Placename notes from the Newsletters
OS Name Books
A Note on John Malden, Ed., 1998, The
Ragman Roll & Index
Place-Names of Coigach, Wester
'Welcome to Fothrif' (Simon Taylor, Dunfermline Conference, May
Review: WFH Nicolaisen Scottish
Place-Names: Their Study and Significance, 2nd Edition, 2001
OS NAME BOOKS
The full set of lst edition OS Name Books, with the
notes from the third quarter of the nineteenth century, is held on
microfilm in the library of the Royal Commission for the Ancient and
Historic Monuments of Scotland in Edinburgh. Very usefully, there is
also a complete set of photocopies of the index pages from these books,
organised by county. However, parochial (dis)organisation and
legibility still present problems.
Now a project is under way to consolidate and
indexes, which will be a boon to researchers. Thanks to the volunteer
interest and efforts of former OS archaeologist Ian Fleming, occasional
work has begun on transcribing the entries with added detail and
presenting them in alphabetical order on hard-copy.
The RCAHMS intends to eventually computerise these documents.
Already typed-up are the indexes for Wigtownshire, Kirkcudbrightshire,
Berwickshire, Buteshire, Morayshire, and, very shortly, Banffshire -
these may be made available for consultation, though are not currently
on the shelves. A typed transcription for all the names and
descriptions for West Lothian has also been lodged by Ian Fleming with
the RCAHMS library, and is to be found alongside the OS indexes.
A NOTE ON JOHN
ED., 1998, THE RAGMAN ROLL & INDEX
The collection of documents known as the Ragman Roll
of the Scots men and women who promised fealty to Edward I of England
in 1296. It therefore amounts to a roll-call, incomplete but
invaluable, of the middle and upper ranks of society, both
ecclesiastical and secular, in late thirteenth century Scotland. The
Roll tells us that the names were written down in his own hand by
Andrew Tang, clerk of the diocese of York.
Many of the names listed contain a place-name acting as
estate name, or place of origin or abode of the individuals concerned.
This means that place-names are to a considerable extent the key to the
Ragman Roll, as a knowledge of toponymy and the ability, if necessary,
to recognise a location from an aberrant form of its name are required
before the information in the Roll can be accessed properly. As yet no
toponymic study of the Roll exists.
John Malden has transcribed the Ragman Roll from the
of Bain's Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, a hefty tome not
always easy to access outwith the larger libraries, and it is good that
he has set out to make this valuable reference tool available in a
convenient format. The index Malden provides is also potentially a very
Unfortunately however there are flaws that detract from
usefulness of this publication. Malden normalises or modernises the
spelling of some place and personal names, but not others. To take
section 200 of the Roll as an example, where Bain has Adam le
Taillour, Rogier Corbet, John
de Makeswelle and Maucolum de Stratherne,
for instance, Malden has 'Adam le Tailor', 'Roger Corbet', 'John de
Maxwell', and 'Malcolm de Strathearn'. This means in effect that
Malden's reader cannot take it for granted that any of the forms given
are identical to Bain's, and must at the end of the day go to Bain's
Calendar to check.And there are errors. To take section 200 once again,
Bain's Lorn de Ardebethey, head of the senior cadet
line of the
kin group that emerged as the Maclarens, appears in Malden as ''Lord of
Ardebethey', with the appended words 'prioress of St Leonard
Ardebethey' resulting from the duplication of Ardebethy and the
erroneous transposition of four words from the next entry but one.
Sadly, then, worthy though this enterprise is it has not
a reliable stand-alone copy of the Ragman Roll. It is of use as a first
port of call, and the index is certainly a helpful access tool, but
check everything against Bain's Calendar all the same!
COIGACH, WESTER ROSS
Forty years ago Donnie Fraser of Raon Mor began
Gaelic place-and feature- names of his native village, Achiltibuie, and
those of the surrounding area of Coigach in Wester Ross.
Almost at the northernmost edge of the Gaeltacht,
lies in the country of the MacLeod's of Assynt and, because until the
time Donnie started his collecting, it was accessible only from the
sea, it had preserved and still preserves a great deal of its Gaelic.
Donnie compiled his lists but died before he could map
nephew, Alasdair, on retiring to Raon Mor, took up the work and
continued, with more input from the two Ali MacLeods of Achnahaird,
'West' and 'Beag', locating and mapping the almost two thousand names.
The maps and the accompanying book are displayed in our village hall.
However, Alasdair and local enthusiasts decided to use modern
techniques to create a CD of the project - the Coigach Gaelic
Place Names CD.
From the large maps was created a series of smaller, interlinking,
clickable maps connecting the names to their locations and vice versa,
backed by local music all contained on a hybrid disk that can be used
on any PC or Mac.
The project from its beginning with Donnie Fraser in the
unique. It remains unique in its CD form that was completed last month
and is already being used by local schools as a geography, history and
Gaelic language resource.
The Coigach Gaelic Place Names CD is
community project. It
is for sale at £7.99 directly from us or on the Net. All
go to the Coigach Good Fund, to be used for helping local people and
projects. For more details in general in Gaelic and English, and more
details of how to buy click onto:
The Coigach Gaelic Place Names CD is
first of a Coigach
series that will be made available over the next few weeks. The others
will be of singers and musicians, past and present, who are or were
local or had or have local connections. First in the series will be
Alasdair Fraser - Raon Mor. He is also the uncle of the present
Alasdair Fraser and was a fine Gaelic singer on the radio in the 1950s
and 1960s. In 1953 he sat down to record on tape his repertoire. The
tape has been handed down and once again modern computer techniques
have allowed it to be cleaned and re-mastered to produce a wonderful
record of a fine Gaelic voice.
If you would like more details of these and other
recordings, simply let me know and I will let you know when they are
available. If you would like more details of Coigach Gaelic Place Names
or have anyone else in mind who might be interested in it or Coigach
music, again do not hesitate to contact me.
Ian Campbell Whittle, Tigh na'Tilleadh,
Achiltibuie, Wester Ross IV26 2YW, Tel/fax: 01854-622448
A summary of Simon Taylor's talk 'Welcome
Fothrif: an introduction to the place-names of West Fife',
given to the SPNS Conference and AGM, Dunfermline, 11 May 2002.
I started by attempting a definition and an analysis of
itself. Rather than repeat this material here, I refer the reader to my
chapter on Fife place-names in The Fife Book (see
A glance at the medieval map of Fife shows that
represents a large, no doubt royal, early territory which stretched
from North Queensferry in the south to the boundary of Cleish in the
north, including Inverkeithing, which probably became a parish in the
late 12th c. through the development of its royal burgh. In other words
the territory of Dunfermline ran from Drumfarlane, a field name beside
Broomhall on the coast, as far as Dummiefarlane, a hill-fort in the
Cleish Hills. It looks very much as though both these names contain the
same specific element as Dunfermline, and define an early territory
toponymically, just as its old parish boundaries define it
administratively. The map also tells us that the bishopric of Dunkeld
.was almost as important in west Fife as was the bishopric of St
The languages spoken in west Fife over the past 1500
as well as their sequence and interactions, are similar to those for
the whole of former Pictland between the Forth and Beauly Firths, with
the earliest clearly identifiable stratum that of Pictish. Examples are
Urquhart, an estate immediately west of Dunfermline, whose Pictish
credentials are endorsed by the 8th century form Air-chartan
of its name-sake Urquhart on Loch Ness, which appears in Adomnan's Vita
Columbe. It means 'on the *carden' or '*carden-side'.
The meaning of carden,
so long assumed to be a Pictish word for 'wood(land)', must remain a
matter for further investigation in the light of Andrew Breeze's
important note in Scottish Language 18 (1999),
questions the basis for this interpretation, suggesting rather that it
refers to some kind of enclosure. The word also appears in the
estate-name Carden, better known in the west Fife mining village-name
Cardenden (combined as an existing place-name with the Scots element den
'deep valley'). Other Pictish names in west Fife are Aberdour and
Abercrombie, now known simply as Crombie, a village, formerly a parish,
between Torryburn and Dunfermline.
Gaelic, which will have been well established in Fife by
900, if not before, has left a rich stratum of names. One such is
Calais (earlier Kellohouis 1287 x 1299), probably *Coillius
'place of (by or in) a wood', Gaelic coille + location suffix -us
'place of. Its origins have survived its Frenchified orthography, as it
is still pronounced locally 'Kalis' (with the first element rhyming
with 'ale'), although this has not prevented it from generating the
nearby names Dover Strip and Dover Heights!
Scots, which was certainly being used to coin
Fife by the later 12th century, has also left many place-names, such as
Crossford, probably 'ford marked by a cross'. West Fife has its fair
share of humorous, and usually depreciating, Scots names, popular in
the early modern period, such as Pilkembare ('strip them bare'),
Hungerhimout, Gaithercauld, Glowrowrem and the cleverly named Little
Honesty (part of the lands of Clune in Carnock parish). Sadly few of
these names have survived.
Many names of Celtic origin (i.e. Pictish and Gaelic)
unassigned: besides borrowing several elements from Pictish,
Gaelic-speakers will also have adapted, even part-translated, existing
Pictish names, to an extent which is now impossible to quantify. One
element borrowed by Gaelic-speakers is the well-known pett
'estate farm', which occurs more often in the Dunfermline area than in
any other area in Scotland, except for Abernethy, Perthshire. This, and
the fact that two of the pett-names are combined
ecclesiastical element (Pitliver and Pitbauchlie), suggests that there
was an important church site at Dunfermline before the time of Queen
Margaret (which I have argued for in my article 'Some Early Scottish
Place-Names and Queen Margaret', Scottish Language
13 (1994), 1-17).
One name which may well have been adapted from a Pictish
Dunfermline itself, which I tentatively suggested contains two
burn-names, the Fern (an old name for the Tower Burn) and the Lyne Burn.
I concluded the talk with a detailed examination of the
Pitbauchlie, 'estate of the keeper of the bachall or crozier', now a
southern suburb of Dunfermline. I had discussed this name at some
length in my above-mentioned article in Scottish Language, but it was
only recently that I had become fully aware of an important piece of
evidence showing remarkable continuity between the meaning of this
early place-name and later tenurial history, at the same time
confirming the above interpretation of this name.
The evidence is a Registrum de Dunfermelyn charter
issued between 1304 and 1313 by the abbot of Dunfermline to Mariota
Cook, the present representative of the family which had been renting
half the land of Pitbauchlie from the abbey for at least two
generations. The charter specifically exempts Mariota and her heirs
from various burdens including the payment of dereth'
and slother. These are both Gaelic words: dereth'
is from G deoradh, 'dewar, relic-keeper', while
slother contains the G sluagh
'host, army', and probably represents an original sluaghadh 'hosting,
raising an army'. This exemption is unique in Scotland, so we can rule
out the idea that they relate to general burdens on lands. These two
duties are in fact best explained as forming part of a very old
tenurial agreement between the superior of Pitbauchlie and its tenant,
who was as the name suggests, the dewar of a saint's crozier. This
agreement was to do with the production of the holy relic for purposes
of law-enforcement such as the tracking down of stolen property (which
was one of the duties of the keeper of St Fillan's crozier in
Strathfillan in western Perthshire), encapsulated in the term dereth'.
These duties seem to have been commuted to a money-payment by the time
this charter was issued, and it is from this payment that the charter
This analysis of Pitbauchlie is an excellent example of
toponymics and document-based history can complement each other and
deepen our understanding of tenurial relationships in medieval Scotland.
One name which lack of time prevented me from discussing
small area of east Dunfermline, near to where the conference was being
held, called Transy. This first appears in 1781 as Transylvania, but in
a sasine of 1812 we are informed that it is henceforth to be named
Transy. If only all place-name change was so well documented. The
uneasy question remains however: why Transylvania? The bachall
of Pitbauchlie might have come in handy on dark nights
For further discussion of place-names of Fife,
east, see S. Taylor, 'Place-Names of Fife' in The Fife Book ed. D.
Omand (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2000), 205-20.
W F H
Scottish Place Names:
Their Study and Significance, John Donald, Edinburgh, Second Edition,
2001 ISBN 0 85976 556 3, £12.99
Those of us who became involved in place-name studies
have used Nicolaisen's text virtually as a bible since it first
appeared in 1976. It is fair to say that it is the most important work
on Scottish place-names to have been published in the twentieth
century, since it covers such a wide range of names, tackling the major
issues with impressive scholarship, and skilful use of previously
unexplored data. Bill Nicolaisen is the first to admit that in the
quarter-century since the original appeared, the science of Scottish
onomastics has moved on, and there have been significant developments
in the use of distribution maps, digital processing, and linguistics.
Moreover, archaeological research has revealed much more about our
A preface to this new edition outlines the author's
these new developments. Here, 'some of those aspects of the original
publication which require clarification in a modern context' (p xvi)
are discussed. For example, the distribution of names in G Sliabh
is now recognised as requiring modification in view of the fact that
the element remains productive in parts of the Western Isles. However,
Nicolaisen insists that the distribution (p.56) 'does not invalidate it
in part as a visual impression of an otherwise geographically elusive
early phase of the presence of Gaelic in Scotland.'
The overall text has been amended and rephrased to
overall acceptability to the general reader, and a substantial
bibliography of publications since 1976 is included (pp.257-273.) This
is considerably longer than the original bibliography, demonstrating
the scope of Scottish onomastic research over the last quarter-century.
This book is very welcome, since the original hardback
paperback version first published by Batsford in 1986 (and reprinted in
1989) has long been unavailable. The attractive John Donald edition,
with a cover illustration of a map from Blaeu's Atlas Major, is a
prequisite of any library with a Scottish interest. At the competitive
price of £12.99, it is excellent value, and should continue
serve as a standard text for many years to come.
From: David Sim
Subject: Swiss Place Names
Date sent: Thu, 14 Jan 2002
Dear Mr Fraser
I actually didn't know of the existence of the Scottish
Society until I read today's BBC on-line. As a Scot living abroad the
BBC's always a good source of information.
I am very interested in the subject -especially with
with Nordic-influenced names. I have a theory about Cupar but I will
spare you my own ponderings.
I was in Switzerland this weekend attending the National
EXPO 02 and I was most impressed to find a pavilion devoted to the
subject of Swiss place names. Apart from the interesting subject and
the design of the pavilion (I teach at a Swedish Architecture School) I
discovered the Swiss have produced an excellent interactive CD rom
featuring Swiss place names along with short films and brief histories
of those places. I would love to see such a CD rom about Scottish place
names. Perhaps this Swiss initiative could be brought to the attention
of MSPs as an example of where we could be going?
Lecturer, Lund University
William Wallace Gauld
Bill Gauld died in Perth on June 2nd, at the age of 82.
of the Society's first members. Bill's interests were varied, but he
was especially devoted to the study of early maps, maritime charts and
routiers, particularly those relating to the Scottish coasts. His
article in Northern Studies 26, (1989), 'In the Lee of Rockall'
assessed the early map evidence for the name 'St Kilda' and its
associated names. A number of articles followed. Bill will be much
missed at our meetings where he was a faithful attender until failing
health curtailed his activities.
As we go to press, two distinguished scholars, both of
made important contributions to onomastics, have died.
Professor Hermann Palsson, Emeritus
Professor of English
Language at Edinburgh University and a foremost Icelandic scholar, died
as the result of an accident while on holiday in Bulgaria on August
11th. He was 81. Hermann will be fondly remembered by everyone in the
Scottish academic community as a teacher, translator and commentator on
the sagas of his native Iceland. He also had a keen interest in
Mr Basil Megaw, formerly Director of
School of Scottish
Studies in Edinburgh University, died on August 22nd at the age of 89.
He had wide interests in archaeology, material culture and ethnology,
and contributed several important articles on Scandinavian and native
place-names in Man, Galloway and the Irish Sea coasts.
Mrs Ruth Richens died suddenly aged 82 at her
on April 16th this year. At the SPNSociety AGM in Dunfermline in May,
Simon Taylor paid a short tribute to her, a summary of which is printed
Ruth Richens nee Scott was among the first members of
and one of the most loyal attenders at the conferences, despite the
fact that she lived in Cambridge. She showed the same loyalty to
Project Pont, attending every one of its annual conferences during the
four years of its existence. , I had the privilege of working with her
on a paper given at the Project Pont Conference in New Lanark in April
2000 entitled 'Pont and Place-Names of Lesmahagow' using her
meticulously collected and collated material from the sometimes almost
illegible Pont manuscript map of Lanarkshire.
My first encounter with Ruth's work was her excellent 'Ancient
land divisions in the parish of Lesmahagow',
Scottish Geographical Magazine 108 (no.3), 184-189 (1992), in which she
used 12th and 13th century charters of Kelso Abbey to recreate early
land-units in that parish. Her love of Lanarkshire, especially of
Lesmahagow, ran deep, since her father's family hailed from there, and
she often visited there in her youth. Her great act of family homage
was her edition of the letters of her grandfather, Gavin Scott, written
between 1911 and 1917 to Gavin Scott's son George, a medical officer in
Malaya. These she published in six books in the 1980s (see Scottish
Place-Name News 5 (Autumn 1998), p.9). Ruth, in her work on Lesmahagow,
as well as on family history, received impressive support from various
family members, especially from her cousin Mrs Lilias MacDonald, North
Queensferry, who was present at the Dunfermline conference, and from
Mrs MacDonald's husband Kinnear MacDonald, who has produced a digitised
database of much of Ruth's Pont material, including a successful
attempt at presenting Pont's river system in an electronic format.
Latterly Ruth had been working on the Hamilton Estate
1637, which details all the property held by the Hamiltons throughout
Lanarkshire and beyond. She was applying her usual meticulous care on
this work, as well as bringing to bear on it her formidable knowledge
of Lanarkshire topography and toponymy.
The greatest tribute that can be paid to Ruth is to
work is continued, and published, and I hope that the SPNSociety will
be actively involved in such a tribute.
A complete set of Your Loving Father.
Scott: Letters from a Lanarkshire Farmer 1911-17 edited
by Ruth Richens, 6 vols. can be obtained from Mrs M. Gow, 14 South
Croft Road, Biggar ML12 6AJ; price £12 + p. & p..
volumes range from £1.20 to £3.50 each.
Marjorie Ogilvie Anderson
On 27 May this year the death occurred of the eminent
Scottish historian Marjorie O. Anderson nee Cunningham. She was 93. She
had been a member of the SPNSociety from its earliest days, and was a
generous supporter of Scottish place-name studies. As an early
medievalist, she fully appreciated the value of place-names as a tool
for the understanding of pre-documentary Scottish history. An
appreciation of her work, and that of her equally eminent husband, Alan
O. Anderson, who died in 1958, will appear in the November/December
issue of the bimonthly magazine History Scotland.
How many Pit-
place-names were there?
Bullion and Melrose
Local Councils and Place-Names
Professor Kenneth Cameron CBE,
Simon Taylor writes: RHP75001-79488 is a large and important collection
in West Register House (Charlotte Square, Edinburgh). It is a series of
OS 6 inch maps with the boundaries of all farms and estates clearly
marked, as well as, in many cases, the quality and type of land. It
covers most if not all of lowland Scotland. To quote from the pre-amble
in the WRH index: "The origins of the land classification maps and the
farm boundary/types of farming maps lie in the rigorous requirement of
World War 2, which precipitated the growth of agricultural planning."
It was begun in 1944 and completed in 1951, though work continued on it
up till 1954. Given the importance for toponymics of defining as
closely as possible the medieval boundaries of land-settlement units
(as well as of land classification and potential), and given the basic
conservatism of estate boundaries, this collection of maps is of great
value to all aspects of settlement history and the study of place-name
origin and development.
The following poem comes from a short cycle of poems by
Kermack called Linshader: Township in Transition,
published this year by Pinkfoot Press, Balgavies, Forfar DD8 2TH, price
£l including p & p. The cycle celebrates different
the township in different verse forms: Geological (haiku),
Meteorological (tanker), Ornithological, Onomastical (Spenserian
sonnet) and Municipal.
Línsetr, in Old Norse 'the
and Grímsstaiðir, grim 'Grímr's
of land and language by grain-growing Macs,
cow-boys, who had no place for linenweft.
Tob Collavig's bilingual, un-infeft
black-houses' ruined walls are standing still;
Macaulay was so greedy people left
his lazy-beds just lying on the hill.
Na Muilne is in Gaelic 'of the Mill'
which Matheson dismantled for his multure.
Co-OPerative crofting filled the bill,
Safeways are needed now into the future
in supermarket speak: for every week
Kinhoulavig heads through the hills
Notes (by Stuart Kermack and Simon Taylor):
Linshader, part of Grimersta estate, Uig,
wind-swept gneiss hills on the west coast of the island of Lewis, has
always been in transition. There are ruins of black-houses (or thatched
houses) beside the bay of Tob Collavig, but in the 19th century Sir
James Matheson destroyed the mill beside the fresh-water Loch na Muilne
and the cottars were so oppressed by the labour that was demanded of
them by his tenant that they all left in a body. In 1924 the farm was
divided into crofts lying along the shore of Loch Kinhoulavig at the
south end of East Loch Roag, but they are now barely economical.
In 1 Linshader, Gaelic Linsiadar or Lìseadair
(with nasalised ì; see Watson 1904,
270), ultimately from Old Norse lín
'linen, flax' + setr 'farm'.
In 2 The generic element in Grimersta is from Old Norse staðir
'farm, settlement'. The first element is no doubt the Old Norse
personal name, nominative Grímr, genitive Gríms.
In 5 Tòb is Gaelic An t-Òb 'the bay', òb
'bay' being a loan-word from Old Norse hop(r) 'bay,
inlet', which also gives the Scots hope 'bay'.
In 14 Collavig has developed from the original Norse name for the deep
inlet, the innermost part of which is called Loch Kinhoulavig (Ceann
Chollavig). Both loch and ceann
('head, end') are Gaelic. Collavik itself would seem to be made up of
Old Norse kollr 'rounded hill', and vik
References: Watson, W.J. 1904, Place-Names of Ross and
Cromarty (Inverness; reprinted in paperback 1996 by Highland
Heritage Books, Evanton).
HOW MANY PIT-
NAMES WERE THERE?
We would like to know how many Pit- place names
charters. An estimate of this number can be found using a simple
statistical argument. Three things are needed: (i) a count of the Pit-
place names on current maps; (ii) a count of the Pit-
place names appearing in a representative sample of charters; and (iii)
a count of how many Pit- place names from the
charters still survive on current maps (the intersection of (i) and
The statistical argument
On current OS Landranger maps there are 246 Pit- place
names. What fraction is this of all historical Pit-
names? We arrive at an indirect answer by finding the fraction of
surviving Pit- names that appear in royal charters,
specifically the charters contained in The Register of the
Great Seal of Scotland, covering the period AD1306 to AD1668.
It turns out that there are 300 Pit- names
mentioned in these charters, but only 196 of them appear on current OS
maps as current Pit- place names. The proportion of
Pit- names from the Register surviving
to OS maps is therefore 196/300 = 0.6533 or nearly two thirds. If we
may regard appearance on OS maps as being statistically unrelated to
the appearance of a Pit- name in the charters, then
we may argue that the 246 Pit- place names on
current OS Landranger maps represent about two thirds of all Pit-
names, implying an original total number of Pit-
place names of 246/0.6533 = 377 approximately.
How many Pit- names are false?
Needless to say, there are many difficulties with the above argument,
but we will mention here just one - the difficulty in deciding if a Pit-
is genuine or false. Simon Taylor (Appendix 1 in Nomina 20)
says that both Pitfoddels and Pitdelphin
are false. Both appeared first in the charters with the prefix Bad-
(Badfothel and Badelphin
respectively), and only much later changed prefix from Bad-
to Pit-. Despite this, I have included these two,
and many other potentially false Pit- names. In so
far as I have consistently included false Pit-
names, the estimate of 377 is an overestimate and should be revised
downwards. It would be a relatively simple matter to re-calculate all
the above figures using only true Pit- place names.
Genetic Element Variation
However, Simon Taylor has raised another difficulty, which is a bit
harder to deal with, that some Pit- names
are subject to what he calls "Generic Element Variation". To illustrate
this particular problem, consider the three modern placenames Balcalk
(N03939), Balkello (N03638) and Balkembak
(N03938). The three are close to Tealing
(N04138), and indeed all three were at one time in the Barony of
Tealing. The names of these places, as recorded in the Register
of the Great Seal and the Retours, show
Petkemmok / Balkemback
Superficially, Balkembak's name appears to have
changed at least five times: Petcammo (1513), Balkemmak
(1557), Petkemmok (1561), Pockemmo
(1583), Polkembik (1611) and Balkembak
(modern). How many places are we talking about here? Is the answer five
or, as Simon Taylor suggests, two? Basically, there appear to be two
main variants within the time-span of The Register of the
Great Seal of Scotland and the Retours:
the prefix Pet- is used before about 1600, and Pol-
between 1600 and 1700. The one exception to this is Balkemmak
in a charter of 1577.
Balcalk was known as Powcak
until about 1700. The one exception is Balcak
and it is noteworthy that this exception occurs in the same charter as
the exceptional case for Balkemback.
Balkello (and variants) appears at least 20
the charters. In 15 cases, the prefix is either Bal-
or Bo-. Four of the five exceptions involve
charters dealing with all three placenames Balcalk,
Balkello and Balkemback,
giving all three the prefix Po- : for example Polcak,
Polkello and Pockemmo in a
charter of 1583. The fifth exception is a charter of 1561 in which Balkello
and Balkemback are both given the prefix Pet-
(Pethallo and Petkemmok).
The exceptions prove the rule
A pattern is easily spotted for these exceptions: when there
is an exceptional case in the charter, all three placenames have the
same prefix. In other words, the mistakes are only made when
the same prefix is used for all three places.
Thus, the exceptions prove the rule: there is a tendency for these
placenames to be given the same prefix, even when the true placenames
have different prefixes. This is explicable in terms of confusion of
sounds, for example as might be expected when an informant is a native
Gaelic speaker and the scribe is a native Scots speaker. Even though
the informant knows the difference between Pol-, Bal-
and Pit-, the scribe may not be
distinguish the sounds sufficiently, and renders all three in a single
It is not always easy to identify places mentioned in the charters, let
alone differentiate between variants. Apart from anything else, it
appears that one piece of ground may be owned simultaneously by several
people. Also, these people may use their own variants to describe the
same place. Another difficulty, for me at any rate, is that the earlier
charters are almost always written in Latin, and this is not a language
with which I am familiar. Nor is my legal training up to the task.
Though I have tried to make sense of the charters, I do not know
exactly what is being described in many cases. For example, in 1612
when Thome Ogilvie gives his wife "quartem partem villa et
terrarum de Balkello" does he give a specific quartem
partem of the villa et terrarum de Balkello,
or does he transfer a quartem partem of the feudal
income? The latter seems more likely, but the former would tend to
create new placenames like South Balkello.
Whichever applies, it seems to me that all fractions are fractions of
the same whole, so that the names Bokello, Balkello,
Pethallo, Polkello, Balkillo
all refer to the same place (the last vestige of which is now called Old
False Pit- names again
Approximately 10% of all Pit- names involve
potential confusion with the prefix Bal-, but this
is hard to measure exactly. Some instances are more likely to be false,
like Pitfoddels, though even here we can never be
certain. The name Pethallo has a very short life
and is probably (but not certainly) a false Pit-
place name, owing its existence to the similarity in sound of the
prefixes Bal- and Pet-, and to
the fact that it had a neighbour with a Pit- name (Petkemmok).
On the other hand, three of the first four versions of Petkemmok
have prefix Pet-, making this a likely (but not a
certain) true Pit- name.
The first change from Pit- to Bal-
It is Nicolaisen's belief (Scottish Place Names)
that "there is no recorded instance of a Pit- name
being changed to a Bal- name
between, let us say, the 12th and 18th centuries". Certainly, the
phenomenon is very rare. Up to 1668 (the date of the last charter in The
Register), there appear to be only two cases. Petcammo
changed to Balkemmak in 1557, though only
temporarily. The other case is Petquhro 1482 which
changed to Balnachroan in 1642, the modern name
being Ballachroan. The rest of the twenty or so Pit-
changes occur some time after 1668, and are mostly in Fife, Perth and
Angus. On account of Nicolaisen's rule, it is even less likely that Pethallo
is a true Pit- name, as that would require a change
from Pit- to Bal- some time
before 1472 (the date of the first instance of Balkellow
in The Register of the Great Seal.
Can you do any better?
It is not possible to be dogmatic about Pit- place
the reader may take much of the above as very speculative until
confirmed by competent authority. Indeed, readers well versed in
Latin/Gaelic/Scots/Law would probably prefer to reach their own
conclusions independently. The present author has assembled a Microsoft
Access database pertaining to Pit- names,
containing about two thousand extracts from The Register of
the Great Seal and the Retours, along
with geographic locations, OS coordinates of Pit-
names, and other related information. If anyone is interested in
reinterpreting these charters, and is able to use Microsoft Access, he
or she should contact the author for a copy of the database.
Bob Henery 7 March 2002
Alan Craigie writes:
I found the entry on Haggis Gap and
interesting, because in Angus circa 1940-50 at least, the word "HAG"
was used for the discarded limbs, branches, of usually hard wood trees
after its trunk had been taken away.
COATIR HOOSES in Angus had a "HAG-STAG" for keeping Hag, [and also
slabs from its sawmills,] until items dried out enough to be used as
The English Vernacular Dictionary gives "STAG" as a variation of
"STACK" as in "HAY-STAG" so hag-stag is "WOODPILE" which would be true
in my experience.
Forfar County Council had an advertisement on the BACK PAGE of its
PEOPLES JOURNAL 11 OCTOBER 1919 on "HAG" and "BRUSHWOOD" for FUEL. So,
the word HAG was still being used by the powers that be until 1919, and
quite likely a good few years afterwards, but I haven't noticed it
recently, but then my house is all-electric.
P.S. I also have a faint memory of the words "PEAT-HAG"
as proper words in some publication 15-20 years ago. So "HAG" as a word
is not absolutely archaic.
Dr May Williamson writes:
The article by Dr Alan James
in the Autumn 2001 Newsletter reawakened my interest in this term in
Angus MacDonald in his Place Names of West Lothian
(1941) gives spellings for the Bullion Well in Ecclesmachan as Bulzeon
and Bulyeon (1563 SRS) and suggests
these spellings represent the present participle of O.Sc. builze,
"to boil, bubble". He also quotes Bulzion (1696)
for a street name in Linlithgow.
No early spellings existed, naturally, for Bullion Road in South
Queensferry and no spring or well is visible in the vicinity, but John
Mason in his History of South Oueensferry (1963)
mentions a spring "where the mineral water bubbles up through the
green", and Stuart Harris in his Place Names of Edinburgh (1996)
locates a spring, a source of the Ferry Burn, to the north of the road
but now covered by the approach road to the Forth Road Bridge.
Perhaps more interesting are two field names cited by MacDonald -
Bullion Park in Newbigging and Bullions in Dalmeny. In neither of these
is there a spring and there is no tradition of any industrial process
involving boiling. The nearest example would be the salt pans at
Blackness in the 15`" Century.
However, the solitary example of bullion in DOST is
the phrase bullion breikis for trunk hose, from O.
"a bag, pouch, wallet", obviously containing the idea of bulging. Can
it be that in those fields there were awkward bulges in the shape?
(see the note by Dr Alan James)
With this name
I have never been happy. When in 1942 I was compiling my PhD thesis on
the Non-Celtic Place-Names of the Scottish Border Counties I considered
the name to be outwith my scope, but even so it troubled me that the
stress was on the first element as in names of Germanic origin like
Hawick, Dryburgh, Morham, etc., and also that the generic followed the
specific, whereas the opposite is normally the case in names of Celtic
LOCAL COUNCILS AND
John Young, Local Councillor for Stonehouse, writes:
As a local historian with a great interest in place-names and their
origins, I have been endeavouring over the past few years to research
and record the many of the street names and long forgotten place names,
associated with the village of Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire.
Recently elected as councillor for my village, I now have the
opportunity and responsibility to preserve such ancient place names of
the past, in naming new streets and developments in my ward.
Having seen housing developers suggest naming their development after
their great granny, who has no connection with the community
whatsoever, I believe councillors should be encouraged by their
constituents, community councils and historical societies to preserve
the many names and places which have in some cases been lost in the
natural development of their community. As a councillor and local
historian (34 years young!), I believe this will encourage interest and
pride in our community, as well as recognising the achievements of
others before us.
In the past month I have been successful in obtaining new street signs
for the predominantly conservation area, replacing many old and
deteriorating street signs, some of which date to the turn of the
There are some names associated with the village, of which I can find
no explanation, and so it is all the more important to preserve such
place names for future generations to learn of, in understanding the
social and historical development of our community.
As councillors representing our communities we potentially have an
important role to play in ensuring place names are not misused and are
representative of the communities we serve. I would encourage all those
with an interest in place-names to encourage their councillors to do
Cameron, CBE, FBA.
English place-name studies lost one of its most able scholars with the
death of Ken Cameron on March 10th 2001. Born in Burnley, Lancashire in
1922, he was educated at Burnley Grammar School and at Leeds
University, where he came under the tutelage of Bruce Dickins, himself
a distinguished toponomist who was Honorary Director of the English
Place-Name Society from 1946 to 1951. Ken was caught up in World War
Two, in which he served as a pilot in the RAF, but he gained his
doctorate at the University of Sheffield where he became, in 1947,
Assistant Lecturer in English. In 1950 he was appointed to the staff of
Nottingham University, becoming Reader in 1962, Professor of English
Language in 1963, and Head of Department in 1984.
On the death of Professor A.H. Smith in 1967, Ken took over the
Directorship of the English Place-Name Survey, which he held for 25
years. He successfully transferred the Society's library from
University College London to Nottingham University, where he
established it in permanent premises. Besides administering a busy and
successful English Department, he found time to immerse himself in the
work of the EPNS where he proved a powerful motivator and a source of
great encouragement to all who were involved in name studies. He was
instrumental in founding the Society's Journal in 1969, and saw 20
county volumes into publication.
Ken Cameron will principally be remembered by the wider public as the
author of English Place-Names in 1961, revised and reissued several
times (the most recent in 1996). This was a very readable and
comprehensive general introduction to the subject, and remains a
classic of its kind. His Place-Names of Lincolnshire in six volumes,
with a seventh in preparation, and the three-volume Place-Names of
Derbyshire (1959) will, however, be his main claim toonomastic fame.
These were detailed and comprehensive works of scholarship. He wrote
numerous scholarly articles on place-names, making wide use of allied
disciplines, including geography and geology. In this, he was much
aided by his wife Kathleen, herself a geographer who died of multiple
scelerosis in 1977. Ken nursed her with great care over her final
illness, right up to her death.
He was awarded the CBE in 1987, and was awarded a Fellowship of the
British Academy, as well as an Honorary Doctorate of the University of
An affable, gregarious and down-to-earth figure, Ken Cameron was a
generous and warm-hearted personality, who never lost his Lancastrian
accent. His contribution to English onomastics has been immense, and
his influence will be felt by many students, colleagues and friends far
beyond his native country.
On 11 March 2001 the Galloway historian and place-name
Daphne Brooke died. A key figure in the elucidation of the history and
place-names of South-West Scotland, she had been due to give the
opening paper at the SPNSociety Conference in Dumfries two months
later. What follows is a version much abbreviated (by Simon Taylor) of
an obituary written by Daphne's son Simon Brooke shortly after her
Daphne Brooke nee Parker was born into a middle class London family,
became one of the first female high-flyers of the civil service, and a
formidable campaigner on penal affairs; her last major contribution was
to the history of Galloway.
She entered University College London in 1938, where she read history;
she specialised in the early medieval period and studied Anglo-Saxon
and Latin. During the first year of the war she was evacuated to
Aberystwyth, where she completed her studies, and where she first
became interested in the Welsh language. After graduating she entered
the Administrative Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, where she
soon became a pioneer, rising to be the highest promoted woman in the
civil service by the time of her resignation, and serving as Principal
to Lord Carrington when he was Parliamentary Secretary.
In 1953 she married another civil servant, Tom Brooke, and in 1963 the
family moved to Edinburgh, when her husband was posted to the
Department of Agriculture for Scotland. Daphne initially found Scotland
a very foreign country; however, from 1965 the family rented a second
home in the village of Auchencairn in Galloway. Auchencairn was to
become a centre for the family, and directly gave rise to the two major
interests of the second half of her life. She moved to the village
permanently following the breakdown of her marriage in 1979, joining
her son Simon, who was then running a pottery in the village.
One of the major interests which emerged from her relationship with
Auchencairn was a reawakening of her interest in early medieval
history, and this arose out of place-names. Daphne read Welsh,
Anglo-Saxon and Latin, as well as a number of Romance languages. Coming
to Galloway she quickly noticed the extraordinary variety of languages
which provide placenames here. The cottage she rented stood adjacent to
a field called 'Old Man' (Welsh: haul faen:
'sun stone') on a farm called Nether Hazelfield' (Old English, 'lower
stony field') in a village called 'Auchencairn' (Gaelic: achadh
nan carn: 'field (ploughland) of the cairns') in a parish
called 'Rerrick' (Scandinavian: hreyrr-eik:
cairn oak). At the time there had been little detailed study of the
early medieval history of Galloway, because there were few documents,
and such documents as did exist were obscure and written in difficult
languages. Daphne saw that study of placenames provided a key to
understanding population movement, and through it understanding how
Galloway had developed from the dawn of the Christian era to the
This project became her primary preoccupation for the next thirty five
years. With a scholar's single-mindedness and a civil servant's talent
for organisation, she tracked down every document written about
Galloway before 1500 AD, always seeking the original copy and reading
it in its original language. In the process she catalogued many
thousands of forms of many hundreds of place-names. The study took many
years, and it was not until she was already old that it flowered into a
series of academic papers and monographs, culminating in the
publication of her book Wild Men and Holy Places in 1995. At the time
of her death she was working on a further book on the immediately
pre-Christian and early Christian period in Galloway.
The Future of Scottish
Who Are You?
Haggis (credibility?) Gap.
The Man Behind Iona
THE FUTURE OF
A personal view by Simon Taylor
The School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh,
responsible for the Scottish Place-Name survey for more than 40 years,
and for much of that time there has been a toponymist in full-time
employment expanding and looking after the archive, and teaching
toponymics (place-name studies) within the wider frame-work of
onomastics (name-studies). This is the only such post in Scotland, and
so it takes on a national importance as an authority for the many
questions and problems, which place-names and place naming entail.
Sadly this situation is about to change. As of autumn 2001 Ian Fraser,
who has occupied this role with such dedication and kindness for more
than 20 years, is retiring, and there is no provision to replace him in
a full-time capacity. The School of Scottish Studies, which has
immediate responsibility for the Survey, is losing two posts this year,
but, due to constraints put on it by Edinburgh University, is only able
to appoint one new member of staff: and one of the casualties of this
has been the Place-Name Survey. It is not just the School of Scottish
Studies' problem, it is not even the University of Edinburgh's problem
- it is Scotland's problem. It highlights the whole question of how far
the responsibility for researching and advising on a nation's
nomenclature - such an integral and important part of its linguistic
and cultural history, as well as of its identity - should be entrusted
to the ever-changing short-term demands and financial constraints of
As Ian Fraser himself pointed out in SPNNews 10 (Spring
School of Scottish Studies itself changed in the eighties and nineties
from being primarily a research institute to a department with
responsibility for the teaching of ethnology. It could be argued that a
department of ethnology is in fact not the most appropriate home for
place-name studies - in many countries, institutes of name-studies are
more intimately connected with language departments. Of course, in
Scotland, with its unique mix of Celtic and Germanic languages, this is
in itself problematical.
The teaching of toponymics is as important as research,
it does future scholars equipped with the necessary tools of the trade
for the immense task ahead of interpreting and understanding Scotland's
toponymy. As Ian wrote in SPNNews 9 (Autumn 2000), amongst all the
other difficulties students face today "the place-name student faces
the additional problem of finding an institution where adequate
supervision will be available, since there are so few scholars with an
onomastic background who can act as competent supervisors." Since this
was written this situation has worsened considerably.
There is no doubt that there should be more of a public
how Scotland cares for, teaches and researches its rich heritage of
place-names. The proverbial ill wind, which has forced the School of
Scottish Studies to take this retrograde step as regards the Scottish
Place-Name Survey, provides a good focus for such a debate.
WHO ARE YOU?
A little sociology on the SPNS membership. At the May
conference, treasurer Pete Drummond
gave us 5 minutes on who we were, based on his study of the membership
details. By early May, the society had 300 paid-up members, and that
constituted his sample.
Not surprisingly most members lived in Scotland, but
fair numbers of members furth of Caledonia:
USA, Aus. 2%
Within Scotland, there was a definite imbalance towards
south and east compared to the population generally:
- South-east (Edinburgh, Lothians and Fife) 45%
- North-east (Aberdeen, Grampian and Tayside) 21%
- North-west (Highlands and Islands) 12%
- South-west (incl. former Strathclyde Region) 22%
When one considers that half of Scotland's people live
Strathclyde, and that Fife with 7% of the population has 15% of our
members, we see the Southeast Effect!
Men make up 65% of the membership: but in the best equal
opportunities mould, women comprise 45% of the committee.
The strength of the society is its balance between
and lay people. I grouped the members into three broad categories:
- Profs (professors, lecturers and PhD students) 21%
- Paras (para-academics - e.g. univ. librarians, etc)
- Punters (those without ac.uk to their e-addresses!)
Length of membership
We were founded in 1996. Every year a number of members
up and are cast into the outer darkness. In spite of this there's a
solid base of well-established members, constantly invigorated by new
5 year members 55%
4 year members 13%
3 year members 8%
2 year members 4%
1 year members 20%
The society has 8 MacDonalds amongst its members, but no
(However Ian Fraser tells us his mother was a Campbell, so we are not
Glencoeist). The top ten surnames were:
Johnston 1.6 %
And, 8.3% of the membership has a Mc or Mac surname.
Visitors from the North might be bemused to find
a street called Haggis Gap in Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire.
A query on this was raised in June on the British
Archaeology forum by Gareth Talbot
replied citing a local tradition that "records groups or 'clans' of
Haggi (plural of Haggis) living in the hills around Fulbourn (and
Cherry Hinton, Shelford).Those who know of Hill Dwelling Haggis know
that the two inside legs are shorter than the outside legs for ease in
running around mountains (or hills in Cambs; for ref. see Beano circa
1970's). The Haggis Gap gets its name from the drove way created by
local villagers to trap the haggis as they ran clockwise round the
Fulbourn hills (or slight bumps as they are locally known). The last
recorded sighting comes from Tim McMalim who trapped a 151b Haggis in
1902." But continues: "Okay actually the real story is this .... It was
a small trackway and there was a gap in the field boundary (hedge)
through which the local owners surnamed Haggis could access their land,
hence the name." Reaney and Wilson (`A Dictionary of English Surnames',
Oxford) supply Haggas, Haggis, Haggish < del Haghous
1327 (Subsidy Rolls, Yorks.), etc. The place-name hag-house,
said to be common in the Scottish Borders, indicates a woodshed
(chiefly Edinburgh), or a wood- cutters hut, and the surname is one for
The original enquiry started all sorts of game from the
thickets (so to speak) including this from archaeologist Andrew
"we went haggis-hunting in 1987 with our Norwegian hunting dogs many
times in the Orcadian hills, but with limited success; we had no
sightings, but we were pretty sure we had one trapped in a bush one
evening. Probably the one that got away from us in 1980!" Anne Brundle
explained that "the Orkney Haggis is very shy." Even purification
rituals involving Highland Park seem of limited efficacy in this arcane
Mr. James Macfadzean, butcher in Dunscore,
how a colleague in Castle-Douglas used to keep his haggis on two
shelves, one either side of the shop, so that he could sell tourists
mixed male and female braces of the wee beasties.
This one will run and run (probably in slow, ungainly
The amateur of early Scottish history can be lured off
mystery tour involving place-names. Earlier this year, I examined the
statement in the 11th c. 'Prophecy of Berchan' that the mother of
Eochaid, joint king of Pictavia c.878x885, was mna o Dun
Guaire, "the woman from (or 'of') Dun Guaire". This 'Dun
Guaire' is usually taken to be Bamburgh (Dinguayrdi
in the Historia Brittonum, $61 and $63), and that therefore Eochaid's
mother, a daughter of Cinaed macAlpin, was - before (or after) her
marriage to Eochaid's father, Rhun map Artghal, king of the Britons -
"lady of Bamburgh". But what other 'Dun Guaire's are there?
There seem to be two in Scotland. One is on Islay, where
1878 OS recorded a Dun Guaire (Gaelic Dun Guaidhre,
NGR NR389 648), associated in local tradition with Godred (or
'Godfrey') Crovan (d.1095), but the specific guaidhre
does not seem to be a standard Gaelicisation of 'Godred' (rather, Goraidh,
as in the placename Leum Gorridh, near Beaufort
Castle, Invemesshire). Nearby this Dun Guaire is Airigh
Ghuaidhre. This is 1499 Aregowar which
Simon Taylor suggests contains G. gobhar
'goat'. The second Dun Guaire is in Mull (NGR NM399 542); again, the
Gaelic name is Dun Guaidhre, and, from the 15th c., the clan Macquarrie
(mac Guaire) were associated with Mull (the islet of
Ulva). But does Guaidhre really represent 'Guaire',
one of the commonest Irish personal names, or are both places 'goat
forts', or something else?
There are also two places named Dun Guaire in Ireland,
in Connaught. In Galway, just north of Kinvarra, 16th century Dunguaire
Castle stands near the site of a promontory fort, rath durlas
(ING 138 212), named for Guaire Aidne, a king of Connaught who died in
either 663 or 666. The town of Gort, nine miles from Kinvara, is Gort
in Irish or 'the field of Guaire's meadow.' The other Irish Dun Guaire
is near Killala , County Mayo (ING 120 330). It was also variously
known as Durlussium, Raith Durlais
('strong fort') and Durlus Muaide
(it is in the territory of the Ui Fiachrach Muaide). No traditions seem
to be attached to the fort itself, but Cellach, an early bishop of
Killala, is said to have been murdered at the instigation of the same
Guaire Aidne. The 'Irish connection' cannot be lightly dismissed:
Eochaid's daughter, Land, married Niall Glundub, high king of the
Irish, who was son of Eochaid's aunt, Mael Muire, another daughter of
Cinaed macAlpin. Mael Muire (d.919) was herself married to two kings of
the Ui Neill (North and South, successively). Could Eochaid's mother
have been married to a 9th c. king of Connaught?
I would be delighted to receive comments on the
particularly the Scottish Gaelic forms, and their implication for the
association of Eochaid's mother with Bamburgh.
Prof. Richard Coates has lately published a case for an
origin for the name Lindisfarne(1),
suggesting that it was given by the monks from Iona who founded the
monastery. I don't wish to examine his arguments with regard to
Lindisfarne - his explanation is at least more persuasive than the
traditional 'travelers from Lindsey' - but am prompted to raise the
question whether Melrose might likewise have been given its name by
Melrose is commonly taken to be P-Celtic mael-ros
'bare moor'; indeed Prof. Nicolaisen treats it as a classic example of
a 'Cumbric' name (2). However,
Prof. Jackson pointed out (3)
that the first element in Bede's form Mailros (4) corresponds to the Old Irish mail
'bald' rather than the Cumbric mel, and Prof. Watson observed (5) that the site of Old Melrose
matches the Irish/Gaelic usage of ros,
'a promontory or peninsula' (here formed by a loop of the Tweed) better
than the Welsh/Cumbric 'moor'. Both scholars reckoned that the name was
'probably British' (Watson), and Bede's form was a 'Hibernicisation'
(Jackson), but the reverse could be true: that the name was Q-Celtic in
origin though it may well have been 'Cumbricised' at an early stage
(Watson also favored a Gaelic origin for Melrose in Gamrie,
Aberdeenshire, another 'promontory'; its modern Anglo-Scots form will
have been influenced by the more famous namesake).
The foundation of Melrose can be dated between 635, when
founded Lindisfarne (6), and
651, when Cuthbert first entered Melrose under the Abbacy of Eata (7).
Although noun + noun compounds were probably archaic in Irish
name-formation by this time, forms like Melrose with an adjectival
specifier preceding the generic were still being coined (8), so there is no formal objection
to an Irish origin. Perhaps the question should at least be left open?
Dr. Alan G James
1. Coates R: "Un-English
Reflections on Lindisfarne" in Coates R and Breeze A: Celtic
Voices English Places, Shaun Tyas, Stamford 2000, pp. 241-59.
2. Nicolaisen WFH
Place-Names Batsford, London 1976
3. Jackson KH: Language
and History in Early Britain. Four Courts Press, Dublin
Ecclesiastica 111 26 etc., Vita Cudberet: ehs.6-7.
5. Watson WJ The
History of The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland Birlinn,
Edinburgh reprint 1993.
Ecclesiastica III 3
Ecclesiastica IV 27
MacGiolla Easpaig, pers. comm.
At the Annual Conference of the SPNS in May 1999,
(Maggie) Smith gave a paper on 'Bullion'
in Scottish Place-Names,
which was subsequently revised and published in Nomina vol.23 (2000).
Ms Smith was arisely cautious of offering a definitive etymology for
this interesting name, thought she gave good reasons for reflecting
proposed associations with Irish Gaelic bullán,
'a little bowl, a cup', or with Scots builyand,
'boiling'. She pointed out the bullion in the sense of 'a mass of
(usually precious) metal' acquired a secondary meaning in late Middle
English, 'a knob or boss of metal, a convex ornament', suggesting that
it might apply to a type of hill, but acknowledged that it didn't
explain the number of wells and springs associated with the element.
I suggest that further examination of bullion in the
sense may point to other possibilities. The earliest citations for this
word in the Oxford English Dictionary are actually from Anglo-French
statutes of Edward III, requiring that his agents 'puissent
sauvement porter a les eschanges ou bullion ... argent en plate...'
(9 Edw III, 1336), 'puissent sauvement porter ... plates
d'argent, billetes d'or et tut autre maner d'or ... a nostre bullione
ou a nos eschanges'.
Later citations from 17th century dictionaries of Law French define
bullion as 'the place where gold is tried' (Termes de la Ley, 1641),
'the Kin's Exchange or place whither such gold in the lump is brought
to be tried or exchanged' (Blount, 1670). Evidently a bullion in
mediaeval English law was initially a place, presumably a place where
gold and silver would be melted an refined prior to coining: literally,
a 'boiling place', bouillon (Old French boullon
< Mediaeval Latin boullo-). The sense 'gold
or silver in the lump', recorded from 1450, is a shift of meaning by
Now, outwith the series of Bullion names listed by Smith
pp 44-7) from Angus south to Northumberland, there is an isolated group
of three in the West Riding of Yorkshire (ibid. p.47). Although they
lie in three separate parishes (and in two different wapentakes), they
are within a few miles of each other on the 'Brontë' moorland
between Heptonstall and Keighley. Dr. Mary Higham, who knows the area
well, has told me that they are locally said to be places where
counterfeit coins were forged. The idea of thrifty Yorkshiremen and
Scots making money, literally, in out-of-the-way places is attractive,
but we must be cautious of folk etymology!
Nevertheless, the idea that Bullions were places where
boiled is worth pursuing. Possibly scrap metal was melted down for
re-forging, or impure metal of some kind refined. But it should be
noted that bullion can also be used of other substances that were
prepared by boiling: salt, soap and quicksilver are mentioned by the
OED, and the 'local' (but frustratingly unlocated) bullion-coal as a
miners' name for a particular seam is worth noting.
I suggest, then, that historical or archaeological
early (mediaeval or early modern) industrial activity in the vicinity
of Bullions might help clarify the meaning of the name.
Dr. Alan G James
(see also 'Bullion in
Place-Names', Spring 2000)
IONA PLACE-NAMES STUDY: COULD TOPONYMICS BE IN THE (FRASER) GENES?
Genetic research is repeatedly in the news these days.
will yet reveal a gene which might explain the uncanny coincidence I
discovered recently. Unbeknown to me, another member of my family had
drawn up an extensive list of place-names, just as I have done for my
small corner of Perthshire. Which makes one ask: does this onomastic
madness run in families? And is there no cure except for us to be
My own sorry plight came to light by chance not long
up a simple computer database holding all the place-names of
topographical and other named features shown on the six-inch OS first
edition (surveyed 1864) for a 100-square-mile corner of Perthshire
between the county town and Birnam Hill. Along with each name is a
brief description of the place-type and an eight-figure grid reference
which could eventually allow the listing to be part of a Geographical
Data System. My idea is to have parallel data fields giving the same
place-names in the (different?) form they may have appeared on earlier
maps, such as Stobie (1783), Roy (c1750) and Pont (c1600).
With my mind in such a toponymic spin, I was
to see a seven-page section on Iona place-names in an old book about
the island which I purchased as stock for my business as an antiquarian
bookseller. It drew my admiration for its thoroughness as could be seen
quite graphically with all the names crowding an accompanying
large-scale map of the island. While the accuracy of its Gaelic
derivations was beyond me, nonetheless I was left feeling my own
efforts were pale and puny alongside such erudition, which impressed
all the more as apparently they had been checked over by that erstwhile
guru of Scottish place-names William Watson.
But who had done this Iona place-names study, I puzzled?
clue was the initials "DMF". These somehow seemed uncannily familiar
from my own genealogical researches as those of my grandfather's
younger brother. And yes, I reflected, he did have a holiday house on
Iona between the wars. But surely he had not been so involved with
island life as to have been bold enough to attempt a place-names list!
It became obvious that I would not rid myself of frustrated curiosity
unless I could find the identity of Iona's "DMF ".
The island title is "IONA, Past and Present, with maps"
Euphemia Ritchie, of which I have the third edition of 1934 (the
2°a was 1930). No clues here, except that it reprints the
to the first edition and it was in this I found what I was looking for.
The Ritchies wrote:
"With the help of our neighbours we have prepared this
in order that many of the old Place-names rapidly falling into disuse
may be preserved. We owe much to Mr. D. Munro Fraser, Emeritus HMCIS,
for the infinite pains he has taken to make the Map a success, and also
for the Appendix containing a translation of the names. He joins us in
expressing thanks to Professor WJ Watson, Edinburgh, for valuable
So my hunch had been right. It was my grand-uncle David
Fraser. And just in case any of you are in the least way interested in
his Iona place-names study, I thought that, through the newsletter, I
could offer a biographical sketch of the man.
His knowledge of Gaelic should not have surprised me,
Munro Fraser was born into a truly Highland family in Dingwall,
Ross-shire, two years after my grandfather Donald, in 1857. That his
own Munro (nee MacPhail spoke the language I know from an entry by DMF
in his own "common place book", known in our family as "Uncle Dive's
Black Book", which is kept in a drawer of the desk on which I write
Sadly I never had the opportunity of knowing him or his interests. He
died in 1931 while on holiday in Iona. It was only two years ago that I
learned through a distant cousin in Lincolnshire (whose own grandmother
inherited many of his possessions) that he is buried on the island, not
back in Edinburgh near his house in Moray Place as I had always naively
He was second in the family of two boys and two girls of
Railway land surveyor and civil engineer John Fraser and his wife Ann
Munro. But Ann died, aged 29, when DMF was only sex and the four
children were brought up in Dingwall by her own parents David and Ann
Munro, while John Fraser was away from home surveying for the
continuation of the Highland line through Sutherland into Caithness.
David Munro Fraser must have done fairly well at
because he records leaving in July 1870 "with my prizes". Entering the
Royal Academy, Inverness, the following February, he continued his
studies, again excelling academically, taking "6 first prizes" in 1872.
But he and his siblings were left orphans when their father died having
contracted pneumonia then pleurisy while surveying, first for a
projected branch line into the Black Isle, then on that particularly
difficult stretch of the railway to Wick as it enters Caithness.
Despite such difficulties, David was asked to stay on at
Academy, with Rector Mr. Eadie offering free education for the next
year if his gifted pupil would also do some teaching. He and my
grandfather were now put up in their uncle's Church Street home, while
their sisters went to another uncle in Lincolnshire.
In 1874 David attended Aberdeen Grammar School (Old
months in the hope of going on to Aberdeen University. Despairing of
gaining a bursary he remarks that his third place in the results
"completely took me by surprise". But he also sat the bursary
competition for Edinburgh University and
there came second. To add to this his uncle and another
managed to have him receive the Fraser Presentation Bursary for
Edinburgh, thus he declined the Aberdeen offer in favor of Edinburgh as
it gave better financial support over a longer period. Despite his own
lack of confidence which is expressed in hi personal journal, David
Munro Fraser has been described as "one of the outstanding students of
his year". Alongside the "Black Book" in my drawer lie not only some of
his silver medals from Inverness Academy but also three bronze medals
he gained at Edinburgh, including one for "Celtic Languages and
Education was the world he entered once graduating, and
spell teaching classics at Ayr Academy then George Watson's College,
Edinburgh, he became headmaster of Dunfermline High School in 1885. But
it was not for long as, although he was there when the new school was
completed the following year, in 1889 he was head-hunted for the
Inspectorate. It was in this part of the service he was to see out his
long and distinguished career in education.
He served first in Glasgow, then Edinburgh, but after
years in the Central Belt returned to his calf country as an HM
Inspector covering the North. In 1903 he returned to the West of
Scotland covering Renfrew and Argyll, then in 1910 became Chief
Inspector for the Western Division based in Glasgow, where he had a
house in Kelburne Avenue.
It was during this time that he became acquainted and
Iona and within a few years had a new holiday house built there, an
idyllic bolt-hole away from the smog of Glasgow, resorted to as often
as possible by himself and various relations such as his English
cousins. Their descendants have now told me that in later years he was
very much accepted as one of the more interesting regular visitors to
the island when such characters included later-to-be-famous artists of
the Glasgow School, then rather penniless, who "paid" for accommodation
with fine local landscapes.
In the last two years of his working life David Munro
Principal Chief Inspector of Schools for Scotland, top of his tree and
now based in Edinburgh. Still a bachelor, he shared his house there
with his sister Lilyanne as housekeeper. His retirement in 1922, after
a connection with the Education Department extending over a period of
34 years, was recognized at a complimentary luncheon given by Scottish
When he died nine years later, the "Glasgow Herald"
that he had "left the mark of his personality on the scholastic system
in Scotland. He was a distinguished classical scholar ... but at the
same time was well versed in modern languages, and a good deal of the
improvement in the teaching of those subjects throughout the West of
Scotland was due to his helpful and inspiring influence. He had also
and expansive knowledge of Gaelic, and was an honorary member of the
Edinburgh Gaelic Society."
It must have been in these later years that he made
William Watson, who had become Professor of Celtic at the University of
Edinburgh in 1914. Although Watson was some eight years Fraser's
junior, both men had not only their connection with the Capital's
university in common. Watson had become Rector of DMF's alma mater
Inverness Royal Academy before holding the same post at the Royal High
School, Edinburgh, for five years from 1909. David Munro Fraser was of
course retired by the time Watson published his seminal work on "The
History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland" in 1926, but the
appearance of this important study may have encouraged DMF to see into
print with Watson's backing - his own more specific Iona place-names
project two years later.
While I may have been in jest about toponymics being in
would ask if there is a Watson among you - or Holmes, or anyone else -
who could furnish us, through the Newsletter, with a fuller
biographical portrait of Professor William Watson. For years I have
been curious to know something of the background influences he
experienced which may have led to his compiling one of our most
important books to date on Celtic place-names.
Leslie Fraser, GM (Scot).
Toponymic Varia: A Tree
of new website.
A TREE CALLED
On Ochtertyre estate there used to be a small farm called Oakbank (NN
8522, marked on last 1" OS map). The farm was situated near Turret
Bridge, just over the western boundary of the burgh of Crieff in
Perthshire. It was a very small farm with several discontiguous fields.
Latterly, in the 1970s, I think, the farm buildings were all demolished
and replaced with a road house which later became a private dwelling
house. In what had been the back garden of the former farmhouse, there
is a monumentally large oak tree of about 500 years of age, whose
girth, in about 1912, was 18 feet (6 metres).
According to a historian of Crieff, in the nineteenth century the tree
had been known locally as "Eppie Callum's tree". The farm building, or
a previous one, had been a public house kept by Duncan Baine; and in
the mid-nineteenth century, Eppie (presumably Euphemia) Callum had
succeeded him in the public house: Alexander Porteous, The
History of Crieff,
(Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, Edinburgh and London, 1912),
240 and 291 and map at the back. There is a photograph of the tree,
opposite page 210.
The author explodes the fanciful, but persistent, myth that the tree
had originally been planted as an acorn in a teapot.
My grandfather (William Sinclair McNeill) was the tenant of the farm
from about 1912 until his death in the 1950s. Thereafter, he was
succeeded in the tenancy by his widow and then his daughter.
When as grandchildren, we visited the farm in the 1930s and after, the
tree was no longer referred to as "Eppie Callum's tree", but simply as
Eppie Callum still stands to this day.
The tree has been immortalised in verse by William Topaz McGonagall,
"The there's Lady Mary's Wald near the Bridge of Turret
(From "Beautiful Crieff" in More Poetic Gems,
Which I hope visitors will go and see and not forget.
Because nearby grows a magnificent oak most lovely to see,
Which is known by the name of Eppie Callum's Tree."
LAUNCH OF NEW WEBSITE.
On 25 January at the Head Office of the National Trust
Professor T.C. Smout, Historiographer Royal in Scotland, launched
online access to the Old (late 18th-century) and New (mid 19th-century)
Statistical Accounts of Scotland. The Joint Information Systems
Committee (JISC) of the higher and further education funding bodies
paid for initial scanning of all 28 000 pages of the two Accounts, and
for the software engineering at EDINA (Edinburgh University Data
Library). Funding to cover the creation of a computer-searchable text
came from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, the
National Archives of Scotland, Gannochy Trust and Friends of Glasgow
University Library, with additional funding from yet more sources. The
end-product, hosted by EDINA, consists of two versions of the online
service. The first is free to all, allowing pages of the Accounts to be
searched, displayed and printed. The Accounts can be searched by the
original subject index, by keyword, or parish-name. The second version
is a subscription-based service, containing additional facilities, and
available through UK universities and colleges, Scotland's schools,
public libraries and archives, and the NLS and NAS. This will provide
'cut and paste' facilities to modern text versions of the two Accounts.
A range of research tools for scholars is 'in development, to provide
better access via a geographical user interface and also via and index
to the statistical tables, maps and diagrams. Links to other digital
resources are planned.
Of all the 166 questions in the original questionnaire sent out by Sir
John Sinclair to the ministers of all of Scotland's 938 Kirk parishes,
the one which received the most inaccurate and fanciful answers was
question number two:
'What is the origin and etymology of the [parish-] name?'
Looking to the future when the Scottish Place-Name Database is online,
a link to the relevant parish-name from the appropriate place in the
Statistical Account will be able to modify such etymologies as 'cottage
of the king' for Auchtermuchty or 'village of the cross' for Ballingry
(which we are told by the overenthusiastic minister contains 'INRI' the
initial letters of 'Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudicorum').
The web address of this important new digital resource
more information email email@example.com.
From the Newspaper Clippings
Obituary: John Field
An Odd Name for a
In Morningside, Edinburgh, just about where 10 Falcon Road now stands,
only a stretch of old wall remains to show where there was once a house
called The Bloom.
The first reference that I can trace is in the Register of Sasines
dated September 11, 1809:
"William Paterson, Mason, Canaan, Seised Sept 1 1809 in 1 Rood
flls of ground & house thereon now called the Bloom being part
the lands of Canaan par St Cuthberts:- on Feu Ch by George Watson
solicitor Edinburg July 17 1809."
On Kirkwood's map of 1817 the house is shown but not named, and it
first appears as simply Bloom in Johnston's map of 1835 in Gray's
Directory. It is not, however, included in directory lists until
1837-38, where it is named The Bloom, and continues to be so designated
for many years.
The name seems to me quite extraordinary. There was one other example,
recorded in Forrest's map of Linlithgow in 1818 as a house or farm
called Bloom in Livingston parish, West Lothian. In his Place-Names of
West Lothian (1941) Angus Macdonald mentions the name but makes no
In addition to Bloom, at the top or north end of what is now Canaan
Lane and on the corner of Newbattle Terrace, in Johnston's map of 1835
there is a small complex of buildings designated Bloomberry Place and
called in the directory Bloombeery house. The name continued for many
years with variations as Bloombury and Bloomsberry.
Bloomberry Cottage, just next to Bloomberry House, is famous, of
course, as being the home for a year (1838-39) of George Meikle Kemp.
In 1881 the villa known as Bloomfield was built next to Bloomberry
Cottage. Had it been of earlier date one might have supposed that this
was the origin of the name, which is quite acceptable as a field name.
However, Bloom came first.
Can anyone suggest an origin for the name? And what about the added
-berry? What can that signify?
May G Williamson.
Onomastic Coinage in Edinburgh!
A small slice of Greenbank history is brought into the 21st century as
local pedestrian lane is finally given a name of its very own.
Residents of Greenbank finally know what to call the path between
Greenbank Road and the City Hospital. The access road, one of the last
surviving paths from the original Greenbank Farm area, has been given a
proper title - Ashy Path. Local councillor Lindsay Walls said: "Several
months ago local residents asked me if it would be possible to have the
path named officially. The suggested name was ideal to act as a focal
point to direct visitors to properties in Greenbank Road and, at the
same time, reflect a part of local history."
Councillor Walls was pictured with Sheila Logie, whose father was the
original owner of a Greenbank Road property and who helped carry out
the official naming ceremony recently. Edinburgh Herald Post, June 15,
The death has been announced of John Field, a
member of the
Society since its inception, and a well respected name in place-name
circles. After teaching in Leicester College of Technology he took an
MA at Leicester University, where his dissertation on the fieldnames of
the Gartree Hundred of Leicestershire received much praise. He joined
the staff ofthe English Department at Dacorum College, Hemel Hempstead,
until his retirement.
John will be best known for his outstanding contribution to the study
of English field-names, and his English Field-Names, A Dictionary,
published by Batsford in 1972 was a model of its kind, written in
clear, fluent English which made it easily acceptable to both layman
and academic. His gift for making the onomastic record available to
people of all backgrounds was quite remarkable.
Of equal importance was his Reader's Guide to the Place-Names of the
United Kingdom (Paul Watkins, 1990) with the late Jeffrey Spittal.
Before his death, he had completed a second edition, and this should
soon be published by Shaun Tyas and Paul Watkins, so it will be eagerly
awaited. He was a long-serving member of the committee of the English
Place-Name Society, and was one of its Honorary Vice-Presidents at the
time of his death. Virtually every volume ofthe Society's county series
over the past thirty years contains material supplied by John Field's
meticulous research into many aspects of onomastics, and he will be
sadly missed for his generous advice and his depth of knowledge.
At the Bangor conference, in May, he took a full part in the
proceedings, and obviously relished meeting friends and colleagues from
all over the country. His devoted wife, Mary, who accompanied him to
innumerable meetings over the years, has our warmest sympathy. English
name studies has lost one of its most influential workers, but he has
left a substantial and lasting legacy of research and publication.
Bullion in Scottish Place-Names
Gowf an names
Voices Off the Map: place-names
poem by Edwin Morgan
Still on the trail of Kentigern
Congratulations are extended to two Society members who have recently
successfully finished place-name related Ph.D. theses:
Anke-Beate Stahl, University of Edinburgh, on the place-names of Barra;
and Peder Gammeltoft, University of Copenhagen, on the place-name
Place-names containing the word 'Bullion' are found in central and
southern Scotland and in the North of England, but at present there is
no consensus regarding their origins. The names have not been
considered together as a group before, and it is hoped that this may
shed some light on the theories that have so far been suggested.
Old Irish bullán 'bowl, hollow' can be ruled out because
are no occurrences of Bullion names in the current Gaelic-speaking
areas of Scotland and the distribution map also includes parts of
Angus Macdonald identifies two 'Bullion Well[s]' in Ecclesmachan WLO
derived, he argues, from the Scots present participle builyand
'boiling', because of the manner in which the spring bubbles out of the
ground. It would, however, be very unusual to find a present participle
as place-name. I have been building a corpus of the Germanic elements
so far identified in Scotland, and although it includes around five
hundred entries at present, it does not contain any examples of present
participles. Furthermore, names such as Bullionfield in Angus and
Bullion Rigg in Northumbria have no obvious connection with wells or
springs, and so this seems an unlikely solution.
A third possibility is a connection with an English dialectal term
bullyon, defined in the supplement to Wright's English Dialect
Dictionary as 'a quagmire, bog; dangerous ground'. Unfortunately there
is little evidence for the existence of this word, which was omitted
from the main dictionary because its authority was unsatisfactory.
A fourth possibility is the word ballion, defined by Jamieson as 'a
reaper who…gives assistance to any party which is falling
in work'. However, many of the names that include the element bullion
occur as simplex names, and this would be an unlikely use of an
occupational term. In my own corpus of elements, there are many
instances of occupational terms like 'baxter' and 'smith' but they are
always followed by a generic such as 'croft' or 'land'.
Finally, I would like to examine a 19th-century suggestion. The Feast
which celebrated the translation of St. Martin of Tours was once known
throughout Scotland as Martin Bullion's Day, or simply Bullion's Day.
The Bullion Well, in Ecclesmachan WLO is mentioned in J. M. MacKinlay's
Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs (1893), and he makes a
connection between the saint's name and this spring, and Bullionfield
Dedications of springs to saints including Bridget and Ninian can be
found all over the British Isles, and so the association of springs and
wells with Martin Bullion is not implausible. The use of 'Bullion' in
reference to St. Martin can be traced back to the French Saint Martin
le bouillant, from the Latin form Martinus bulliens. Meaning 'boiling',
it referred to the fact that this Feast fell in the heat of July, in
contrast to the saint's main Feast-day, on 11 November. In Selkirkshire
and Aberdeenshire, Fairs were held in the name of St. Martin Bullion,
and this provides another possible link between the distribution
pattern of these names and local traditional culture.
In this small survey it has not been possible to establish a firm
etymology for these names. However, a number of previous suggestions
have been ruled out, and this in itself takes us further towards an
understanding of this group of names. I have so far had little success
tracing early spellings, but I have been able to establish that some
date back at least as far as the seventeenth century. Other references
may be waiting to be discovered, and if anyone here knows of any, or
has any views on the derivation of the 'Bullion' names, I should be
grateful for information.
This piece was first presented as a short paper at the SPNSoc.
Conference in May 1999. Since then I have indeed discovered some other
Bullion names, and I am particularly grateful to John Reid for
supplying me with the records of early spellings for some of the
Dept. of English Language, University of Glasgow, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
GOWF AN NAMES
In my golfing days, which ended while I was still a teenager, I would
take my mind off my score, as it entered treble figures, by savouring
the names of the holes painted neatly in thick black letters on each
tee-box. The course was Aberdour in Fife, the time the 1960s. I
particularly liked those which recorded local names that had otherwise
fallen into disuse, but were current when the course was established
around 1900: names such as Ainslie's Pier, the name of a ruined jetty
on the Donibristle Estate, or Kinniker the name of a small wood
(containing, I later discovered, Scots cunningar 'rabbit warren').
Usually such names refer to a feature lying beside (or under!) a
particular hole, though sometimes also to a more distant feature
visible from that hole.
Apart from when Paul Lawrie won the Open last year, my interest in gowf
has since been confined to the names of holes, and I now have a small
collection of score-cards from clubs which obligingly put the name of
the hole beside the other, more prosaic, information such as par and
distance. As Dr George Philp of Scotsoun Productions reminded me
recently, the names of holes can also contain some fine examples of
Scots in the form of advice or warning, such as Fair Dunt, Muckle Clour
or Dinna Fouter, the last the name of a hole at Turnberry. Dr Philp is
collecting such names, and would appreciate any examples SPNSoc.
members might have. Dr Philp writes: "Some 10 years ago, in the company
of the late Bill Graham (author of The Scots Word Book), I walked over
the ground laid out for the second nine holes at Blackcrest Course,
Thornhill DMF to enable us to make appropriate suggestions to the
committee, who had approached us for help in this matter. Our
nomenclature met with approval, as many of our descriptions are to be
found on the club card today."
He adds: "Who decides on these names? Is there a member of each Club
committee responsible for the choosing of the terminology? Are the
names ever reconsidered, or are they forever fixed? I would appreciate
the thoughts of gowfers on the names given to the holes on their own
courses, especially those in Fife."
Dr Philp would be pleased to hear from any SPNSoc. member on this topic
and can be contacted at 13 Ashton Rd., Glasgow G12 8SP. Editor
And while on the subject of gowf, SPNSoc. member Kenneth Fraser sent in
a brochure for yet another holiday cottage development beside St
Andrews called Balmashie! Is it a plot to confuse place-name studies,
he wonders. Where will it end? Pitputter? Driverton? Aucheniblick?
VOICES OFF THE
PLACE-NAMES IN A POEM BY EDWIN MORGAN
An Off-Concrete Scotch Fantasia
oa! hoy! awe! ba! mey!
rhu saw rum. garve saw smoo. nigg saw tain. lairg saw lagg.
rigg saw eigg. largs saw haggs. tongue saw luss. mull saw yell.
stoer saw strone. drem saw muck. gask saw noss. unst saw cults.
echt saw banff. weem saw wick. trool saw twatt.
from largo to lunga from joppa to skibo from ratho to shona from
ulva to minto from tinto to tolsta from soutra to marsco from
braco to barra from alva to stobo from fogo to fada from gigha to
gogo from kelso to stroma from hirta to spango.
what is it like there?
och it's freuchie, it's faifley, it's wamphray, it's frandy, it's
what do you do?
we foindle and fungle, we bonkle and meigle and maxpoffle. we
scotstarvit, armit, wormit, and even whifflet. we play at crossstobs,
leuchars, gorbals and finfan. we scavaig, and there's aye a bit of
tilquhilly. if it's wet, treshnish and mishnish.
what is the best of the country?
blinkbonny! airgold! thundergay!
and the worst?
scrishven, shiskine, scrabster, and snizort.
listen! what's that?
catacol and wauchope, never heed them.
tell us about last night
well, we had a wee ferintosh and we lay on the quirang. it was
but who was there?
petermoidart and craigenkenneth and cambusputtock and
ecclemuchty and corriehulish and balladolly and altnacanny and
clauchanvrechan and stronachlochan and auchenlachar and
tighnacrankie and tilliebruaigh and killieharra and invervannach
and achnatudlem and machrishellach and inchtamurchan and
auchterfechan and kinlochculter and ardnawhallie and
and what was the toast?
schiehallion! schiehallion! schiehallion!
From Selected Poems by Edwin
printed by permission of Carcanet Press.
What the reader notices at once is that something is
at a level of meaning that seems to bypass that of ordinary discourse.
A supreme attentiveness to language is felt to be at work, with every
place-name milked for meaning or associations it might convey to the
ear or eye, on its own or in association with its neighbours. There is
a mercurial, shifting quality, a celebratory nervous energy that makes
the hair stand on end when you read the poem aloud. Some kind of
dialogue is going on between two or more speakers, of which one seems
to be a stranger, asking for and receiving information or reassurance
from another who seems to be part of a larger group. To whom might
these voices belong?
One of the abiding concerns of Edwin Morgan's poetry is to voice the
unvoiced, to endow with speech those -whether people, creatures, or
things-who cannot speak for themselves. As he says in an interview with
W.N. Herbert, '[t]he world, history, society, everything in it, pleads
to become a voice, voices!' (Gairfish, 1:2). In his poem, 'Afterwards',
a Vietnamese child speaks; in other poems, an apple, a hyena; the
sounds of Prospero's island, the Glasgow starlings; and Shakespeare in
the moving 'Instructions to an Actor'. It should come as no surprise,
then, to find he may have given a voice to the place-names of Scotland,
to Caledonia-or rather Canedolia.
One of the great strengths of Morgan's poetry is that it comes at the
world obliquely, from a different perspective, and this oblique stance,
as Robyn Marsack has suggested in her essay, 'Edwin Morgan and
Contemporary Poetry', may be conditioned by his homosexuality. He has
said that it is always the human story that attracts him, and many of
his poems give dramatised speech to those on the margins of society.
Canedolia is 'Caledonia' re-arranged, seen from a different
perspective, and this anagram gives us the first hint that we should
prick up our ears for all possible forms of word-play. 'Canedolia'
itself sounds as though it might mean 'the howling of dogs', and the
first line of the poem , with its monosyllabic, almost consonant-less
cries, does indeed sound like that.
The answer to the first question, 'who saw?', couples together
place-names which are still monosyllabic, but more complex. The
question also suggests that these are entities capable of seeing. Some
conjunctions seem to involve like with like, as in 'rigg saw eigg',
while others seem to offer an attraction of opposites, as in 'nigg saw
tain', or 'garve saw smoo'. Given that 'garve' [Gaelic garbh] means
rough, and that 'smoo' sounds like smooth, we know that meaning will be
found at the level of near-pun. That what is going on here is actually
an exuberant and joyful coupling becomes clear as body-parts start
emerging, with legs and hair entangled in 'lairg saw lagg. . . . largs
saw haggs', and a lusty tongue going about its business. Moreover there
are parts that more often go unmentioned, except as obscenities, but
which are here given voice and recognition: 'unst saw cults. . . weem
saw wick. trool saw twatt.'
What is intriguing about the answer to the question, 'how far?', is the
way place-names ending in o and a are paired. These words have the look
of first names in a Romance language-men's names ending in o, and
women's in a. Moreover they are arranged back to back: the repeated
pattern is 'from o to a from a to o' throughout the stanza, with no
dividing punctuation. Notice that alternative couplings may take place
on the back of the rhythm; on the off-beat, as it were, couplings like
'to a from a' and 'to o from o' are accommodated like a rich
syncopation, with near-rhyme or full rhyme, as in 'to stobo from fogo',
or 'to minto from tinto'.
Asked, 'what is it like there?', the Canedolian comes up with words
that have the look and feel of adjectives. What they all share is a
kind of lack of definition, a comfortable, fuzzy quality. Even the
'och' at the beginning of the line sounds as though the speaker feels
it would be impossible to convey in a word what the essence of
canedolia might be, but that it might be all of these things-a
generous, compendious kind of place.
As for 'what do you do there?', the names suggest that congress of the
most uninhibited and imaginative kind takes place, from the obvious
'foindle and fungle' and 'bonkle', and the physicality of 'we
scotstarvit, armit, wormit, and even whifflet', to the ludic
infantilism of 'we play at crossstobs, gorbals and finfan', and the
teasing precision of 'if it's wet, treshnish and mishnish'. 'Scavaig'
suggests stravaig, while 'tilquhilly' reminds us of the old Scots word
The three sonorous names epitomising 'the best of the country', are
suggestive of clear-sightedness, air, daylight, and an outspoken
confidence in sexual orientation; while 'the worst' are more like
sneers and snorts of disapproval-sounds suggestive of tightly-pursed
mouths, and the twitch of net curtains. Indeed, it may be the catcalls
of homophobia that are heard in 'catacol', whose taunts the stranger is
invited to disregard as worthless or stale.
The phrase, 'we had a wee ferintosh' evokes the ghost of an old whisky,
once made by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, an anti-Jacobite, who was
afterwards granted a licence to distil whisky when taxes made this
prohibitive to anyone else; and, remembering that the parish of
Strontian gave its name to the radio-active element, strontium 90, it
is tempting to feel that the pleasures of lying 'on the quirang' (the
sound of a springy divan?) are potentially dangerous. Ever playful,
Morgan dares us to ignore or pursue such historical resonances.
You will not find 'petermoidart' or any of his companions on any map,
except one of 'canedolia', of course. All these names have been allowed
to indulge in linguistic promiscuity and swap their usual partners for
others. Some have done a straight swap, like peterculter and
kinlochmoidart, but others, more daring, have ventured further afield,
or even come to the party on their own. You will look in vain for
'hannish' -'machri''s usual partner-and have fun deciding whether
'tillie' has been partnering 'whally' and 'tudlem'.
What is interesting is how natural these new couples sound, as though
the land of 'canedolia' had space enough for all. In the poem's final
lines, homophobic abuse is mischievously and wittily recuperated: as
the reply to 'what was the toast' rings out three times, we imagine
glasses being raised, and the effect of this upward movement is to make
us see Schiehallion. itself - the fairy hill of the Caledonians -
rising up before our eyes.
(Selected Poems by Edwin Morgan can be obtained
from CARCANET PRESS LTD, 208-212 Corn Exchange, Manchester M4 3BQ.)
THE TRAIL OF KENTIGERN: ADDENDUM
Following on the piece in SPNNews no. 7 (see
I have now had a second opinion on the place-name TREGONDERN, from M.
Bernard Tanguy of the Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique at the
Universite Bretagne Occidentale (Brest).
He gives 1386 TREFGONDERN, 1508 TREFFGONDERN, and says it is composed
of treb + eponym Condern <
[i.e. Kentigern], but there is no indication whether the eponym is of a
saint or a layman, and the name is not otherwise attested as the name
of a saint in Brittany. He therefore confirms my doubts about the weird
etymology proposed by the Institut Géographique National,
agrees with my conjecture that the Cunotigernos personal name appears
M. Tanguy also points out that Roserf, mistakenly associated with
Tregondern by J. Loth, is actually some kilometres away to the East, in
St Mungo's (or Mongah's) Well, Copgrove, Yorks (NGR SE
twixt Ripon and Harrogate, has also come to my attention through the
excellent Yorkshire Holy Wells site, under development at
SIGNING ON THE DOTTED
The SPNSoc. Gaelic Signs sub-committee hasn't lain dormant since its
first report in this Newsletter a year ago. Highland Council and more
recently its Perth & Kinross equivalent have been furnished
more place-name proposals by Ian Fraser, Simon Taylor, Richard Cox, Roy
Wentworth and sub-committee convenor Peadar Morgan, with ScotRail being
a further likely beneficiary.
Railway stations dotting the map between Perth and Inverness are now
expected to join those further north and west in featuring their Gaelic
names - not yet those on the lines east and west, so putting off the
final reckoning on the proper Gaelic for Gleneagles. Gleann Eaglais
looks the obvious, but unlikely ('glen of churches'?!), answer,
especially when you read in the toponymic study of the area by
SPNS-member Angus Watson, The Ochils (Perth & Kinross District
Libraries 1995), that the gl in the second element is unknown to the
historic record before 1664. Gleann Eagas, from a river-name??
The local council's Gaelic Officer has asked for and been given other
names too, which he hopes to promote in Council business and signage.
In Highland, lists have been requested and given once signage has
already been agreed; thus the Wester Ross footpath signs, Highland
library names and Skye roundabout baptism since the last report have
all had to be produced at such speed that there would have been less
danger of broken necks if we'd erected the signs ourselves. At least,
that's our excuse for any mistakes….
That and the more fundamental point always stressed - if mostly in vain
- by the sub-committee that the local authority should always give
Gaelic users resident in the location a say in deciding the final
signage forms. Non-local expertise has been called in, though, with
Professor Nancy Dorian in the USA kindly looking back over her notes
from her days studying the Gaelic dialect of East Sutherland to provide
two separate witnesses to Drochaid a' Bhonnar, thus challenging the
evidence handed down from Professor W.J. Watson that Bonar Bridge
represents Drochaid a' Bhannath ('bridge of the bottom ford'). One of
the many issues which has made the sub-committee's work so interesting!
It would be impossible to examine Language, Imagination and Landscape
in the Gaelic of Ireland and Scotland for a couple of days without
encountering many examples and explanations of place-names. And of
course the subjects of this international, multilingual conference at
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Skye last September all served to put
and name in context.
Place-names were, as Prof Donald Meek argued, part of the "emotional
geography", and a "symbol of empowerment", for the 19th century Skye
poetess Màiri Mhòr. And as such, should could
rather featureless Beinn Lì into become an enduring symbol
land agitation. But as Meg Bateman pointed out in her contribution, the
personalising of hills had been all but unknown in the Gaelic poetry of
the previous century.
The political line was continued by Tim Robinson, a "geo-poet" (his
term) and writer and hill-tramping cartographer of the Irish west. The
map, any map, represents "ideological interventions" in the feminine
landscape by male - always male - cartographers. The OS intervention
had been one of colonialism, conquest and control, he said, the
anglicisation of place-names (far more complete in Ireland than in
Scotland) rendering them "chronologically dull and semantically null".
Not that names preserved in their original form are always semantically
positive at first sight. Rob Ó Maolalaigh used the example
Gaoir na Rainich, shout of the bracken, in Raasay to demonstrate this.
Without local lore (or comparable lore elsewhere) the reference to
shouting from this spot to draw the attention of the ferryman would be
opaque. He examined the wide use of imagination in naming, and
highlighted the lack of research into the "dialects" of the Gaelic
place-names of Scotland and Ireland.
Iain MacInnes, ex-School of Scottish Studies, as ever had interesting
insights to contribute. Looking at the various words for "wilderness",
he saw aonach [assembly, market] as having extended its meaning to open
moorland and occasionally the high tops by dint of the worldwide
practice of holding gatherings on land between communities. And I am
particularly indebted to him for apparently confirming my suspicion
that the Dirrie More on the Ullapool road is not "the big climb" of
Watson and general belief, but An Dìthre(i)bh Mòr
Congratulations to Wilson McLeod of Sabhal Mòr and
Ní Annracháin of Maynooth for jointly organising
excellent and enjoyable conference, and a useful reminder that
place-names should not be viewed in isolation: always ask whose
ideology they represent!
The Irish News of 18 10. 99 reported that new street signs in Ulster
Scots erected by Castlereagh council, Northern Ireland, were ripped
down by loyalists who thought they were in Irish Gaelic. No sooner had
the signs been erected on walls at Tullyard Way in a lavish ceremony
attended by beaming council chiefs than they were pulled down by
loyalists on what they thought was an anti-Irish mission. The offending
sign read Tullyard Way, with the Ulster-Scots version Heichbrae Eirt
below. A local councillor was quoted as saying 'It was the residents
who requested the signs and when they were put up we informed them by
letter. But a lot of people weren't quite sure what language they were
Thanks to Kay Muhr of the N.I. Place-Name Project for sending in the
cutting. No wonder the locals were confused! She also sent in a job
advertisement from the Belfast Telegraph of 23.11.99 for an Equality
Schemes Manager. It appeared in 4 languages: English, Irish, Chinese
and Ulster Scots, which last showed the same fantastical qualities as
the sign-post in Castlereagh, the job title appearing as Eeksi-Peeksie
Skame Heid-Yin. Crivens!
It is with great regret that we have to announce the deaths of two
members of the Society: Mr Robert Robertson of Pitlochry, who attended
the inaugural meeting of the Society in St Andrews in February 1996;
and Mr Alan Small, formerly of the Geography Department, University of
Dundee. Alan Small was author and editor of several place-name and
place-name related articles and books, including (with M.B. Cottam)
'The distribution of settlement in southern Pictland', Medieval
Archaeology 18 (1974); (as editor) The Picts, A New Look at Old
Problems (1987); and (with R. MacDonald.) 'Pre-burghal Dundee',
Scottish Geographical Studies, eds. A. Dawson et al., 134-43 (1993).