Medieval Naming Guides: Scottish
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:
- Cumbric (a Brythonic language closely related to Welsh) in the
- Old English in the southeast;
- Pictish in the northeast;
- Norse (who arrived in the 9th century) in parts of the north; and
- Gaelic in the west.
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:
- Norse, spoken in the far north and the Western Isles,
but well on its way to being subsumed by Gaelic culture except in the
- Gaelic, spoken through much of the country;
- Norman French, spoken by Anglo-Norman settlers and their Scoto-Norman
descendents, mostly in the south; and
- English, spoken mainly in the southeast and the towns by descendents
of the earlier English population and the Anglo-Norman settlers.
From around the 14th century, the two main languages spoken in Scotland
- Gaelic, spoken in the Highlands and Western Isles; and
- Scots, spoken in the Lowlands, including the royal court and towns.
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
- 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
Quick and Easy Gaelic Names, by Sharon Krossa
- An excellent general guide to building a typical Gaelic name.
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:
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
- 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
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)
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
- 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
- Scottish Place-Names
- Timothy Pont's
- 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
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.