James B. (James Brown) Johnston.

Place-names of Scotland online

. (page 6 of 26)
Online LibraryJames B. (James Brown) JohnstonPlace-names of Scotland → online text (page 6 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


EARLSTOX, a simple name enough, one would think ;
but Earlston is just the result of careless tongues. In
1144 the name was Ercheldon, which at once shows
that here is the ' Ercilduiie ' famed as the birthplace
of Thomas the Rymer. To return for a moment to
burgh, it may be noted that, with the partial excep-
tions already mentioned, all other Scottish -burghs are
comparatively modern, except perhaps three SUM-
BURGH, southmost point of distant Zetland, the Svin-
borg of the Sagas ; ROXBURGH, which we find away
back as early as 1134, ' Rokesburch,' presumably mean-
ing ' castle on the rock ; ' and thirdly, and most curious
of all, NEWBURGH in Fife, which, as we saw a few pages
back, is possibly the very oldest extant English name
in Scotland. Of recent burghs we may mention
COLIXSBURGH, built c. 1696 ; MARYBURGH, near Ding-
wall, c. 1690 ; and HELEXSBURGH, which only dates
from 1776.

Ham, O.E. ham, is just our winsome English word
c home,' the original a being preserved in the Sc.
hame. A typical example is COLDIXGHAM or WHIT-
TIXGHAM, though hams, called after Saxon men, are
much rarer north than south of the Tweed. Instances
not connected with any man's name are BIRGHAM in
Berwick and KlRKPATRlCK-DuRHAM, near Dumfries.
EAGLESHAM, the only ham near Glasgow, is a deceptive
hybrid, meaning ' church-place ' (W. cglicys, G. caglais,



Ixxvi PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

a church). Ham often gets clipped down, for h easily
vanishes in an Englishman's mouth, and in a Scotsman's
too, if only he were aware of it. Almost no Scotsman,
e.g., will pronounce the h in such a sentence as ' John
told me that ho. said,' &c. Thus ham becomes am, as
in BIRNAM, and EDNAM, ' home on the R. Eden,' or yet
more disguised, as in MIDDLEM, or EDROM, ' home on
the R. Adder.' There is one lonely but very interesting
ham away up near Forse in Caithness, ' Notingham,'
which is so spelt in the Bk. of Scone in 1272.

It is generally said that -ing- in O.E. place-names
implies ' descendants of,' e.g., SYMINGTON was thought
to be the ton or village of Sym's sons. But in every
case of -ing- occurring in a Scottish place-name, so far
as we have been able to trace the origin of the names,
the -ing- is a later corruption, generally of an, in, or
on. See ABINGTON, COLDINGHAM, COVINGTON, DUD-
DINGSTON, LAMINGTON, UDDINGSTON, &C. 1

As with names Norse so with names English, of
English prefixes there are but few (burgh has been already
referred to), but English suffixes are almost innumer-
able, the most of them requiring little or no elucidation.
There is, e.g., the little cluster signifying some kind of
height or eminence hill itself, as in Maryhill, Town-
hill ; knoiue, the softened Scottish form of knoll, O.E.
cnoll (cf. the Dan. hnold and W. cnol, a (rounded)
hillock), just as How is the Scottish form of the O.E.
holg, and Pow the Scottish form of the G. 'poll, a stream
or pool; this we find in BROOMIEKNOWE, COWDEN-
KNOWES, &c.; law, the Scottish form of the O.E. hldeu;
a hill, a mound, a barrow, as in GREENLAW, HARLAW,
LARGO LAW, and also in many hybrids like the LAM-

1 No doubt such English names as Barking and AVoking arc real
patronymics, and do denote the abode of a family or clan.



ENGLISH NAMES. Ixxvii

MERLAWS, the well-known cliffs at Burntisland, and like
MINTLAW. The English form low; as in Ludlow and
Taplow, plentiful though it be south of the Border, does
not seem to occur in Scotland. To this little group of
suffixes mount can hardly be added, for the Scottish
-mounts or -monts almost all represent the G. monadh,
a mountain or moor, as in ESSLEMONT, GLASMONT, &c.

In many cases it would be more correct to say that
a given suffix or word is Scots rather than English, which
just means that the word, or often simply the form,
though once used in northern literary English, is now
preserved only in Lowland Scots. Neither knowe,
e.g., nor laiu is to be found at all in Amiaiidale's most
reliable Concise English Dictionary ; another instance
is that very interesting word kirk or ' church,' fully
dealt with in our Index. It may just be added that a
charter dating a. 1124, which mentions ' Selechirche '
or SELKIRK, is earlier than any document quoted by
Dr Murray for the soft or cli form of the O.E. cyrc, our
modern church. An interesting instance is -gate, which
in Scottish place-names like CROSSGATES, TRONGATE,
WlNDYGATES, always has its Scottish meaning of ' way,'
' road.' ' I gae'd a weary gate yestreen, a gate I fear
1 11 dearly rue.' In Scots, unlike both O.E. and
Mod. Eng., it never means a door or entrance; but
the well-known Border pronunciation 'yet,' which is
the English not the Scottish gate, is to be found in
YETHOLM, that Roxburgh hamlet at the ' gate ' between
Scotland and England. Similar is -ivater, still on the
Scottish borders pronounced like the O.E. ivaeter,
which means not only the brook or burn itself, but also
the valley through which it flows, as in Galawater,
Jedwater, Rulewater : ' Nor Yarrow braes nor Ettrick
shaws can match the lads o' Galawater.' A curious and



Ixxviii PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

deceiving suffix is -battle. MOREBATTLE, near Kelso,
looks very like some bloodthirsty borderer's cry. But
when we find the name on record in 1170 as Merebotle,
we see that the true meaning is the ' dwelling (O.K.
boil) by the mere' or lake. By 1575 it had become
Morbottle ; it is only within the present century that
the o, through ignorance, has become permanently
changed to a ; and the same is true of fair NEWBATTLE
Abbey, near Dalkeith. The Northumbrians still retain
the o, as in Harbottle ; and there is a Newbottle near
Durham. The O.E. botl is also found smothered up in
the name BOLTON, which c. 1200 was spelt Botel- or
Bothel-tune.

So far as sound goes, the ending -haven might indi-
cate either an English (O.E. Itaefeu) or a Norse (Icel.
ho'fn, Dan. havri) name ; but, as a matter of fact, most
of the ' havens ' are demonstrably English, and late in
origin ; e.g., both BUCKHAVEN and NEWHAVEN, on the
Frith of Forth, date only from the 16th century. And
some ' havens ' do not mean a haven at all ; such an
one is that tautological-looking name belonging to an
Islay village, spelt PORTNAHAVEN, but pronounced
portnahavn, which at once shows that this is really the
G. port na h'dbhuinn, ' harbour on the river.'

In looking for truly English names two of our pre-
liminary cautions must always be kept well in view :
(1) Many names may be partly English and partly
something else ; e.g., that name dear to every Scottish
heart, BANNOCKBURN. ' Burn ' is good Scottish or O.E.,
but ' bannock ' is neither Scots nor English, and has
nothing to do with flour or pease-meal scones; it is just
the G. ban cnoc, 'white' or 'gleaming knoll.' BARR-
HEAD has nothing to do with toll-bars or any other bars,
the 'head' simply repeating what has already been said in



ENGLISH NAMES. Ixxix

the G. 6ft?-/ 1 (a head or height). In GOREBRIDGE, near
Dalkeith, the ' bridge ' is English without doubt ; but
the gore has nothing to do either with blood or bulls,
being the innocent Gaelic word gobhar, a goat. An-
other well-known name is GLASSFORD, near Hamilton,
a name which pictures to the mind's eye some shallow
spot in a river of glassy smoothness. ' Ford,' indeed, is
English, but the ' glass ' is just the common G. giais or
glas, grey or dark, as in DUNGLASS, GLASMONT, and
many more ; or else it is the Old G. glas, a river, as in
DOUGLAS and great GLASGOW itself.

All the examples given for our first caveat would serve
well for the second, viz. : (2) An English-looking name
may not be English at all. Look well before you leap.
We shall just point out one or two more conspicuous
instances of the need of this. There are several glens
with deceptively English-like names, e.g., mighty Glen
LYON, which is probably the G. lithe amhuinn (the h
has silenced both the t and the m), ' spatey river.' A
little to the south is Glen ALMOND ; both the Scottish
rivers called Almond were formerly spelt Awmon,
showing that here we have simply one of the many
guises of the G. amhuinn, a river. Glen Howl, in the
Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, has no connection with

/ O

cries or roars ; it is but the G. gleann-a-ghabail, ' glen
of the fork,' where two streams join. And again, in the
Highlands, as in Ireland, we meet with many a Letter-.
But they were all there long before the days of the Post
Office. The first syllable in LETTERFEARN or LETTER-
FINLAY is just the G. leitir(leth-tir), ' land on the slope
of a glen.'

It is both curious and interesting to know that the
' Cockney ' very early began to prefix his As to Scottish
names. The hand of an English scribe is clearly seen



Ixxx PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

in such forms as Habberden, Haberbervi, Hinernairn,
and Hecles, all found in MSS. of about the year 1290. 1
Though the definite article is so rare at the beginning
of Celtic names it is common enough before English
ones ; but, for euphony's sake, it seems only to be used
with words accented on the first syllable, as The
Lochies (Burntisland), the Methil (Leven), and the
Redding (Polmont).

Many types of names very common in England seem
wholly wanting in Scotland. In England ' Great '
abounds as an appellation Great Malvern, and the
like ; but in Scotland there are none. The same
remark holds true about ' Little,' unless we count ' The
Little Ferry,' near Dornoch, as an exception. Again,
' Market ' and ' Stoke ' (i.e., place) are very common
Anglican prefixes and suffixes, as in Market Dray ton,
and Bishopstoke, and many more; but in Scotland
they are never used at all.

1 See Rev. Joseph Stevenson's very interesting collection of Docu-
ments Illustrative of the History of Scotland, vol. i. , under the years
1 '289-92, and the itineraries and accounts of expenditure of English-
men quoted there.



CHAPTER IV.

HOMAX, XO11MAX, AND PURELY MODEKX XAMES.

Ix strict propriety the Roman names should have been
dealt with before either the English or the Norse ones :
but they form a group so small and so unimportant,
that little harm can be done by treating them along
with those names which stand last in historic sequence,
the little handful from the Norman-French, which is,
of course, one of Latin's many daughters. The Roman
left a deep mark on Southern Britain, and his memory
is preserved in many a name there. But even though
Rome's legions, from the days of Agricola onwards for
more than 300 years, may have marched many a league
and thrown up many a camp in North Britain, they
never could make much dint upon the hardy savage of
Caledonia in his bogs and woods ; and traces of Roman
influence north of the Roman Wall 'twixt Forth and
Clyde arc but trifling. England is literally covered
with -casters, -cestcrs, and -chesters, all denoting the
site of a camp of the invaders, L. castrum or castra ;
but, surprising to relate, there is not one such com-
pound name in Scotland, unless it be BOXCHESTER
Bridge, in the neighbourhood of Hawick. Close by is
a place called the Chesters ; and any large map of the
Border district will show a good many names like
Chester Knowes (Chirnside), Chester Hill and Rig
(Traquair), Chester Lees (Tweedsmuir) ; and at most



Ixxxii PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

of these spots there are remains of circular or oval
hill forts. It is quite certain that the Romans were in
Berwick and Peeblesshire ; but it is not quite certain
that these names are of Roman origin. Of course, in
no case is their second part Roman ; and Professor
Veitch thinks that these Peeblesshire ' Chesters ' were
the last retreats of the Cymri or Brythons of Forth
and Clyde, the forts where they made their final but
unsuccessful stand against Pict, and Scot, and Angle.
Of any other real Roman names there seems no trace.
Verily ' Stat nominis umbra.'

Many a broad acre of Scotland's best land was gifted
into Norman hands. But Dr Skene (Celtic Scotl, i. 4*30)
thinks that the Normans, who are just our old friends
the Norsemen back again with an infusion of new blood
and with a new tongue, had no perceptible influence on
Scottish affairs till the reign of David I. (1124-53), a
date too late to allow of much result in the way of place-
names. And the later frequent intercourse between
the courts of France and Scotland had practically
no influence on our topography at all. Even as the
Gael's common name for his village was bed or baile, and
as the Saxon's regular name for the hamlet round his
thane's castle was ham or ton, so the Norman's regular
name for the castle-village was mile, from the L.
villa, a country-house or farm. Villc, in Scotland,
has seldom survived uncorrupted, though we have both
a MELVILLE and a MOUNT MELVILLE in Fife. Now, in
Fife charters of the days of Alexander II. (1214-49),
we find notice of a Norman knight called ' Philippus de
Malavilla;' and so Melville has the strange meaning of
' the bad (? unhealthy) town.' A ' Galfred de Melville '
is found in the Lothians in 1153 ; in all probability,
therefore, ' the bad town ' was no place in Scotland, but



ROMAN, NORMAN, AND MODERN NAMES. Ixxxiii

some spot in Normandy, from which Galfred or his
forefathers took their name. The writer does not
know of any other villes in Scotland ; for, of course, such
a vile compound as JEMIMAVILLE (Cromarty) is not a
case in point. 1 But we have still among us such com-
mon surnames as Boiiville, Colvill (sic 1158), and
Somerville (1158, Sumervilla).

Moreover, ville was not unfrequcntly Anglicised into
-well, as in Maxwell, already thus c. 1190, which is
just ' Maccus' ville.' The man Maccus or Macus we
find mentioned in the Melrose charters c. 1144. There
is no Scottish place now called Maxwell ; but there is a
MAXWELLTON, which is just a part of Dumfries, and also
a MAXTON, near St Boswell's. It is evidently the influ-
ence of this Norman ending -ville which has changed St
Boisil's name into STBosWELL's; and we venture to think
that the final syllable both in BoTHWELL 2 and MANUEL
(Linlifchgow) is due to the same influence (see List).

A Norman noble, Do Belassize, has given his name
to one of the North British Railway stations 011 the
Waverley route, BELSES ; and LUNDIN LINKS in Fife
owe their title to the family of De Lundin, who are found
in Fife in the 12th century, and who were at that time
the Scottish king's hereditary hostiarii, doorkeepers, or
' door-wards/ hence the modern surname, Durward.
One of the most famous Norman families in Scotland
was the Lindsays, whose name we see in Lindsaylands,
near Biggar. In an appendix to the Live* of the
Lindsays (vol. i.) we find a curious list of no less than
eighty-eight spellings of this name, which have all
actually been found in some old charter or letter,

1 The place called Coshieville at the mouth of Glen Lyon is an
ill- formed attempt to render the G. cois-a-mhiU, 'the foot of the hill.'
- Bothwell is spelt Botheuill a. 1242, and Bothvile a. 1300.



Ixxxiv PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

varying in length from the ten letters of Lyndyssaye
to the five of Lynse, which last, if the final e be
sounded, gives the exact modern pronunciation. BED-
RULE, near Jedburgh, does not come from the W. bedw,
n birch, as Professor Veitch supposes. In 1280 its
name was Rulebethok, and Bethoc was wife of the
Norman Radulph, the earliest known lord of the
manor here (c. 1150). The name Bcdrule is still locally
pronounced bethorule, or was so quite recently, as Dr
J. A. H. Murray informed the writer ; though, of course,
his old schoolmaster at Denholm, near by, was wont to
teach that such a pronunciation was ignorant and vulgar!
Bethoc, however, is hardly a Xorman name ; we find it
again, a. 1300, in the Registrum Aberdonense, in a
' Kynbethok.' RULE is, of course, the name of a river.

On a beautiful spot at the head of what is now the
BEAULY Frith the monks Vcdlis umbrosce founded a
priory (c. 1220), which we, in 1230, find styled Prioratus
de Bello Loco. The pure French spelling Beau lieu,
' beautiful spot,' also occurs ; and in 1497 we meet with
' Beulie/ the present pronunciation. Beaulieu, as most
are aware, is also the name of a village in Hants, formerly
seat of a Cistercian monastery ; which name is also pro-
nounced beiuly. Well did the old monks know how to
choose out the fairest sites. BELMONT, ' fine hill,' is a
common name for modern residences ; but we also find
it attached to hills, not only in the Sidlaw range, but
even away up in Unst. But perhaps the naming has
been quite recent. MONTROSE is very French-looking,
but we already know that it is just the G. moine t'rois,
' moss ' or ' bog on the promontory.' Such names as
BONNYBRIDGE and BONNYRIGG are usually thought to
be at least half French ; but it is doubtful whether the
Sc. bonny has really anything directly to do with the



ROMAN, NORMAN, AND MODERN NAMES. Ixxxv

Fr. bon, bonne, good. BURDIEHOUSE, near Edinburgh,
is, according to the common tradition, a corruption of
' Eordeaux-honsc.' Grant in Old and Nevj Edinburgh
(iii. 342), thinks that it was probably so called from
being the residence of some of the exiled French silk-
weavers, the same exiled Huguenots who settled so
largely in Spitalfields, London. They also founded the
now vanished village of Picardy, between Edinburgh
and Leith, whose name is still preserved on the old site
by ' Picardy Place.'

Cape, a headland, is just the Fr. cap, head or cape ;
thus we have few ' capes ' in Scotland, and those few,,
such as Cape Wrath, of quite modern application.
Gulf, the Fr. yolfe, is not represented at all, either in
Scotland or England.

A few quite recent names still remain, calling for a
passing word. And, be it remarked, even though a
name has sprung up within the last couple of centuries,
its origin is by no means invariably easy to trace ; e.g.,
the writer has not yet been able to trace the exact
origin of ALEXANDRIA in the Vale of Leven, or of that
German-sounding village near Arbroath, called FRIOCK-
HEIM, but on local tongues Freakem, although the
former is only a little more than a century old, and
the latter very much less. Nor does he know why a
certain spot in Ayrshire has been called PATNA ; nor
why a little railway station near Holytown has been
dubbed with the Honduras name of OMOA. But he
presumes it must have been some Bible lover (?) who
christened JOPPA, near Edinburgh, about the beginning
of this century, and who planted both a Jordan and a
Canaan Lane on the south side of that same city.
There is also a Jordanhill to the west of Glasgow, and
a PADANARAM near Forfar.



Ixxxvi PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

Some recent names are, of course, very easily solved ;
as, for instance, the three well-known forts planted
along the Caledonian valley to overawe the Highlanders
at different periods from 1655 to 1748, and called after
scions of the reigning house, FORT WILLIAM, FORT
AUGUSTUS, and FORT GEORGE. Battles have pretty
frequently been commended to the memory of posterity
by a place-name ; e.g., we have a farm on the south
shore of the Dornoch Frith called BALACLAVA, its
former name having been Balnuig (' farm town on the
bay '). PORTOBELLO, near Edinburgh, like Portobello,
near Wolverhampton, takes its name from a seaport on
the Isthmus of Darien, where Admiral Vernon won a
great victory for Britain in 1739. The name means
'beautiful harbour;' but, as most people know, the
Edinburgh watering-place is not itself specially
beautiful, and it certainly has no harbour.

The suburbs of the large cities have, of course, modern,
and often purely fancy, names ; such are TRINITY,
near Edinburgh, MAGDALEN GREEN, Dundee, and
MOUNT FLORIDA and MOUNT VERNON on the outskirts
of Glasgow. The latter name occurs in the Glasgow
Directory of 1787. Probably all the place-names
north of Inverness, which are neither Gaelic nor Norse,
are quite recent; e.g., THE MOUND and THE POLES,
near Dornoch, and BETTYHILL, between Thurso and
Tongue, the market knoll or stance of the district,
so called after Elizabeth, Marchioness of Stafford
(c. 1820).



CHAPTER V.

ECCLESIASTICAL NAMES.

FROM the earliest times a distinguishing and far from
u upraise worthy feature of the Scot has always been
his warm attachment to the church. The Norseman, a
pagan born, drinking to Thor and Wodin, dreaming of
Asgard and Valhalla, and, long after his nominal conver-
sion to Christ, a pagan at heart, has left little mark on
the ecclesiastical nomenclature of Scotland ; the Angle,
whose conversion, thanks largely to lona missionaries,
was more real, has left considerable impress here. But
the warm-hearted, pious, and always somewhat super-
stitious Celt has left far more. His personal names,
too, have often a churchly flavour ; e.g., Macnab, ' abbot's
son,' Mackellar, ' the superior's son/ MacBrair, ' the
friar's son/ Gilchrist, ' servant of Christ/ Gillespie,
' servant of the bishop/ &c.

Till 1469 Orkney and Shetland had the Bishop of
Trondhjem as their ecclesiastical superior; but for all
that the Norse churchly names may be dismissed in a
few sentences. All northern ' kirks ' have received
their name from Norse lips, as HALKIRK, KIRKWALL,
and KIIIKAB Y ; but these are not many. Near Kirkwall,
seat of the Bishop of Orkney, stands QUANTERNESS,
and quanter- is the Icel. kantari, which enters as an
element into a good many Icelandic words ; it is an
adaptation of the Canter- in holy Canterbury (O.E.



Ixxxviii PLACE-NAMES OF SCOTLAND.

Cantwaraburh), being used in Icel. for ' bishop.' Then
we have the oft-recurring PAPA, and its derivatives
PAPILL and PAPLAY, as local names in Orkney
and Shetland. Papa is a Latin name for ' a bishop,'
in use as early as Tertullian ; the Norsemen at first
gave the name to any Christian, but soon it came to
be applied only to ' a priest.' We have already
explained North RON ALDSAY as = ' St Ringan's ' or
' Ninian's isle/ and that same saint's name reappears
in St Ninian's Isle in Shetland. We do not remember
any other Orcadian or Zetland isle bearing the name
of a saint. 1 A curiously corrupted name, half Celtic,
half Danish, is CLOSEBURN, in Dumfriesshire. It has
nothing in the world to do with either a close or a burn.
In the 12th century the name appears as Kylosbern,
though already in 1278 it has donned its present guise.
The early form shows that here we have another of
the superabundant Celtic kils ; only this was the ' cell '
or ' church ' of a Norse saint ; for Osborne is the N.
Asen-bjorn, ' the bear of the Asen ' or ' gods.'

Over the true English church-names we must linger
a little longer. Seeing that English-speaking monks
were at one time owners of a large proportion of the
whole area of Scotland, it is not strange that we
should find not a few English ecclesiastical place-
names. We have both a MONKTON and a NUNTON, the
one near Troon, the other away beside Lochmaddy, but
both pronounced almost alike, i.e., the local habitants
always talk of ' the Munton.' ' Abbey ' and ' Abbot '
occur again and again in places ABBEY CRAIG, ABBEY
HILL, ABBOTSFORD, ABBOTSGRANGE, ABBOTSHALL, as
well as ABBEY ST BATHAN'S. The 'bishop' has left
his name too, though he has long since lost the lands,
1 Except DAMSEY, for which see p. xcv.



ECCLESIASTICAL NAMES. Ixxxix

as in BISHOPBRIGGS (see p. Ixi) and BISHOPTON : even
the humble priest (O.E., preost) has come in for his
share of mention. There are at least fifteen Prestons in
England, and at least two in Scotland, besides PRESTON-
KIRK, PRESTONPANS, and PRESTWICK.

Probably all the many 'kirks' south of Caithness
are of English origin. ' Kirk ' is the O.E. cyrc ; but
already by the 12th century, in Scotland (e.g., a. 1124,
Selechirche or SELKIRK) as well as in England, the
hard c often became the soft ch ; and perhaps it may be
useful here to inform the benighted Southron that
educated Scottish people do not now, as a rule, speak
about their 'kirk.' Kirk occurs both as prefix,
suffix, and alone, as in KIRKMAIDEN or Maidenkirk,

Wigtown, KlRKBUDDO, KlRKCOLM, CHANNELKIRK, FAL-

KIRK, LAUREXCEKIRK, and Kirk o' Shotts. There are
many Kirktons in Scotland, corresponding to the
Kirtons of England, just as the Scotch KIRKABY (O.N.
Jcirkia-bi) corresponds to the English Kirby, in West
Kirby, Kirby Stephen, &c. The old, full name of
Golspie was ' Golspiekirktoun,' and there is a farm
called Kirkton there still. KIRKCALDY is English only
so far as the kirk is concerned. Popular etymology
long explained the name as ' church of the Culdees.'
But in the St Andrews charters, c. 1150, the name is
' Kircaladinit,' i.e., ' church by the wood of the den ' or



Online LibraryJames B. (James Brown) JohnstonPlace-names of Scotland → online text (page 6 of 26)