Many of Scotland’s place names have Gaelic origins, some with fascinating stories and some very surprising. Here we’ve chosen our top ten.
- The Cairngorms get their English name from the Gaelic An Càrn Gorm ‘the blue mountain’ (the location of the ski resort). Their Gaelic name is Am Monadh Ruadh ‘the russet mountains’, a commentary on the colour of the granite which dominates the range.
- The landscape term ‘corrie’ comes from the Gaelic coire, originally meaning ‘cauldron’ (corries are shaped liked cauldrons).
- There are over forty different words in Gaelic for ‘bog’. The English word ‘bog’ itself comes from Gaelic.
- There are 276 Gaelic place-names in Scotland which name the iolaire ‘eagle’. Over two-thirds are thought to represent the golden eagle and the remainder the white-tailed sea eagle.
- The various places named Tarbe(r)t derive from Gaelic tairbeart ‘portage’, a neck of land across which boats could be carried.
- Loch Lomond was originally Loch Leamhain, named from the river that flows from it (it means ‘elm river’). It derived its modern name from Ben Lomond, in Gaelic Beinn Laomainn ‘beacon mountain’.
- Beinn Ghulbain (Ben Gulabin) in Glenshee is one of several locations where the legendary Gaelic hero, Diarmad, is reputed to have killed the wild boar in an attempt to win Gràinne’s hand, before himself being killed by its bristle. Other locations include Beinn Laghail (Ben Loyal) in North Sutherland and Gleann Lonain (Glen Lonan) in Argyll.
- The shortest place-name in the world is the one-letter Gaelic for Iona – Ì. It is often known as Eilean Ì or Ì Chaluim Chille, the latter linking it to its most famous inhabitant, Calum Cille (‘dove of the church’, St Columba). The ‘n’ in Iona is erroneous, having arisen from a misreading of Ioua Insula, a Latin form of the name.
- The village of Tomatin, south of Inverness, is in Gaelic Tom Aitinn ‘hillock of juniper’.
- The common Gaelic mountain name beinn, from which we get the English ben, originally meant ‘animal’s horn’.
Find out more about the Gaelic origins of place names in specific areas from our Gaelic in the Landscape booklet series.
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