Sunday, 26 November 2017

Scottish place names in the USA

In another unashamedly blatant plug for my book English Place Names Transferred to the USA, I thought it might be nice to look at some of the examples from Scotland. Less of a challenge than last week's Welsh names as many of these come from Old English, although I did need help with the Gaelic.

Aberdeen - means 'at the mouth of the Don', even though the river Dee also flows here the early forms clearly show this is a later mistaken idea.

Angus - an old county of Scotland named after the 8th century King of the Picts Aonghus or Oengus meaning 'unique choice'.

Argyle - from Gaelic meaning 'land of the Gaels', these Scots were of Irish origin.

Bannockburn - a famous name, owing to the battle of 1314, meaning 'little shining stream'.

Bathgate - from Brythonic baedd coed or 'boar wood'.

Berwick - an Old English place name from bere wic or 'barley farmstead'.

Cheviot - of uncertain origin, but may be a Pre-Celtic tribal name or a derivative of Brythonic cefn or 'ridge'.

Clyde - a Brythonic river name meaning 'the cleansing one'.

Culloden - another name made famous by a battle, here that name likely means 'back of the pool'.

Douglas - the two Scottish Gaelic elements dubh glas combine to speak of 'the dark water'.

Dumbarton - another of Scottish Gaelic origin, dun Breatainn describing 'the fortified stronghold of the Britons'.

Dumfries - Scottish Gaelic again, here dun phris refers to 'the fortified stronghold of the woodland'.

Dunbar - and again, where Scottish Gaelic dun barr refers to 'the fort of the height'.

Dundee - is most often said to be 'the fort of Daig', a personal name of unknown context.

Dunfermline - of unknown derivation, other than the first element dun 'fort'. Some sources point to a likely Pictish personal name, but without suggesting any.

Edinburgh - a name from Scottish Gaelic aodann 'rock face' and Old English burh 'stronghold'.

Elgin - this part of Scotland was settled by Gaelic-speakers from Ireland, thus the idea this comes from Ealg with the diminutive in to mean 'little Ireland' makes perfect sense.

Fordyce - another Scottish Gaelic name, where faithir deas refers to 'the fortification of the south-facing slope'.

Galloway - a name meaning 'land of the stranger Gaels', for this part of the country had been settled by those of a mixed Irish/Scandinavian descent.

Glasgow - from Brythonic glas cau 'place of the green hollow'.

Glencoe - another of Scottish Gaelic origin and referring to 'the narrow valley'.

Gretna - a famous Scottish name and one of Old English derivation where greoten halh refers to 'the gravelly nook of land'.

Hamilton - named after Lord Hamilton, he coming here during the 15th century.

Harris - an Old Scandinavian name meaning 'the higher island'. The island is officially known as Lewis and Harris, although this is only one island and Harris is the higher mountainous region.

Hope - of Old Scandinavian origin where hop means 'sheltered place' and originally referred to the haven offered by the bay of the same name.

Houston - comprised of Old English tun and a Saxon personal name, this is 'the farmstead of a man called Hugo'.

Inverness - Scottish Gaelic inbhir means 'mouth of' and precedes the name of the river Ness, itself of unknown origin.

Iona - a small island seemingly derived from Old Irish for 'yew'.

Irvine - a Brythonic name meaning 'the white river'.

Kelso - Old English calc hoh refers to 'the ridge of chalk'.

Kinross - from Scottish Gaelic ceann ros 'the head of the promontory'.

Kirk - likely from Old Scandinavian kirkja rather than Old English cirice, although both simply mean 'church'.

Lanark - a Brythonic name where llanerc means 'forest glade'.

Leith - if this comes from Brythonic lleith 'moist' then this name is telling us it is a 'wet place'.

Lenox - named after the Dukes of Lennox, an ancient place name referring to 'the place covered in elms'.

Linwood - combining Brythonic llyn and Old English wudu means this began as 'the wood by a pool'.

Lomond - if this is Brythonic then this is from lumon 'beacon', or of Scottish Gaelic then leamhan 'elm trees'. Either way it refers to the land and not the more famous loch, itself taking the name from the hill of Ben Lomond.

Melrose - a Scottish Gaelic name where mael ros refers to 'the bare moor'.

Montrose - again Scottish Gaelic moine ros 'the peat moss of the promontory'.

Morton - here is Old English mor tun 'the farmstead of the moor'.

Nevis - an ancient name, probably nebh 'cloud' and a reference to the mountain and not a 'cloud' as we would speak today (indeed Old English clud meant 'mountain' and not 'cloud'). Alternatively Old Gaelic numheis meaning 'venomous' has been suggested, but just what is venomous is uncertain.

Paisley - from Brythonic pasgell llethr 'sloping pasture'.

Peebles - means 'the place of the shielings', ie pasture seasonally given over to grazing sheep.

Perth - a place name meaning '(place of) the thicket'.

Preston - from Old English preost tun 'the farmstead of the priests'.

Roxborough - an Old English place name meaning 'the fortified place of a man called Hroc'.

Sutherland - if defined as 'the place of the southern territory' it becomes obvious.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Welsh place names in the USA

In an unashamedly blatant plug for my book English Place Names Transferred to the USA, I thought it might be nice to look at some of the Welsh examples. This is unknown territory for me as I neither speak nor read Welsh, so I'm grateful for the help from those who do.

Bala - is a place name from bala and 'a place where a river enters a lake'.

Berwyn - another which has not changed at all since berwyn means 'snowy summit'.

Bangor - a delightful name for it describes what could be found in the early days as it describes this as the place of 'the wattled fence'.

Bryn Mawr - is Welsh for 'the big hill'.

Caernarvon - as many will know this is Welsh for 'the fort near Mon', this the Welsh name for Angelesey.

Cardiff - is the 'fort on the (river) Taff'. Origins of the river name are disputed but may mean 'craggy' or 'rocks' and describe the nature of the youthful river.

Flint - is named for the 'gravel' of the stony area on which the castle was built.

Lampeter - an Anglicised version of Llanbedr or 'church of St Peter'.

Gwynedd - is the 'land of the Venedotae', this the name of the Celtic tribe.

Montgomery - took the name of Roger de Montgomery, himself named after the town of Montgomery in the Pays d'Auge region of Normandy. THe Welsh name os Trefaldwyn means 'the town of Baldwin'.

Pembrey - simple Welsh for 'the top of the hill'.

Pembroke - is the Anglicised version of Penfro or 'amd's end'.

Radnor - is the English version and means 'red bank', while the original Welsh name of Maesyfed means 'Hyfaidd's field'.

Swansea - this is not English but an Old Scandinavian name meaning 'Sveyn's island', the Welsh version is Abertawe mouth of 'the river Tawe'

Sunday, 12 November 2017


Some years ago I posted the appalling story of the treatment of old photographs by someone I refuse to admit I'm distantly related to. You can read the Criminal Waste of History here.

For me old imagery is extremely useful when illustrating books and articles. Thus recently, having shown an interested party some of the images I had discovered, an interesting conversation followed which got me thinking when the other said how it was "amazing these photographs have survived". Well in the case of those rescued from the bonfire, this is true. But is this really the case? Remember images in those days were precious, few images were taken and those that were successfully developed cherished as these represented a significant investment. Furthermore, these images were often 'captioned' in the sense the names of those pictured were given on the reverse, often including the date and even the place. Such was the case with Maitland Kempson pictured below - indeed without the note on the reverse I would have had no idea who the man was.

Yet will old images be so easy to find in future? Will we have any notion as to who, where and when? Today's technology makes photography commonplace - we have images from cameras, mobile phones, tablets, and the many video cameras dotted around everywhere. Now 'when' is easy to as the digital record puts both the date and the time - assuming the equipment is set correctly, of course. But does anyone ever bother to caption images, except for those on social media? And are they saved and easily retrievable? No. Usually when the equipment dies the images die with them, and even those saved online will never be found again once the photographer's copyright has started to countdown from 70 years - unless passwords are known.

So, it is not surprising to find old images have survived from a century ago, but try finding an image of Jack or Lindsey a hundred years from now and recognising them when you do. Best of British!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Health and Safety

On Tuesday 23rd November 1858, Eli Meakin had been working on his father's farm at Whitgreave. Employed as a waggoner's boy, whilst driving the horses he is thought to have stepped over the horizontal shaft between them and the threshing machine. His action caused him to slip and he fell between the cog wheels. Subsequently found by a passer-by who, seeing the horses stopped and unsupervised, investigated and found the lad held quite firmly. The man released him but his chest injuries were appalling and he died shortly afterwards. Eli Meakin was just twelve years of age.

At the subsequent inquest the threshing machine was deemed to be dangerous for any driver, for the rods were secured in an improper position and the wheels unprotected. The owner of the farm promised the equipment would not be used again until the improvements had been made. Too late for young Eli whose demise was recorded as Accidental Death.

It seems unlikely the same verdict would be reached today. Further stories like this can be found in my Bloody British Histories: Stafford.