Gaelic & Norse Place Names

Throughout the Highlands and islands of Scotland the Gaelic language has left a rich legacy of place names, often intermixed with Old Norse names brought by the Vikings who occupied the western and northern islands. The spellings may be Anglicised, but the meaning is usually still clear.

Gaelic Place Names

ach, auch – from achadh (field)

ard – from ard or aird (height, hill)

avon – from abhainn (river or stream)

bal – from baile (village or homestead)

ban – from ban (white, fair)

beg – from beag (small)

ben – from beinn (mountain)

buie – from buidhe (yellow)

dal – from dail (field or dale)

dow, dhu – from dubh (black)

drum – from druim (ridge or back)

dun – from dun or duin (fort or castle)

glen – from gleann (narrow valley)

gorm – from gorm (blue)

gower, gour – from gabhar (goat), eg Ardgour (height of the goats)

inch, insh – from inis (island, water-meadow or resting place for cattle)

inver – from inbhir (rivermouth or meeting of two rivers)

kil – from cille (church), eg Kilmartin (Church of St Martin)

kin, ken – from ceann (head), eg Kinlochleven (head of Loch Leven)

kyle, kyles – from caol or caolas (narrow sea channel)

more, vore – from mor or mhor (big), eg Ardmore (big height), Skerryvore (big reef)

strath – from srath (broad valley)

tarbert, tarbet – from tairbeart (portage), meaning a narrow neck of land between two bodies of water, across which a boat can be dragged

tay, ty – from tigh (house), eg Tyndrum (house on the ridge)

tober – from tobar (well), eg Tobermory (Mary's well)

tom – small hill

Norse Place Names

a, ay, ey – from ey (island)

bister, buster, bster – from bolstaor (dwelling place, homestead)

geo – from gja (chasm)

holm – from holmr (small island)

kirk – from kirkja (church)

pol, poll, bol – from bol (farm)

quoy – from kvi (sheep fold, cattle enclosure)

sker, skier, skerry – from sker (rocky reef)

ster, sett – from setr (house)

vig, vaig, wick – from vik (bay, creek)

voe, way – from vagr (bay, creek)