Scots Pronunciation and Meanings
For those of you not born in Scotland the correct pronunciation of some
of our words and the understanding of what they mean may be a bit confusing.
Scotland has been the scene of numerous mixings of various races and they
have all contributed to the names and phrases that now appear in our language.
This is a short guide to many of those that appear in the various Dunnett
books along with a few others of general interest. Drop me a message if
there are any others that you'd like to see included.
Most of the personal names are fairly obvious, but the following sometimes
||Although I have always pronounced this buch-loo (ch as in loch or
Bach), Dorothy told me that the Duke himself pronounces it as buck-loo.
In fact the derivation of the place-name is from buck-cleugh - meaning
deer ravine - so it could be argued that we're both wrong!
||cool-ter. In Lanarkshire it is often spoken with a silent L so it
Meanings and/or Origins
Archie's name is from a placename. As explained below Aber is Brithonic
and means meeting of the waters. The river Nethy is from the Gaelic neitheach
which perhaps appropriately for Archie mean the pure one.
From the Gaelic cul tir meaning back land, although Dorothy tells
me that this really refers to the placename and that the family name tends
to refer to the pun-meaning of plowshare, which appears in coats of arms
for instance. It is also variously spelled Coultar and Coulter. A Richard
of Culter is recorded as being sheriff of Lanark in 1226.
Comes from the village and barony of Crawford in upper Clydesdale. (The
village is near the source of the Clyde at Elvanfoot). It was originally
crau ford - literally ford of the crows.
The Earls of Crawford, whose family name was Lindsay, were an important
family in the west of Scotland.
Related to the name Giles (as in St. Giles) which comes from the Greek
Aegidius. Giles appears to have been used for both sexes but Egidia is
a feminine form mainly found in Scotland. This was apparently a book form
of the name. The female form eventually became transformed to Julia or
Juliana, while in Gaelic (which has no J) the name became sileas in the
masculine and silis in the feminine. While I haven't yet seen Gelis mentioned
in modern references, Dorothy tells me that it was common in the 15th
Originally the family was St. Pol from France/Brittany and the early records
use the spelling Sempill, (those who have returned to France have reverted
to the St. Pol version) and they were based in the area around Loch Winnoch
which was later re-named Castle Semple Loch leaving the original name
to the village of Lochwinnoch. The village was once a bleaching and weaving
centre. It retains only the gable and belfry of St Winnoc's Church, also
known as Auld Simon!
Semples held the nearby Elliston (or Elziotstoun) lands, where there is
a ruin of a 15th c. castle, as early as the 13th c. and built the Peel
around 1550 - a low tower on what was then an island, and a Collegiate
Church built in 1504. Lord Sempill who was killed at Flodden was buried
Sir James Sempill of Beltrees 1566-1625 was a courtier and satirist who
owed his career to James VI. His mother was Mary Livingstone - one of Mary
QoS's four Mary's - and his father was Sir John Sempill.
Castle Semple has now completely disappeared, and its successor, the
18th c. Castle Semple House, has only the west gate and a folly remaining.
The Semples sold out to the MacDowalls in 1727.
Place Names in Scotland
||tor-fich-en (ch as in loch)
||the broader speaking locals tend to shorten it to hoick
Meanings and Derivations
Place names in Scotland are made up of elements from a number of different
languages - Gaelic, Norse, Brithonic, Scots and Anglian. Gaelic names
are common over much of the country with Norse being often seen in the
north and west. Brithonic is seen in the south-west and in the north-east
areas, often where the Picts were found, while Scots and Anglian are seen
in the Lothians and Borders which were under Northumbrian control until
the formation of the territory we know as Scotland in the 11th century.
Particularly with Gaelic the names are often very descriptive of the local
terrain, a fact which makes the study of that language a particular help
to hill-walkers and climbers.
A Brittonic word usually used as a prefix, meaning "meeting of the
waters", so in general it should mean the same in Scotland as in
Wales. It never moved into the Gaelic language where the equivalent word
is Inver and it generally only occurs in the Pictish areas.
Abernethy is the meeting of the waters of the Nethy - see above.
The most famous Aber - Aberdeen - is not a simple example however as it
was originally made up of two settlements with similar names, at least
one of which had a Gaelic suffix.
from Gaelic baile meaning town or village.
Gaelic for hollow, lagan is the diminutive. So the home of Dandy Hunter
- Ballaggan - is "town of the little hollow".
A gaelic word or prefix meaning a hill or mound and also a fort or castle.
It is seen in names such as Dunkeld - fort of the Caledonians, Dunblane,
Dundee, and in modified form it appears as Dum, as in Dumbarton - "the
hill-fort of the Britons".
The old gaelic name for Edinburgh was Dun Eideann (which became Dunedin
in New Zealand). However Edinburgh is a very complex name and scholars
don't all agree about it.
is a Norse suffix which comes from Ey meaning Island. It has often been
converted to ay in many island names. Examples are Scalpay - "boat-shaped
isle", Berneray - "Bjorn's Isle", and Pabay (papey) - "Priest's
as in Firth of Forth or Pentland Firth, is related to the Norwegian fjord,
both being from the Norse.
is a Scots word meaning road or walk (old form gait), so Canongate
is the priests or clerics road. The best known of this name is the road
that ran between the Old Edinburgh city walls and the Abbey of Holyrood
and which is still there today as the lower part of the Royal Mile.
is an anglo-saxon term meaning hedge settlement.
is an island from the Gaelic innis.
Inchcolm (one of a group of Inches in the Firth of Forth) is Island of
From the gaelic inbhir, "at the mouth of" and therefore
usually associated with a river name such as with Inverness or Inverlochy.
As in Kilmartin, comes from the Gaelic cille meaning cell, as in
a monastic cell. It is therefore often found associated with the names
of Saints or with churches.
Kilwinning is named after St. Wynnin - a rather obscure saint who was
either 6th or 8th c. and either Scottish or Irish
As in Kinlochleven, is from the Gaelic ceann, meaning the head,
thus "at the head of Loch Leven". Kinneil near Linlithgow means
"at the head (or end) of the wall" (The Antonine Wall)
comes from the Gaelic caol, meaning narrow, so Kyle of Lochalsh
is the "narrows or straits of Loch Alsh", while Kyleakin is
the "straits of Hakon" - the Norse ruler defeated at the battle
is the Gaelic equivalent of lake. There is one lake in Scotland - the
Lake of Menteith where Lymond meets the young child Mary. However this
appears to come from Laigh of Menteith - laigh is an area of low-lying
The place where Thorfinn was killed means St Finan's Field.
As in Mull of Kintyre or Mull of Galloway, comes from the norse word muli
meaning headland, which passed into Gaelic as maol. The word also
means bare, and it appears as far south as the Borders in names such as
Melrose (scene of Will Scott's wedding) which means bare-moor, though
that is hardly a fair description of this attractive town.
nes is a norse word meaning cape, point, or headland, and is very
common in the north and in Orkney. Apparently of Germanic origin it also
arrived via the English naes which means essentially the same thing.
In King Hereafter we find Caithness - Cape of the Cataibh or cat-men (a
pictish tribe name), and Stenness - Stone Cape. The Orkney town of Stromness
is straumr-nes - cape in the current. Adorne's Blackness is self-explanatory.
A suffix used in Orkney and Shetland which comes from a contraction of
the old Norse word bolstadr. bol is a share and stadr is a stead
or a farm. Thus Kirkbister is "Church farm".
comes from the Gaelic srath, meaning a broad valley. Strathmore
- great valley, Strathspey - valley of the River Spey.
comes from the Brittonic din talgwin - high frontier fort
Tra or Tref
mean hamlet or village. From these come Threve which simply means a village
and Traquair which is hamlet on the river Quair.
ton is an English Anglo-Saxon suffix which means homestead or farmstead.
It often becomes toun in Scots, and both apply to a much smaller place
than we would think of as a modern town. It is often combined with other
descriptive words to form such names as millton, kirkton, castleton, but
can also be joined to the names of landowners or the names of particular
trades. Symington is Simon's stead.
Broughton means "farm beside the brook".
The valley involved with the chase after the sheep-in-helmets means rough
or turbulent water and comes from an old Gaelic word garu which
is the basis for the Scots Gaelic garbh which appears often in
mountain names and the water related garry, and also the English
Anyone interested in further study of this subject may find the following
book of help to them.
Scotland's Place Names: Expanded Edition
Published by Mercat Press, 1995
pbk, 1873644507 £9.99