Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Musical Magic of Place-Names

In a place like Angus you have a treasure trove of names on the maps and ground from a variety of cultural sources:  pre-Celtic, Pictish, Gaelic, Scots, English.  For some, finding out the meaning of place-names opens a door in that particular part of the land.  Other people are fascinated by trying to find out where the many hundreds of vanished names – lost settlements, fields and hills – found on records but not on modern maps were located.  It is easy to let your lack of knowledge get the better of you, onomastically speaking, and read into names what you would like them to mean.  The old amateur antiquarians of bygone centuries did it all the time.  For example, I would much prefer the parish and settlement name of Auchterhouse to mean ‘place of the spectre’ as some older books insist, but the sad and prosaic truth seems to be that it merely means ‘upland place’.  Same with Pittendreich, a part of the Sidlaws in nearby Lundie parish.  The first element pit is the Pictish element meaning ‘share’, and some people have interpreted the rest as ‘of the druids’.  That would make a fascinating, if undiscoverable, back story.  But really the name appears to mean ‘place/share of the good aspect'.  Boo to that drabness!

   You can’t trust these tricky Celtic names.  But you’re on much safer ground, so to speak, with those names which seem to be later Scots or English.  Carrot Hill in the Sidlaws again looks like a plain, honest name (there is a nearby Carrot farm too), but actually it’s tricking us:  the origin is in the Gaelic caraidh, ‘mossy place’, as the late David Dorward pointed out.  Biblical type names are sprinkled throughout the county and beyond.  Give a place a near-eastern name and you would instil some sort of holiness there.  So we have Egypt east of Montreathmont Forest and Jericho near Douglastown.  But what about Denmark south of Froickheim and indeed Ireland and Rome (the latter apparently pronounced Roum, according to local historian Frederick Cruickshank) in Menmuir?  Going back to Gaelic, the hill of Auld Darkney, close to Tannadice, sounds like a splendid single malt whisky, and David Dorward  again (in The Glens of Angus, p. 82) thinks it comes from allt deargan, ‘red stained burn’.

   Best possibly just to roll the best names around in your mind and mouth and let the meanings stay obscure.  Try this lot for size:

                 The Lurgies and its brother The Slunks in Montrose Basin.
                 Mouse’s Thrapple, a small woodland strip near Kinnaird Castle.
                 Dummiesholes and East Dummiesholes near Redford.
                 Dustydrum, a farm in Carmyllie parish (where we also have
                 Goats and Curleys).
                 How about Finger Hill, Froickheim?  The fragile sounding Glassmonies?

                 Other personal favourites include Slap o’ The Gask, Hunkrum Dubs and Rashick Knap. But top of the pile for me is definitely Tuttie’s Neuk.  This is the name of a fine inn at Arbroath, but the name may have migrated from the nearly identically named house of Tuttie’s Nook not far away in Carmyllie.  The name is explained by a possible folk etymology:  tuttie being an old word for ‘toot’, signifying the place where the local herdsman blew his horn to assemble his cattle before taking them to graze.

   Those who want to delve into the madness of place-names further are recommended to read David Dorward’s local surveys, The Glens of Angus (2001) and The Sidlaw Hills (2003).  Both are out of print, but easily found.  There is also the rather more obscure Place names of northeast Angus: A study of the parishes of Edzell, Lethnot & Navar and Lochlee; with notes on some names from the Brechin area and elsewhere in or around the county by Charles Wills, 1963.

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