Medieval Naming Guides: Scottish

Scottish Names

Scotland has a complex cultural and linguistic history. In the 9th century, the area that is now Scotland had almost half a dozen different overlapping cultures speaking as many different languages:

By the 12th century, Pictish and Cumbric had virtually disappeared, but Norse, Gaelic, and English were still being spoken, joined by Norman French, in overlapping areas distributed roughly as follows:

From around the 14th century, the two main languages spoken in Scotland were:

Gaelic was the same language spoken in Ireland at this time; Scots was closely related to contemporary English. Norn (a form of Norse) as well as Scots was spoken in the Northern Isles through the 16th century and beyond.

These languages were very different and the cultures that spoke them had different naming customs. There was some mixing of names from the different cultures, but most names were not adopted into all of the cultures. Therefore, the culture you choose to re-create will determine how your name should be constructed.

A person's name might have been recorded or spoken in one language or another, depending on the circumstances. The written form(s) of his name would often differ from the spoken form(s), to fit the naming customs of the language being used. The written language of Scotland before the 14th century was Latin. Scots rose as a written language in the late 14th century and became increasingly important over the next two centuries; but Latin remained in use for various kinds of documents into the 17th century. Gaelic was sometimes used as a written language in Scotland from at least the 12th century, but few Scottish Gaelic records survive.

Scottish Names in General

Scottish Names 101, by Effric neyn Kenyeoch vc Ralte
A required first stop for anyone interested in authentic period Scottish names.

Gaelic Names
If you want a Gaelic (Highland) name, use the articles in this section of this index. Early Scottish Gaelic culture was little different from Irish Gaelic culture. Naming customs began to diverge by the 10th century. We have little data on the names used by Scottish Gaels before the 12th century, but we believe that in this early period given names common in Gaelic Ireland were likely to have been used in Gaelic Scotland as well.

Quick and Easy Gaelic Names, by Sharon Krossa
An excellent general guide to building a typical Gaelic name. Start here!

Lenition in Gaelic Naming Step By Step, by Sharon Krossa
A great guide to an often-confusing point of Gaelic grammar. It includes references to:
Old-Irish Spelling and Pronunciation, by Dennis King
A good basic guide. Old Irish was the language spoken by Gaels in Ireland, Man, and Scotland from about 700 to 1000 AD.
The Spelling of Lenited Consonants in Gaelic, by Sharon Krossa
A brief discussion of this point of Gaelic grammar, which is important in the correct spelling of Gaelic names, especially feminine names.
Pronunciation of Scottish Gaelic Consonants, by Sharon Krossa
A guide to pronouncing modern Scottish Gaelic consonants, which is a good approximation to late medieval pronunciation as well.
Language Timeline
Not referenced by the lenition guide, but useful for clarifying some terminology used in these articles. It is a simple illustration of the history of Gaelic, with an example of how a single word changed over time.

A Simple Guide to Constructing 12th Century Scottish Gaelic Names, by Effric neyn Kenyeoch vc Ralte
This article, plus Quick and Easy, will provide everything that most people need to build a correct Scottish Gaelic name. This one contains short lists of masculine and feminine given names recorded in a 12th century Gaelic document from Scotland.

Scottish Gaelic Given Names (Draft in Progress Edition), by Effric neyn Kenyeoch vc Ralte
The beginnings of an article on given names used by Scottish Gaels before 1600. At the moment it offers mainly just lists of evidence, with little or no interpretation. It should be used with great care and only after reading the cautions and disclaimers at the start of the articles and the introductions. Note that the information in this article will be changing as more is added and corrected.

Historical Name Generator: Sixteenth Century Irish and Scottish Gaelic Names, by Sharon Krossa
A simple historical name generator suitable for selecting a Gaelic language name appropriate for a 16th century Irish or Scottish Gael. More information will be added over time, but what's there is quite useful.

Names from Papers Relating to the Murder of the Laird of Calder, by Margaret Makafee
The source documents, in Scots, date from 1591-6. Most of the names are Scots-language renderings of Gaelic names, though there are also a few names of Scots-speakers.

Medieval Gaelic Clan, Household, and Other Group Names, by Effric neyn Kenyeoch vc Ralte
A short discussion of the names used by Gaels for these institutions.

Scoto-Norman, Scots-Language, and Lowland Names
If you want a Gaelic name, use the articles in the previous section of this index, not this one.

Names from 13th Century Scottish Parliamentary Records, by Alys Mackyntoich.
A collection of personal names and place names from Latin records from Scotland.

13th & 14th Century Scottish Names, by Symon Freser of Lovat
A collection of masculine given names and bynames collected from the late 14th century epic The Bruce, the earliest known document written in Scots. Mostly the names of Scoto-Normans, but a few of the entries are the names of Gaels recorded in Scots. This article is not a good source for Gaelic (Highland) names! Effrick comments This lists the personal names and designations of the individuals mentioned in Barbour's epic, The Bruce, which was written in Scots and dates from circa 1376. It therefore gives the late 14th century Scots forms and spellings of late 13th and early 14th century names from several Scottish naming cultures, including Scoto-Norman and (a very few) Gaelic, and from several non-Scottish naming cultures, including English. Be warned, however, that the list does not indicate which names come from which naming culture. These names are mainly those of noble men. Although some of the comments in the article are sound and accurate, some of are not. Approach with caution. We are in the process of identifying and noting errors in this article.

A List of Feminine Personal Names Found in Scottish Records, by Talan Gwynek
Names extracted from Black, Surnames of Scotland. This is not a good source for Gaelic (Highland) names! All appear in Scottish records, but Gaelic was only one of the languages of medieval Scotland. Most of the women listed here were Scots-speakers or Scoto-Normans. A few were Gaels, and one or two were Norse. For the names we have verified as Gaelic, see Scottish Gaelic Given Names. If you choose a name here without checking that article, then you will almost certainly not have a correct Gaelic name.

15th-Century Scots Names from Dunfermline, by Aryanhwy merch Catmael
Names of men (and two women), including surnames.

Names of women mentioned in the Perth Guildry Book 1464-1598, by Aryanhwy merch Catmael
Names of 155 Lowland women.

Index of Scots names found in Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, by Aryanhwy merch Catmael
An on-going index listing masculine and feminine given names, bynames, and placenames.

Early 16th Century Scottish Lowland Names, by Effric neyn Kenyeoch vc Ralte
These given names and surnames are appropriate for early 16th century, Scots-speaking Lowlanders, based on data from the town of Aberdeen from 1500-1550. They are not appropriate for Gaelic-speaking Highlanders! (This article supercedes the author's earlier Early 16th Century Scottish Town Women's Names.)

16th and 17th Century Scots Names from Andrew Melville's Commonplace Book, by Muirgheal inghean Alasdair
Lowland names from an early seventeenth-century document.

Names From Old Edinburgh, 1597-1598, by Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada
Lowland names of inhabitants from Edinburgh in the late 16th C.

Names From Old Aberdeen, 1636, by Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada
Lowland names of inhabitants from a suburb of Aberdeen in the early 17th C.

Pictish and Cumbric Names

See the Early British index.

Norse Names

See the Old Norse index.

Old English Names

See the Old English index.

Romany (Gyspy) Names

We have a few examples of Scottish Romany names

Scottish Place-Names

Timothy Pont's Maps
A set of maps of Scotland, with accompanying text descriptions, created in the 1580s and 1590s. An excellent source for placenames in 16th century spellings. (Note: Lowland surnames were often derived from placenames, as they were in English; but in Gaelic, surnames based on placenames were vanishingly rare.) You can browse the maps or texts to find an interesting placename. If you want to find a 16th century spelling of a modern placename, find the modern spelling in the index. The link will take you a list of texts that mention that place, and you can browse the text to find a 16th century spelling, which is generally different from but similar to the modern spelling.

The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland, by W. J. Watson; published by the Scottish Place-Name Society
The single best reference available on Celtic place-names in Scotland. The link above leads to his introduction; the rest of the work is organized by geographic region: The same organization also provides an index to place-name elements in Watson's work, presented as a set of PDF files.

The Medieval Names Archive is published by Ursula Georges. It was historically published by the Academy of Saint Gabriel.
Copyright on individual articles belongs to their authors.