Scots place names online
This article first appeared in Lallans Nummer 79 and is republished here with the kind permission of the author.
Scotland, wi its mony-leedit history, haes a fouth o place an topographic names that, tae fowk frae furth o Scotland an mony Scots forby, seems tae be rhymeless. O coorse, whan places wis first gien names, thay meant something tae the fowk at the time. The study o place-names an thair meanins is kent as toponymy, a subject that fascinates mony fowk.
The auldest kent place-names in Scotland kythes in the warks o Tacitus, Ptolemy, an ither clessical writers an is for ordinar the names that the Romans gied tae places. Nane o thir is uised ony mair, tho some hauds that Bonchester Bridge is frae the Laitin Bona Castra, kent as Binster Brig in Scots. The auldest place-names still bein uised the day predates the Pechts an Breetons, an can be fund in topographical featurs sic as the rivers Clyde, Earn an Peffer. The Pechts bade in eastren and northren Scotland frae the hinder end o the Airn Age tae the Early Middle Ages, lea’in mony place-names beginnin wi Pit an Aber, sic as Pitmedden an Aberargie. At the selsame time the Breetons bade sooth o the Firths o Forth an Clyde, lea’in place-names sic as Glesgae, Perth an Penicuik. Baith the Pechts an Breetons spak Breetish leeds sib tae modren Welsh. The wabsteid Pictish Nation gies a bit backgrund tae the Pechts, but for a mair scientive haundlin tak a leuk at a document cried Placenames and the settlement pattern of dark-age Scotland an the wabsteid A Consideration Of Pictish Names. Thare’s a bittie anent the Pechts in Shetland afore the Norsemen at Archaeology @ Suite101.
Frae the fift century the Gaels estaiblisht the Kinrick o Dalriada on the wast coast. Thair Erse leed syne spreid ower maist aw o Scotland binna a wee neuk in the sooth-east o Scotland, Orkney, Shetland an the nor’-east neuk o Caithness. Athort Scotland, Gaelic place-names is the maist common, including mony written in the Gaelic, sic as Achadh nan Each, Baile Geamhraidh, Beinn a’ Tuath, Cill Maire, Gleann Eachach an Inbhir Ghil. Ithers is written conform tae Scots or English conventions, wi elements sic as Auch or Auchen, Bal, Ben, Kil, Glen an Inver or Inner, as in Auchencloy, Balbeg, Ben Nevis, Kilbride, Glen Albyn an Inverlochy or Innerleithen. For mair aboot the oreegins o Gaelic place-names see the by-ordinar list frae the Ordnance Survey, whaur a glossar o place-name elements can be gotten an aw. The wabsteid Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba ettles tae gie advisement anent the richt furms o Gaelic place-names for contemporar uiss.
Frae the aicht century, Orkney, Shetland an the nor’-east o Caithness wis sattelt by Norsemen. Thair leed wis tae become kent as Norn, fund in the mony Geos, Roes, Voes an Wicks o thae pairts. A Norse heirskip is shawn in the Garths, Firths an Nesses kent ithergates an aw. As for the Gaelic, the Ordnance Survey haes pitten oot a innin tae Norse place-names alang wi a glossar o Norse place-name elements an aw. Mair aboot place-names in the Northren Isles is dealt wi by Orkneyar an the Hjaltland Network, while Berit Sandnes gies some scientive backgrund tae thir names. Wi the spreid o the Gaelic efter the Norsemen haed forleetit Caithness an Sutherland, thir airts haes place-names o baith Norse an Gaelic oreegin, a subject weel haundelt by Ruairidh MacIlleathain.
By the seivent century, Auld-English-speakin Northumbers haed won owerins sooth o the River Forth, whaur Auld English place-names sic as Cunningham an Hawick is for ordinar fund. In the twalt an thirteent centuries mony fowk frae the North an Midlands o England, that spak Norse-influenced early Middle English, cam tae the sooth-east o Scotland, an it wis frae that that the Scots leed wis tae growe. The steid Domesday haes a index o place-names in Scotland an thair meanins. Thare fowk can coff a bonny cairt shawin the places as written in 1314, at the time o Rabert the Bruce.
Atween whiles, by the end o the eleivent century, the Hebrides haed become pairt o the Norse Kinrick o Mann an the Isles, shawn by the Norse place-names sic as Barvas, Borsham, Garrabost, Geocrab, Hamersay, Stornoway, Torlum an Trossary. Houaniver, in the thirteent century the Hebrides an Mann cam unner the owerins o the Keeng o Scots —̶ an wi that haily Gaelic-speakin.
Frae the thirteent century Scots spreid athort Lawland Scotland an taen the steid o the Gaelic an, tae some extent, Norn in Caithness. In the fifteent century the Northern Isles becam pairt o Scotland an aw, wi Scots takkin the steid o Norn in baith Orkney an Shetland by the aichteent century. Like in England, mony Scots place-names haes thair oreegins in Auld English, but thare’s a puckle written conform tae Aulder Scots conventions, sic as Balquhidder, Blairquhan, Falkirk, Fowlis, Glamis, Quholm, Rearquhar, Sanquhar, Torquhan an Wemyss, an mony ithers wi kenspeckle Modren Scots furms sic as Auldbyres, Bieldside, Brig o Turk, Cauldcots, Cauldhame, Kirkmichael, Stane Fauld an Upper Carlestoun, alang wi the mony braes, burns, cleuchs, heuchs, howes, knowes an neuks. O course mony Scots place-names haes been written conform tae English conventions, sic as Saltcoats raither nor Sautcots, places written wi ‘gh’ raither nor ‘ch’, sic as Broughty an Saughton, an the mony cleughs, faughs an heughs. The wird hauch or haugh, bein soondit the same as haw, wis taen tae be juist that by map-makkers, sae the ‘sauchie hauch’ became the Sauchiehall o the weel-kent street, an Drumsheugh in Edinburgh is nou aften soondit ‘drumshoo’. Some places wis juist pitten ower intae English, sae Baxters Wynd in St Andras becam Bakers Lane, Halyruid becam Holyrood, the laich o Menteith becam the Lake of Menteith, an Todhauch fand itsel bein cried Foxhall. Syne the auld letter yoch ‘Ʒ’ wis replaced by ‘z’, a soondin wi ‘z’ is nou aften heard in the likes o Edzell, Cockenzie an Lenzie. As wi the leeds mentiont abuin, the Ordnance Survey haes a innin tae Scots place-names an a glossar o Scots place-name elements,while the SWAP project is ettlin tae ingaither Scots wirds an place-names frae fowk willint tae contreebute.
Ower the sheuch in Ulster, Scots-speakin fowk cleckit a wheen place-names, sic as Crawtree, Gowkshill, Loanends an Milkyknowes, alang wi antrin braes, burns, mosses an vennels. O course maist place-names in Ireland is frae the Erse, mony sib tae the Gaelic anes in Scotland, sic as Aughnacloy in Tyrone an Auchencloighe in Ayrshire, the mony Ballybegs in Ireland an the Balbegs o the Hielands an Ayrshire. For a innin tae the place-names o Ulster see the wabsteid Placenames in the North of Ireland an that o the Ulster Place-Name Society.
For fowk interestit in or resairchin the place-names o Scotland, The Scottish Place-Name Society, foondit in 1996, uphauds aw casts o toponymic studies an fends a wheen resoorces, sic as copies o thair newsletter, sindry airticles, an a online curn for thaim wantin tae commune sic maiters. The Gazetteer for Scotland is a whappin geographic encyclopedie, stappit fou o wittins anent the touns, clachans, bens an glens o Scotland. That wabsteid conteens links tae cairts frae the nineteent an twintiet centuries an aw. Tho Iain Mac an Tàilleir haes ingaithert a fair bit aboot the oreegins o Scots place-names, unfortunate-like he juist slings Scots names unner thaim o ‘English’ oreegin. Thir is setten furth as PDFs o names sortit efter the aw-bay-sae an can be gotten on the Scots Pairlament wabsteid. May G. Williamson’s 1942 PhD thesis anent the nane-Celtic place-names o the Border coonties gies a guid grundin in the Norse, Auld English an Scots oreegins o place-names in thir airts. The Cairgorms National Pairk Authority haes setten furth a wittins blad anent the place-names o the pairk, an baith the records o the Pairlament o Scotland (till 1707) an the wabsteid Scotland’s Rural Past, that fends airtins tae auld cairts, can be uised tae find aulder spellins o place-names. Acause maist beuks anent toponomy is aye still unner copyricht, thay canna be fund on the wab. Houaniver, James Brown Johnston’s 1903 Place-names of Scotland is nou tae haund, thanks tae the deegitisation project sponsort by Google. For the place-names o Ulster thare’s the Northern Ireland Place-Name Project an database.
The oreegin o place-names gien abuin is frae whit wad be, for the maist pairt, the scholarly consensus. Houaniver, for thaim that likes a guid conspeeracy theory, thare’s nocht better nor the Anglo-Saxon Heresy that’s threap is that maist aw names that’s thocht tae be o Auld English or Scots oreegin is in fact frae the Norse.
Scots Language Resource Centre Association Ltd. t/a Scots Language Centre, A.K. Bell Library, York Place, Perth, Scotland PH2 8EP
Registered in Scotland as an Industrial & Provident Society No. 2451R(S). Scottish Charity No. SCO21747
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