the word. Examples are STRONE itself,
Stronbuy, and that little cape on Loch Katrine
which is unpronounceable by English lips, STRONACH-
LACHAR, 'cape of the mason.' CAMERON, too, is just
cam sron, ' crooked nose.' Besides, there is the widely
scattered ceann, a head, and so, a promontory, usually
found as ken-, or in its old dative form of cinn or kin-
(see KINALDIE) ; instances arc too numerous to require
mention.

The Gael has always been a more modest man than
his English supplanter. John Bull always dearly loves
to perpetuate his own or his own kith's name, be it in
a town, a castle, an hospital, or even by surreptitious
carving on his bench at school. There are scores of
towns and villages in England, and Scotland too, called
by the names of Saxonmen (cf. p. Ixx and foil.). The Celt
adopted this fashion much more rarely. But a good
many of the heroes of Ossian and other early legends
are commemorated in this way, e.g., CORRIEVRECKAX,
off Jura, is ' the cauldron' or ' whirlpool of Brecan,' grand-
son of the famous Niall of the nine hostages. COWAL



xliv PLACE-XAMES OF SCOTLAND.

is called after Coill, the ' old king Cole,' of the well-
known rhyme ; LORN, after Loam, first king of Scots in
Dalriada or Argyle. The seven sons of that legendary
eponymous personage, Cruitkne or Cruidne, reputed
father of the Cruithnig or Pictish race, both in Scot-
land and Ireland, are always cropping up. According
to the Pictish Chronicle, the seven were Fib, Fidach,
Floclaw, Ce, Fortrenn, Got, Circinn. Fortrenn was the
old name of Strathearn and its vicinity ; for the others
see ATHOLE, CAITHNESS, FIDDICH, FIFE, MEARNS, &c.
The old man's own name we find in Cruithneachan,
Lochaber. But Celtic names of the type of BALMA-
CLELLAN, 'M'Lellan's village,' New Galloway, and of
PORT BANNATYNE, Bute, are quite rare. The Celt did
little in the way of handing down his own or his own
folk's name ; but, having always been a pious man,
there was nothing he liked better than to call a village
or a church or a well after some favourite saint. This,
however, is so wide a subject as to deserve separate
treatment (see Chap. V.).

It is often said that several place-names preserve the
memory of the ancient Druidic or Pagan sun and fire
worship. This is conceivable, though it is absolutely
certain that no Bal- in Scotland represents or preserves
the name of Baal, the Phoenician sun-god ; and one is
surprised to find this unscholarly superstition repeated
in a bulky history of Scotland published Avithin the
last three or four years. And even though GREENOCK
be the G. grian-aig, ' sun-bay,' that will just mean
' sunny bay ; ' and ARDENTINNY, ' height of the fire,'
on the west shore of Loch Long, probably just refers
to some beacon or signal fire, whilst AuCHENDiNNY
probably does not mean 'field of the fire' at all, but
comes like DENNY, from the old G. dinat, a woody glen.



CELTIC NAMES. xlv

The inquisitive amateur, somewhat dismayed by the
many difficulties in the study of Celtic names detailed
in the early part of this chapter, will now, we hope, be
beginning to take heart again. He ought to be
further reassured when he hears that acquaintance
with about a dozen Gaelic words will enable any
one to interpret nearly half the real Gaelic names in
Scotland. As fitting close to the section, let us en-
umerate these :

(1) Aber or abhir, already discussed.

(2) Achadh, a field, also already discussed in part.
From achadh, with its unaccented second syllable, comes
the common prefix and suffix ach, as in ACHNACARRY,
CABRACH, DORNOCH (c. 1230, Durnach), &c. As a
prefix the form is as commonly auch-, as in AUCHIN-
LEYS, AUCHMITHIE, &c. ; and ach- and auch- often
interchange, as in Ach- or AuCH-NASHEEN, Ach- or
Auch-engean, &c.

(3) Auchter, in the spelling of the schools uachdar,
Welsh uchder ; but even the oldest charters spell it



Online LibraryJames B. (James Brown) JohnstonPlace-names of Scotland → online text (page 3 of 26)