From Tighnabruich to Tranent and Maggieknockater to Maud, Scotland abounds in fascinating place names hinting at past events or the surrounding landscape.
Most names come from Gaelic either as an English translation as in the common mountain name Ben More, A’Bheinn Mhór – the large mountain or in some much corrupted forms such as Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire, Lios Mo Chuda – the garden of St Mo Chuda. But while Gaelic may predominate, there are many other influences. In the North and West Norse names abound with Lerwick in Shetland, Léiruig – mud bay, Callinish in Lewis, Calanaish – Kali’s headland and Tongue in Sutherland, Tunga –spit of land. In the South towards the border with England, ancient Anglian placenames occur. Kelso calchow is Old English for chalk hill and Roxburgh hrocburh meaning Hroc’s fortified village. Then in the North East there are a multitude of names beginning with Pit, the Pictish word pett, a land unit such as Pitlochry, Pitcaple and Pittenweem.
Some of these names have altered over the years into the unexpected. While you might know it better as the capital of Russia, Moscow maigh coll (hazel field) is a village in Ayrshire! Biblical influences were strong as new farming villages were created in the late 18th Century and Jericho can be found in Aberdeenshire and Angus. And at the same time the great land improvers wished to be remembered and their creations are to be seen in Jamestown, Bettyhill and Charlestown of Aberlour.
Then there are the ones that help clear your throat with the Germanic ‘ch’ sound – Auchtermuchty, Loch Luichart and Killinochonoch and others that just sound interesting – Pickletillum, Lucklawhill and Bottomcraig from the County of Fife. Then to add to the confusion is the way some names are pronounced, the capital city Edinburgh being an example: Ed-in-burra, Em-bra, Edinbro and for the uninitiated Edinburg! And when you think you have the subject cracked, there is the problem of local names such as Anster for Anstruther, Jethart for Jedburgh and Foggieloan for Aberchirder. Similarly some places carry titles. Edinburgh is Auld Reekie (Old Smokie), Kirkcaldy the Lang Toun (Long Town), Langholm the Honest Toun, Perth the Fair City and Aberdeen is the Granite or Silver City.
Fortunately signposting in Scotland tends to be very good and while you may struggle to pronounce some names, you’ll soon find your way to the many fascinating places we have to offer.