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Gaelic and Scots 1300-1600:
Some Place-Name Evidence

W. F. H. Nicolaisen

Please Note :

This text contains numbers highlighted in BOLD. Each number refers to the appropriate number in the NOTES AND REFERENCES section at the end of the text.

Have you ever agreed to read a paper because you wanted to please a friend and because the date of delivery seemed to be so far off as to offer the meantime to research the topic fully and plenty of opportunity in therefore to put the promise into practice with a reasonable chance of success? If you have, you have gained a companion in the last fifteen months, and if, by any chance, you then discovered that your promise had been rash and ill-considered, the topic impossible, and the intervening time practically non-existent, and that you were likely to lose that friend who had so persuasively extracted that, oh so heavy, pound of intellectual flesh from you, then you have also just acquired another fellow sufferer. As is usually the case under such circumstances, it all began so innocently: In April of last year I received a letter from Derick Thomson - the friend - advising me that he was "in process of getting the 1988 Gaelic-Scots conference off the ground, and would like to know as quickly as possible [the alarm bells should have rung loudly and persistently at that phrase] if you can give a plenary paper at it." All very innocuous stuff so far and very non-threatening; and who wouldn't be flattered by such an invitation? The letter then continued: "One of the core topics of the conference will be 'The Gaelic-Scots interface in the period 1300-1600', and we wonder if you would give a paper on 'Place-names in Gaelic and Scots', their incidence, relationship, dominance over each other etc. etc., in that period, or in a part of period. We want to focus in various ways on how the two linguistic traditions interacted at this very formative period. You might of course want to go a little further back in time, or modify the topic in some other way." I cannot deny that the precision and scope of this brief appealed to me, even excited me, and as I was at the time enjoying a semester in London with forty of our students, I accepted the invitation, an acceptance which I then regarded as prudent but since then have come to look upon as foolish, ill-advised and sleep-stealing, although I notice satisfaction that even my euphoria did not destroy all my circumspection so that in my reply I must have offered to provide only some place-name evidence, and not the place-name evidence, for this demanding assignment.

But why this apparent change of heart and why this anecdotal introduction whose personal note may have been deemed somewhat inappropriate by quite a few of you, and perhaps rightly so? Let me try to offer you some explanation, maybe even justification, by examining first some of the details of that initial brief: There is, first of all, the period chosen and assigned, 1300-1600. Three hundred years are a big chunk of the Scottish past, and why those three hundred years? In terms of political chronology, they stretch from Bannockburn and All That, or the Bruce's de-clawing of the Hammer of the Scots, to the end of a separate non-English Scottish monarchy, or the son's accession to the throne of his mother's executioner. Are these emphatically extra-linguistic events significant for the two main languages of Scotland in that period, Scots and Gaelic? Presumably the answer is that, indeed, they were, insofar as, on the one hand, decisive battles won, like the one 1314, not only create dynasties and achieve a new sense of nationhood but also sustain or renew linguistic pride and awareness, however inarticulate this may have been despite Barbour's Brus of 1376, and on the other hand, the removal of a court from its homeland, as in 1603, shifts not only the political focus but also the linguistic one, depriving the homeland of powerful guidance, initiative and incentive. The three centuries from 1314 to 1603, then, may be regarded both politically and linguistically as a time of intense and essential Scottishness, never encountered in such satisfying, unquestioned consolidation before or since, despite its obvious internal dichotomies, divisions and power struggles - "interfaces", if you like - again both politically and linguistically.

If, for these reasons, it can be claimed without much fear of contradiction that the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were a politically "very formative period" - to use Derick Thomson's alluring phrase again - how applicable is this assertion to the development of the two languages in question, Scots and Gaelic? It had been my hope that one of the plenary papers at this conference might be devoted to the strictly linguistic aspects of this question, the intralinguistic evidence, so to speak, but unfortunately this seems to be something that will have to wait to be explored at a future conference of this kind. Suffice it to say that, after the initial inroads on Gaelic through the creation of boroughs on the east coast in the twelfth century and a more general Anglicization process south of the Forth and Clyde, by 1300 the spatial contraction of Gaelic and the concomitant advance of Scots were already well under way, and we must expect the period at the centre of our current discussion to be a time in which these two complementary trends continue, although the speed with which they happened is not easy to assess and must have differed from place to place, time to time, and circumstance to circumstance. It is unlikely that there was only confrontation, and a certain amount of interaction, sometimes amounting to bilingualism, must have taken place. Although these are reasonable assumptions, based partly on back-projection from the contemporary scene, there is, however, far too little solid evidence to support them and to give them substance, considering how flimsy the relevant sources and the clues they offer are. After all, the period 1300-1600 has to be described as late and post-mediaeval on both sides of the linguistic divide, and not as a second flowering of the Dark Ages. Naturally, it is to be understood that the written materials available for such an evaluation are both more extensive and more accessible in Scots than their counterparts in Gaelic but nevertheless, as in so many other fields of research touched upon at this conference, a great deal of work still has to be done, and can be done with a considerable chance of success. What we still have to learn in particular is to ask the right questions.

If the linguistic evidence is so scanty and if its scholarly scrutiny has so far been neither systematic nor common, how can onomastic evidence be expected to help out? Although the study of names is still struggling to gain proper recognition by modern linguists as a rigorous, academically respected discipline, the automatically applied axiom, especially among linguistic historians, seems to be: When all else fails, turn to place names! There are several reasons for such a distress call, some of them based on valid assumptions, others, I am afraid, on astonishing misconceptions. It is the latter which cause the student of names to lose sleep when requested to perform on an occasion like this. Strange to say, both the good and the bad reasons have to do with the fact that names are primarily onomastic and only secondarily linguistic source material. I have several times written and spoken on this topic before but it is essential to my argument that I outline at least briefly what I mean by this rather stern pronouncement.

Fundamentally, the heart of the matter is this: When words become names, i.e. when they essentially cease being items in a lexicon and become items in an onomasticon, something happens to them semantically; they lose - some of them almost immediately, others more gradually - lexical meaning and acquire onomastic contents. At the same time on the functional level, they begin to denote, i.e. to isolate, to individualize, to exclude, while shedding the ability to connote, i.e. to include, to embrace, to incorporate, to permit abstraction. That does not mean that the functional properties of names condemn them to an existence in which their only link with their environment is through the referent they designate - far from it. As part of an onomasticon, they participate through their contents with other names in structured onomastic fields and relate through their specific locus to other names in omomastic dialects with discernible patterned distributions. Such onomastic fields and dialects may well maintain contact with their lexical, i.e. linguistic, counterparts - that is, with what we ordinarily call dialects and regional variations - but are neither congruent with them nor dependent on them. Distribution maps of name types or name components are therefore first and foremost onomastic, not linguistic, and the establishment of chronological strata in the place nomenclature of any part of the globe allows primarily onomastic inferences, not linguistic ones.

Consequently, when linguists or students in other adjacent disciplines look to names, especially place names, for information which words cannot provide, their legitimate desire to exploit toponymic evidence has to be matched by their sobering recognition of the fundamentally onomastic nature of the evidence whose help they seek. Otherwise, faulty or inflated expectations are bound to lead to frustration and disappointment. There are certain things that names do well and others that names do badly, like absolute dating, for example. The ability of names to function viably without lexical meaning enables them to survive when words do not but one has to remember that they survive as names, not as words, and that therefore their testimony regarding anything beyond their very nature as names is second-hand, so to speak, and has to be subjected to appropriate diagnostic procedures in order to confer on it a modicum of reliability. Otherwise any conclusions drawn may well be suspect or invalid.

Anticipating some of the material to be presented later, let me illustrate through three concrete, very Scottish, examples what I mean:

  • (1) If, as I tried to establish many years ago 1 the phrase-name type "x of y", like Water of Buchat, Mains of Keithheld, Bridge of Orchy, Cotts of Newton, and so on, was created in Scots through contact with Gaelic, as the final result of an initial onomastic "translation" process through which, let us say, Allt an t-Sluic Lèith became Burn of Slock Lee, it would - be erroneous, because simplistic, to assume that such an innovative pattern of onomastic usage would of necessity also be found in the lexicon of Scots.
  • Or (2) if, as frequently happened in the east from the sixteenth century onwards, 2 the Gaelic suffix -ach, after an intermediate stage of -och, became -o in place names, with loss of the final voiceless velar fricative, as in Balerno, Balmerino, Pitsligo, Aberlemno, Stracathro, Cambo, and so on, there is no need for us to conclude - indeed, we have no right to do so - that such a plausible, demonstrable phonological development also affected Gaelic words in -ach which may have found their way into the Scots vocabulary of the region.
  • Or (3) if similarly, in the period under review, the spelling of final Gaelic -n as -ng 3 occurs occasionally, with either temporary or permanent effect, in names such as Dipling 1568 for Dupplin PER 4, Benyng 1388 and Bynnyng 1414 for Binny (< Binnin) WLO, Langmorgoun 1529 and Langmorn 1598 for Longmorn MOR whose first element is Gaelic lann "an enclosure", or Louchkinkeling 1503 for Lochkinkerane, the modern Campbeltown Loch in Argyll, it would not be permissible to conclude that this was also the fate of final -n in related or unrelated lexical items, should these have survived at all. Historically, because of their special nature, names very often follow their own traffic rules, and although they are, for the purposes of communication, embedded in language, both spoken and written, they are also often strangers to it, fossils, grains of sand that may or may not turn into pearls.

Bearing all this in mind, it is essential for us to understand that the interrogation of Gaelic and Scots place names for our purposes, during the three hundred years separating Bruce from the Wisest Fool in Christendom, is likely to yield onomastic results of sorts but will possibly not be very eloquent about this linguistically formative period. This is a very necessary warning.

When assessing the Scottish place-name evidence between 1300 and 1600 on these terms, one further factor has to be taken into account: This evidence has come down to us filtered visually through the scribal habits of Scots or English-speaking, certainly non-Gaelic-speaking, writers usually in official, non-local documents, often in a Latin environment or in Latinised guises. This tends to create difficulties when it comes to the quest for the pronunciation which such spellings represent, and it is frequently prudent to abandon such a quest at an inconclusive stage. More successful can be the treatment of names and their variant spellings within a written context, since such cumulative spellings are by no means hopelessly without system. For the literate, names have always been as much their spelling as their pronunciation, anyhow, and it is quite possible that certain spelling conventions developed for certain names without direct reference to contemporary pronunciation. It may, for instance, be questioned whether in each instance in which an occasional final -ng spelling appears in place of an -n in the names just mentioned, the visual representation of a contrast between alveolar [n] and velar [(] is intended. These may simply be allographs for a while until one or other begins to dominate in an age more aware of the need for spelling consistency, usually after the three-hundred-year span on which we are concentrating. Also to be borne in mind are the continuation of historical spellings which are perpetuated without any regard to innovations in the pronunciation, and the employment of variant spellings as reflexes of name usage in different onomastic registers, like formal vs. informal, or official vs. unofficial, or standard vs. vernacular. It is well worth remembering therefore that the status of most of the written sources which provide us with fourteenth-, fifteenth-, and sixteenth-century spellings is such that access to informal, unofficial, vernacular name usage is usually not easy, sometimes impossible, a realisation which has important implications for our attempt to utilise place names for chronological, stratificatory and spatial analyses during the period under review. What we normally have to play with are therefore the non-local, official, formal, perhaps even historic- or scribally "standardised" written representations of the names in question, with all the limitations this suggests, especially when the texts in which such names are embedded are in Latin. All these restrictions do not invalidate, however, such visual name forms as potentially helpful onomastic evidence for the period 1300-1600 A.D., but it is nevertheless preferable that we should know the nature of the beast before we attempt to tame it for our purposes. Let us see, then, what we can do with the place-name material available to us within the confines, restrictions and opportunities just described.

As the examples quoted earlier indicate, a few forays into the territory under scrutiny have already been made, and it is therefore not necessary for us to start from scratch. In 1959, 1960, and 1965, 5 I investigated phrase names of the "x of y" type in which the "x" represents a generic and the "y" a specific, more often than not the name of the feature itself or a name associated with that feature, i.e. a name as a morpho-syntactic component of a name, like Water of Ken KCB, Mains of Auchindachy BNF, Bridge of Nevis INV, Burn of Oldtown ANG, and so on. There are hundreds of this kind on Scottish maps, and at one time it was claimed, as part of a deliciously maintained Ordnance Survey folklore, that they were the invention of English surveyors and did not reflect genuine usage. It can be shown, however, that they existed as early as the late fifteenth century in the Northern Isles, not as homegrown name types derived from Scandinavian usage, but rather as Scots imports from the north-east, mainland where this type had become established in the contact between Gaelic and Scots, a contact that must obviously have taken place before their exportation to non-Gaelic speaking Orkney and Shetland, an event that occurred well within the three hundred years that concern at this conference. One of the earliest documented instances is þe watter of Esk DMF 1249 but Latinised or Frenchified forms like leßarre de Anewyth KCB 1292 or Estircrag de Gorgyn EDB 1284 or even vallis de Douglas LAN 1389, parci de Drum ABD 1367, lacus de leuyn FIF 1339, or grangia de Deruesey FIF 1329 may well hide similar constructions. Names like Auldtoun de Knokinblew ABD 1511 or Cotis de Lanbride MOR 1488 are, of course, common by the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. The thorough Scotticisation of this name type which obscures its Gaelic origins presupposes lengthy co-existence of speakers of both languages in the areas in which it was transferred from Gaelic to Scots and must allow for some time to have passed before its transplantation into some other parts of Scotland became possible. What we have here, then, is the acquisition of a morpho-syntactic name type by speakers of Scots from speakers of Gaelic, initially complete with the incorporated, phonologically adapted toponymic item, later as an open category. The onomasticon of Scots has been enriched.

When this conference met in Aberdeen in 1985, I offered a paper on "Gaelic Place Names in Scots," 6 some of the conclusions of which are relevant here, especially when re-viewed and re-interpreted in the context of the present more severely focused discussion. The paper was mostly concerned with the most common phenomenon of onomastic interference in bilingual situations, the phonological adaptation of the names of one language by the other, usually by the incoming language from the already resident one, although the roles of donor and receiver can, albeit much less frequently, also be reversed. 7 At the heart of that discussion was the fate of the Gaelic toponymic suffix -ach in place names appropriated by speakers of Scots; some examples, like Balerno, Stracathro, and Cambo, have already been briefly alluded to. As I said in 1985, the place-name evidence seems to suggest that in eastern, and eastern central, Scotland "the earliest, forms of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries preserve the original Gaelic -ach faithfully, but from the fifteenth century onwards forms, and by that I mean spellings, in -och, -auch, and -augh are the rule, indicating that rounding the vowel from -a- to -o-, possibly under the influence of the following velar fricative, had already taken place; in fact, this tendency had obviously already existed for a while, as some of the thirteenth-century forms for Balerno MLO show, but spellings without the final fricative do not seem to have been much recorded before the fifteenth century and only become plentiful from the sixteenth century onwards ... I know of no instance in which the loss of the fricative preceded the change from -a- to -o- in the vowel of the syllable." 8 As one can see from this evaluation of the spelling history of these names - and there is nothing more satisfying for a scholar than to be able to quote himself - I was, in 1985, willing to draw fairly firm conclusions regarding changes in pronunciation from reliably recorded changes in spelling. Although I would, perhaps, advocate a little more caution now, that risk is, on the whole, worth taking, and this leap probably our only way of reaching beyond the visual record to the audible evidence on which it is ultimately based, however indirect or even distorted the connection may be. Be that as it may, this is clearly grist to the mill of the current topic and therefore worth re-presenting in this summarised form.

It is also worth reiterating that -o is not the only possible result of the adaptation of Gaelic -ach into Scots in the course of the acquisition of place names. Outside the area in which -o is the normal modern reflex, and has been since the end of our triad of centuries, several other developments are discernible: 9

  • (a) the final fricative can be replaced by the homorganic voiceless stop, as in Dalgarnock DMF or Balernock DNB (after -a- had become -o- or concurrent with that change);
  • (b) in areas which remained Gaelic-speaking much longer and in which English, rather than Scots, tended to replace Gaelic, the change from -a- to -o- occurs in the Scotticised names but the final fricative is retained (Badenoch INV, Garioch ABD, Balloch DNB, Tulloch ROS, Rannoch PER);
  • (c) Gaelic -ach remains unchanged not only in Gaelic map names but also in such names as The Cabrach BNF or Coigach ROS.
Whereas from a modern point of view these variations might be regarded as differences within the onomastic dialect of Scotland, their spatial distribution allows us not only to draw a map or maps making their scatter visible but also to translate these maps of space into maps of time, and to claim, with all the cautionary safeguards that such a translation from one dimension into another demands, that the development of -ach > -och > -o occurred in the earliest contact zones of Gaelic and Scots, mostly within the time frame of our discussion, while the retention of the final fricative in -och, as well as of -ach itself, reflects later phases of contact or lack of contact altogether. The interface shifts westward in time. This is probably the closest we have come so far to injecting the possibility of cartographic sequencing into our discussion, although a more systematic and more comprehensive survey of all the relevant materials is still required to make the arguments fully persuasive.

Closely related to the fate, in Scots, of the Gaelic adjectival toponymic suffix -ach, reflecting a nominative or at least a regularised nominative, is the parallel development of Gaelic locatives in -aich, earlier -aigh. Although not every Scottish place name ending in -ie or -y can be traced back to such a form in Gaelic, many of them can and, not surprisingly, their number is probably larger than that of names in original, -ach; after all, place names are used much more often in the locative case than in the nominative. I only have to remind you of Cairnie, Cluny, Crathie, Fyvie, Logie, Petty, Towie, and their like, to illustrate what I mean. It can probably be argued safely that the loss of the voiceless palatal fricative[(] in. these names occurred more or less at the same time as that of its velar counterpart [X], perhaps even a little earlier since for many names ending in -ie/-y no early spellings displaying it are on record. These names are therefore not as easily employed in the tracing of the gradual advance of Scots into Gaelic territory, but whenever they are unambiguously recorded they must be seen as proof of considerable Scotticisation and therefore of a strong Scots presence at that time.

Of the several other exciting things, some predictable, some not so predictable, that happen at the interface of Gaelic and Scots in our period, I want to mention only another three to make my point. First, on the graphemic front, there is the considerable and somewhat amusing confusion on the part of the scribes in their attempts to render the sequence Uachd- in the common Gaelic generic uachdar "an upland, upper part." 10 This has now become regularised as Auchter- (as in Auchterarder PER, Auchterhouse ANG, or Auchtermuchty FIF) or sometimes as Ochter- (as in Ochtertyre PER) both of which spellings share the same pronunciation. In the thirteenth century, the favourite representation of the vowel in question was -u-, -v-, -w-, or -ou- (for instance, Uchterardour 1201-3, Vchterardour 1226, Ouchyrardour 1238, Wterardore c. 1290) implying an /u/ pronunciation. This continues well into our period but -o- spellings begin to compete (Ochtermokadi 135OL; even earlier for Auchtertool FIF). Auchter- seems to have become the norm in the second half of the sixteenth century. In the Register of the Great Seal, for example, we find the following spellings:

  • Auchterforfair, Auchtirforfair ANG 1570,
  • Auchtirles ABD 1546,
  • Auchterles ABD 1561-2,
  • Auchtermuckty FIF 1548,
  • Auchtermoneye FIF 1565-6,
  • Auchtertule FIF 1568,
  • Auchtertyrie MOR 1577-8,
  • Auchtirmony STL 1557-8.
It is impossible to say without a detailed study whether the new spellings also reflect a change in pronunciation, at least in the mouths of the speakers of Scots.

Second, in the field of morphology, the Scots adaptations of compound names containing Gaelic achadh "field" from an early date in our period show a tendency to level this generic to Auchen-/Auchin-. 12 While this would be a legitimate, indeed the expected, phonological adaptation of the diminutive achadhan, achadh followed by the feminine genitive singular definite article na or by the genitive plural nan provides other contexts, and the form must have its origins there, although it also occurs before adjectives, before the genitive singular of masculine nouns, and before personal names. A possible explanation would be that this simplification took place in the death throes of the Gaelic donor language in the areas of Scotland concerned, but it is more likely to have happened in the recipient language through a process of morpho-phonological simplification at a time when knowledge of Gaelic grammar had become minimal or non-existent. Names in this category would be, first

  • Achindeny EDB 1425,
  • Achintibber LAN 1426,
  • Achincloich AYR 1449-50,
  • Achinynche AYR 1482,
  • Achingray LAN 1507-8,
and then
  • Auchinbak RNF 1450-51,
  • Auchinbovy STL 1483-4,
  • Auchincloich ABD 1505-6,
  • Auchaniussy ANG 1510(Achlufy 1428),
  • and Auchinbay AYR 1513.
This levelling takes place therefore in the very heart of our period.

The inference here is not that Scots has gained a new toponymic generic but rather that in the Scots version of the formerly Gaelic onomasticon an element is created which is seen and used as typical and, no longer relating to specific/grammatical gender, case and number, i.e. to something linguistic, takes on onomastic appropriateness although it never becomes productive in the recipient language, Scots. There may well be potential in this category of names, for dating purposes.

Third, graphemic and semantic forces combine to bring about a morphological restructuring of some names. 13 This process begins with the tendency, in Scots, already alluded to 14 and particularly prevalent in the sixteenth century, independent of any language contact with Gaelic, to use -ng for -n in the spelling of certain names, especially in those in which -n is preceded by -i-. These may be allographic variants with no socio-onomastic implications or they may be register-specific. For Stirling, for example, which is usually Striuelin and the like from the twelfth century onwards, although occasional spellings like Striueling occur from the beginning of the recorded evidence, -ling spellings become dominant from the fifteenth century onwards and take over completely from the second half of the sixteenth century on. The name Dunfermline which starts out in the same quarter of the twelfth century Dunfermelyn, Dunfermelin, or Dunfermlin, also develops -ling at the beginning of the fifteenth century which then predominate and take over from -lin at the same time as in Stirling, i.e. in the middle of the sixteenth century but, unlike Stirling, are completely replaced a century later by a -lin(e) ending which does not represent the original -lin suffix. Anyhow, many names are affected in various ways, sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily, by this spelling trend, and in certain instances this provides the opportunity for secondary semantic reinterpretation, the potential for which is never far off when lexically meaningless names invite semantic and pseudo-etymological tampering. Thus the, for speakers of Scots, lexically opaque Gaelic lann "an enclosure" in landa Morgund 1226, Lanmorgyn 1368, from the sixteenth century on displays Lang- spellings (Langmorgoun 1529, Langmorn 1598) and is probably also pronounced accordingly. In a further register switch to standard English, this becomes Long- so that the modern name is now Longmorn MOR. Similarly, the Moray name Lhanbryde (Lamnabride 1208-15, Lanbride c. 1350) occasionally shows spellings in our period (Langbride 1529, Langbryde 1570-1, Langbryd 1524) and is sometimes spelt Longbryde/-bride in the eighteenth century, but later reverts to spellings with -n. There are several other examples of such re-interpretation of -lan- as -lang- in concert with graphemic changes. The claim may be made that, while like Langbride and Longbride were prevalent, the specific, -bride, originally referring to St. Brigid, was also given new semantic life in terms of English but this would be difficult to substantiate in retrospect.

There can, however, be no doubt that the Aberdeenshire name King Edward which is on record as Kynedor in 1178 and as Kennedor in 1272 underwent secondary re-interpretation of both elements, once the Gaelic cinn, or rather its Scots spelling Kin-, had acquired a sixteenth-century variant King-. The spelling sequence Kynedor 1178, Kynneduart 1276, Kenedward c. 1250, Kingedward 1531 confirms this. 15 The King- spelling, by the way, does not represent the modern regional pronunciation which is Kineddart. 16 Despite demonstrable re-interpretation of their written forms, in terms of the lexicon of the recipient language, Langbryd and King Edward have not undergone any morphological restructuring; the two original components are still separated as before although they now function differently within the new compound name. In the name Kinghorn FIF we encounter a further step: Its final -g in King- was originally the initial letter of the second element -gorn (Kingorn c. 1128). Although there are a couple of sporadic spellings in -horn(e) around 1300, the new spelling is not found until the second half of the sixteenth century, as in Kinghorne 1561. In this new form which still prevails today, the syllabic boundary has been shifted from Kin- and -gorn to King- and -horn(e) as a direct result of secondary semantic reinterpretation. 17 That this is a process not confined to names which have experienced a change from -n to -ng spellings, is dramatically demonstrated by the Dumfriesshire name Closeburn which started life as Gaelic Kylosbern 1200 "Osbern's church"18 but is Closbern in 1470, Closebarn in 1506-7, and Closeburne in 1594 (all RMS); and there are several other examples of this process which seems to have happened particularly at the interface of Scots (or, at the very least, Northern English) and Gaelic during the three centuries which have our special attention.

As the selective evidence so far paraded confirms, there was plenty of action and interaction - phonological, morphological, semantic - during the period 1300-1600 wherever speakers of Scots and Gaelic encountered each other, lived among each other, and, under the peculiar angle at which we are looking at the scene, shared information about the names of places with each other. The problem is that hardly any of this toponymic evidence is eminently mappable. What one would really like to construct, in order to have a proper grip on the questions which prompted this paper, is a series of maps showing what happened when where. In particular, one would like to know at what time Scots place names first appeared in the various locations and what they were like but in order to do this rigorously and with conviction, several years of systematic possibly even comprehensive, examination of the relevant sources would be required. I am sure that such a task could be accomplished but I am also sure that such an undertaking is more the work of a PhD student than of an active university teacher nearing retirement. What I want to do by way of compromise therefore are two things:

  • first, present what evidence we have for the addition of Scots place names to a Gaelic place nomenclature (including the names the Gaels themselves had inherited from the Picts and others) in two places for which such information has been incidentally but accessibly gathered;
  • and, second, do a close reading of an onomastic text in a quest for helpful clues as to the nature of the interaction in a definable region.

For the first investigation, the two places I have in mind are the counties of West Lothian and Aberdeenshire for which Angus Mac- and William Alexander, respectively, published place-name several decades ago, one in 1941, 19 the other in 1952. 20 It might be instructive to see how two such counties differ, one on the fringe of what was once Gaelic-speaking Scotland, the other in the very heart of it. In West Lothian, according to Macdonald, the earliest recorded name is Livingston which appears as Uilla Leuing between 1124 and 1152; also mentioned in twelfth-century documents are four other names, Philpingstone, Liston, Winchburgh, and Blackness. The thirteenth century first records eight further names: Duddingston a. 1219, Balderston 1296, Humbie 1290-1, Illieston c. 1200, Hiltly 1296, Riccarton, Wrae 1296, and Whitburn; whereas fourteenth-century records add thirteen names: Queensferry, Hawthornsyke, Mannerston, Newton, Borrowston, Stacks, Kirkliston, Bonnytoun, Preston, Williamcraigs, Houston, Blackburn, and Cousland. In fifteenth-century documents we first find the following eighteen names: Plewlands, Scotstoun, Brownlaws, Craigton, Midhope, Philpstoun, Grange, Waterstone, Kingsfield, Parkly, Porterside, Woodcockdale, Couston, Deans, Wheatacres Blackburn Mains, Cowhill and Foulshiels. It is worth noting that, apart from some names of natural features, practically all the early names, i.e. those recorded before 1300, indicate ownership of a settlement; it is only in the century which follows that toponymic references to agricultural activities come ill. Even bearing in mind the vagaries of transmission, a total of forty-three names from before 1500 is, it seems, surprisingly small, considering the linguistic status of that part of the Lothians. It is only in the sixteenth century that names of English origin are added to or replace existing Gaelic place names in large numbers, and then with the full flavour of Scottishness expressed in their written forms; a few examples are: Bankheid, Brigend, Braidmyre, Burnshot, Craigbay, Mylntoun, Scottistoun, Langcragrige, Stanefauldhill, The Langhauch, Gaitsyde, Breistmyln, Hanyng, Quhitlaw, and Mekyll Brighous.
Two comments come to mind:

  • (i) these names are recorded considerably later than one would have expected, and additional caution should therefore be urged when one tries to equate the beginning of linguistic influence with the earliest record of place names. The delay cannot be explained solely as the result of the belated documentation for such names although obviously this may have played some part.
  • (ii), these names almost exclusively belong to the micro-toponymy of the county. It seems to have been difficult therefore for Scots names to infiltrate decisively the nomenclature of important places; the vernacular toponymy is not only late but additional and interspersed, not replacive.

As is to be expected, the picture which Alexander provides for Aberdeenshire is somewhat different: 21 Only one name is mentioned in the twelfth century, the piscaria de Croves in the parish of Old Machar in 1157; two are first recorded in the thirteenth century, Heatherwick and Newburgh (as Latin Novum Burgum in 1261, and another four by 1400, Blacktoun (King Edward), Blackwater (St. Fergus), Collyhill (Bourtie), and Craigton (Cruden or Logie Buchan) - a total of seven! As far as the place names of Aberdeenshire can tell us, the Scotticisation of that county, with the exception of urban Aberdeen, perhaps, is therefore decidedly post-mediaeval (and much later than that in its western parts). In the course of a little bit of wishful thinking the thought occurs that it would be nice to have similar place-name surveys of Fife, Angus, and the Mearns to fill the gap. Without them, the hunch has to be that the number of early references to Scots place names in those counties is bound to decrease gradually the further north one moves.

And thus, finally, our onomastic text! (p.33) It is not atypical although probably a little better than most in the density of its material. It comes from a source basic to all historical place-name research in Scotland, the Register of the Great Seal. 22 It deals with an area of great interest to anybody studying the interface between Gaelic and Scots between 1300 and 1600 - Fife; and its date, 1452, embedded in a confirmation charter of 1480, is right in the middle of that period and in that century which has already emerged several times as significant in the shaping of the place names of Scotland as we know them. It is therefore the kind of source a name scholar must make the most of in most of his undertakings. What kind of messages does it have for us on this occasion? All the 110 place names in its central section follow Scots rather than Gaelic spelling conventions and presumably also reflect Scots pronunciations. They form a Scots or Scottish English toponymic text but only 39 of these 110 names show Scots lexical influence, 18 as complete names and 21 as modifications of Gaelic names. In the first group 5 (Bonyngtoune, Gilmortoune, Wilkynstone, Greigstone, Freretoune) imply, perhaps new, ownership, one possibly by a Gael, Gilmore; 3 (Newgrange, Neutoune, Newmyll) speak of new settlement and farming activities, and the rest (Byrehill, Fauside, Langraw, le Hache, Bynns, Urwell, Muretoune, Myretoune, and Burchle) either designate natural features or settlement in less desirable locations. As a group, these are newcomers' or late settlers' place names, probably of comparatively recent origin and undoubtedly additional to the existing Gaelic place nomenclature, represented by 71 names in the central portion of the charter.

This impression is strengthened by the 21 other names in which the Scots elements appear as modifying components, either using directional terminology (suthir-northir, estyr-westyr, uvir-nethir, mydil-westyr), proprietorship (Lambeis vs. Priouris, or Pziouris vs. Chawmeris), or reference to topographical features (Murecambosse, Levynnis-brig, Crag-fudy, Kirkland de Luchris, Muretone-in-Luchris, Cragroyihill). Apart from Levynnis-brig and Craigroyihill, this is a nomenclature of secondary subdivision of an existing settlement pattern. There is continuation here but on a smaller scale; it is a toponymic landscape that accommodates largely through partition and division rather than replacement. About 1450, then, or perhaps a decade or two ear Scots component in the names of property belonging to the church at St. Andrews is still discernibly secondary and additional, and integrated only by its acceptance and acquisition of already existing names and their modification in response to new circumstances. What it echoes is a fuller, more cluttered landscape - more people in more settlements, most of them smaller and in less desirable locations. The remaining names listed in this confirmation charter support this picture.

There is clearly scope here for many similar interrogations of comparable texts but that cannot be our task in this context. Let me therefore introduce only another three texts which should prove instructive in comparison. They come from Moray (1451), Cowal (1472) and Kirriemuir (1510), the first from the Moray Register 23 the other two from the Register of the Great Seal. 24 The Moray charter contains 63 names, of which only two can be called Scots, in the Cowal text of 23 names none is Scots, either fully or partially, but the Kirriemuir (Angus) list has 18 names out of 60 that are either fully or partially Scots. The onomastic, and ultimately also the linguistic, implications are obvious.

Texts like these, I have no doubt, are likely to remain our chief sources for the kind of evidence we are seeking, and we are fortunate insofar as they are quite plentiful for the three centuries which interest us. For a trained eye they soon become a rough and ready guide to the linguistic flavour and composition of the nomenclatures contained in them, and closer and more sustained readings by experts should yield useful results. They not only provide us with examples of the various processes that Gaelic names undergo when they are adopted and adapted by Scots; they also, when properly interrogated, inform us about the Scots additions to the acquired onomasticon, as long as they are taken for what they are - names and not words - and as long as potential interference factors such as a delay between the naming of a feature and the recording of that name, or between linguistic and onomastic presence, are taken into account. When all is said and done, it has to be admitted that there is considerable place-name evidence to throw light on the interface between Gaelic and Scots during the period 1300-1600. It is not so much a question of finding it but of knowing what to make of it.


1. Nicolaisen, W. F. H. (1959): "Scottish Place-names: 10. The Type 'Burn of-' in Scottish Hydronymy." Scottish Studies 3, 92-102. - (1960): "Scottish Place-names 15. Names Containing the Preposition 'of." Scottish Studies 4, 194-205. - (1965): "Scottish Place- names: 25. 'Hill of- and 'Loch of-'." Scottish Studies 9, 175-182. - See also Nicolaisen, W. F. H. (1976)- Scottish Place-Names: Their Study and Significance. London: B. T. Batsford, 56-64.

2. Nicolaisen, W. F. H. (1986): "Gaelic Place Names in Scots." Scottish Language 5 (Winter 1986), 14.0-146, esp. 142-143.

3. Nicolaisen, W. F. H. (1989,): "The Spelling of Scottish Place Names as a Linguistic Resource." In Other Words. Festschrift H. H. Meier. Eds. J. L. Mackenzie and R. Todd (Dordrecht, Holland: Foris, 1989, 301-314).

4. The county abbreviations used here are those employed by the Scottish Place-Name Survey of the School of Scottish Studies. For a listing of them see Nicolaisen (1976), xxvii-xxviii.

5. See note 1.

6. See note 2.

7. Nicolaisen, W. F. H. (1975): "Place Names in Bilingual Communities." Names 23, 167-174; see also Nicolaisen (1976), 53-56.

8. Nicolaisen (1986), 142.

9. Ibid., 143.

10. Ibid., 144.

11. Registrum Magni Sigilii Regum Scotorum. Vol. IV (A.D. 1546-1580). Ed. John Maitland Thomson. Edinburgh: H.M. Register House, 1886.

12. Nicolaisen, W. F. H. (1970): "Gaelic Place-Names in Southern Scotland." Studia Celtica 5, 15-35; also Nicolaisen (1976), 141-143, and Nicolaisen (1986), 143-144.

13. For a general account of such names see Nicolaisen, W. F. H. (1987): "Semantic Causes of Structural Changes in Place-Names." NORNA-rapporter 34, 9-18.

14. See p. 23 and note 3.

15. Nicolaisen (1987), 14.

16. Alexander, William M. (1952): The Place-Names of Aberdeenshire. Aberdeen: Third Spalding Club, 76.

17. Nicolaisen (1987), 15-16.

18. Ibid., 16.

19. Macdonald, Angus (1941): The Place-Names of West Lothian. Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd.

20. See note 16.

21. See note 16.

22. Registrum Magni Sigilii Regum Scotorum. Vol. 11 (1424-1513). Ed. James Balfour Paul. Edinburgh: H.M. Register House, 1882, no. 1444.

23. Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis. Edinbrugh: Bannatyne Club, 1837, pp. 223-225.

24M. RMS (1424-1513), nos. 1059 and 3489.

State University of New York at Binghamton.

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