What’s in a name?
What’s in a name? Gaelic and Old Norse words in the names of places and cottages, reveal glimpses of our heritage, the importance of the landscape and wildlife, as well as our Highland culture.
Place Names in Skye and Lochalsh
Many of the names given to our villages, rivers, mountains, and even our holiday cottages, derive from either Old Norse or Scottish Gaelic.
Isle of Skye (Gaelic Eilean a Cheo)
Eilean is the Gaelic word for island and appears in several place names. The Isle of Skye has its origins in the Norse word for clouds (‘sky’) with the suffix ‘ye’ meaning ‘island’ – literally ‘Island of Clouds’. The Gaelic name for Skye ‘Eilean a Cheo’ also means ‘misty isle’.
Kyleakin (Gaelic Caol Àcain)
For many visitors to the island, Kyleakin is the first village after the bridge. But how many of you knew that its name dates back to the 13th century? Literally meaning ‘Straits of Hakkon’, the name Kyleakin is thought to derive from the Gaelic word for a narrow strait of water (‘caol’) coupled with a reference to King Haakon IV of Norway whose fleet moored there prior to the Battle of Largs in 1263.
Portree (Gaelic Port-an-Righ)
The main town on the Isle of Skye was previously called Kiltaraglen from the Gaelic word ‘Cill’ meaning ‘church’. Literally ‘the church at the foot of the glen’. The name for the village was changed in the 16th century following the royal visit of King James V. With the king’s boat berthed in the harbour, Kiltaraglen became Port-an-Righ (the King’s Port).
Fiscavaig (Gaelic Fioscabhaig)
Fiscavaig (or Fiskavaig) literally translates as ‘bay of fish‘ from Old Norse. Nearby Portnalong (Gaelic Port nan Long) means ‘harbour of ships’. This community was founded by crofters from Lewis and Harris in 1921.
Dunvegan (Gaelic Dùn Bheagain)
You may notice several place names in Scotland which include the word ‘dun’ from the Gaelic Dùn meaning ‘fort’. Dunvegan is just one example. Dunvegan Castle (the seat of the MacLeods) has a long history. Well before the Keep was built in the mid-14th century, there had been a fort – or dun. The second part of the name possibly refers to the Norse chieftain Began, but it could also derive from the Gaelic word ‘bheagain’ meaning ‘few’ (The fort of the few).
In Gaelic the word ‘ploc’ refers to a promontory or lump of land. The name of this exceptionally pretty harbour village translates as ‘town on the promontory’.
Many of our holiday cottages have names which are just as interesting!
It is probable not surprising that many of our cottages include the word Taigh (also Tigh) which is Gaelic for ‘house’. They often refer to the original owner or resident. For example:- Taigh Uilleim in Roag translates as William’s House, Tigh Anndra in Flodigarry is literally Andrew’s House and Taigh Aonghais (Tarskavaig) is the house of Angus.
Hills, streams, lochs and glens all feature in our cottage names, evoking the variety of the landscape in which they are situated.
Alt Slapin near the beautiful Loch Slapin takes its name from the burn running beside the cottage (in Gaelic ‘Allt’ means stream)
The cottage Bonn na Cnoc translates as ‘at the foot of the hill‘ – a great description of its location.
A strath in Gaelic is a low-lying, level land between hills. It usually refers to a broad valley with a river (larger than a glen) running through it. It perfectly describes the location of the cottage Strath Glebe situated in the broad valley of Swordale (Suardal) that runs between Broadford and Torrin. Today this valley is a quiet place, with only a few cottages but in previous years it included a marble quarry with workers houses and a railway for transporting the marble to Broadford. Glebe is an area of land within an ecclesiastical parish that was used to support a parish priest. The cottage is not far from the ruined Cill Chriosd (meaning ‘Christ’s Church’). This former parish church was in use up to 1840.
The cottage Creag Bheag in Portree takes its name from the landscape. In Gaelic ‘creag’ means ‘rock’.
Translating literally from the Gaelic words ‘the sea side’ or ‘beside the sea’ Taobh na Mara cottage is perfectly named. Its down on the shores of the tidal Loch Snizort and overlooks the water.
Water also features in the names of two other cottages. Laimhrig on the Shore overlooking Loch Ainort takes its name from the Gaelic word for ‘jetty’ or ‘landing place’. Kinloch Follart dates back to the mid 19th century and was originally built as a manse house offering spacious accommodation for Ministers who were duty bound to offer somewhere to stay to anyone in need. Kinloch means ‘Head of the loch’ and is commonly used in place names. The house sits at the head of Loch Dunvegan previously called Loch Follart (or Fallart).
Our cottages on the mainland also have names that reflect their location in the landscape of Lochalsh. Duirinish Lodge for example is named from the Gaelic Diùranais or Diùirinis meaning “deer headland” and is in part derived from the Old Norse ‘dyr’. Built in 1936 this country house is set within 18 acres of magnificent private woodlands and gardens just waiting to be explored!
Waternish is a great place for bird watching. It overlooks the bay and out towards the Minch. Tystie Cottage takes its name from the word for a black guillemot. The name ‘tystie‘ was originally used in the Scottish Isles, particularly the Shetlands and probably derives from Norn tåisti, from Old Norse þeisti.
The cottage Ard Choille in Portree takes its name from Scottish clan history. Ard Choille was the slogan or the war cry of the Macgregor clan meaning ‘High Wood’ and referred to a secret clan meeting place.