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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Time for Tee

11th July 2013

Recently, Scotlands People the official government agency for family history research in Scotland highlighted tee-names when it released online images from the 1895 valuation rolls for Scotland. These rolls were compiled for assessing the value of properties and the rates of tax to be paid on them, listing the owners and occupiers at the time of assessment. The rolls have provided for posterity the local nicknames given to individuals in certain regions, most notably in the North East, Argyll and Fife. These names, often called tee-names, or in some parts eik-names, were used to distinguish individuals in the community, particularly if they shared a name in common with others, or if they stood out on account of physical characteristics, occupation or some skill. Scotlands People omitted to mention, though, that tee-names were created among speakers of the Scots language community and therefore the valuation rolls provide evidence for the presence of the Scots language. Indeed, sources such as the valuation rolls (beginning in 1855) together with the census (from 1841) can provide much information about the linguistic background of a community, if a person knows what to look for. During the 1840s and 1850s census forms and rolls were usually filled out by schoolmasters, clerks and others who lived and worked within the community, and who spoke the same language as the people they were enumerating, so they often wrote down personal, family and place-names in Scots forms, or gave the Scots names for occupations. At the same period, Scottish society was becoming increasingly centralised, with pressure to conform to the culture and language of England, so many of the head enumerators began to correct and Anglicise the Scots forms of names local enumerators recorded in their books and rolls. As a result of the publicity about the 1895 valuation roll Scotlands People was recently contacted by family historians citing examples of ancestors with further examples of tee-names in Scotland, such as Bonny Singing Sandy  (Beautiful singing Alexander) from Pennan, Pigger Hogg (probably Hogg the earthenware dealer or maker) from Laurencekirk, and Murdo Cutie (business-savvy Murdo) from Gairloch. So old Scottish census and valuation rolls hold more than first meets the eye, providing a tangible link with the language of our community and ancestors.