The Weird and the Wonderful – Memorable Scottish Place Names
Whether it’s odd pronunciations or bizarre combinations of words, Scotland really does seem to be in a league of its own when it comes to unusual, odd or downright hilarious place names.
Sure, the Americans and the Australians have attempted to wrestle Scotland’s crown with the likes of Intercourse or Boing Boing. And the English might think that Ugley and Titty Ho are a winning combination but really – can anyone better Backside? How about Hen Poo?
From the Highlands to the Lowlands, the islands to her cities, Scotland can rightfully lay claim to some of the funniest, most bizarre place names around. And the explanation for that is the mix of languages and peoples who have lived here for thousands of years. The Gaelic influence is hugely strong, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, while Norse can be seen all over Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh can look to France and the Auld Alliance to explain many place names around Scotland’s capital.
It’s surreal thing
Let’s start in Orkney where things might be bad if you live in a place called Grimness or Odness but it could be worse – what about the hamlet of Twatt? The word derives from the Norse and means “parcel of land” but the rest of the UK tends to use it as a rather offensive insult.
And if you think having Twatt as your home address would be a smidge embarrassing, spare a thought for the residents of the Butt of Lewis (on the Hebridean island of the same name), of Buttock Point in Argyllshire and of Backside in Aberdeenshire.
Come to think of it, Aberdeenshire and the northeast in particular might be considered to have a monopoly on place names that raise a chuckle.
Who wouldn’t snigger when confronted with Banffshire’s Yondertown of Knock for the first time? Perhaps you can keep a straight face while visiting Shaggart, near Inverurie? If all else fails, you can get Lost – no surprise that fans of the cult US television show made a habit of nicking the welcome signs to this Aberdeenshire village.
At least none of the aforementioned places can be accused of being Dull – that epithet belongs to a Perthshire village, the residents of which are probably grateful that they’re not Tarty or that they can be accused of raking Muck. And after all that, everyone will be glad to alight upon the Rest and Be Thankful, that welcome summit to a tortuous Argyllshire road.
Titter ye not
All these odd names aren’t simply smut and double entendres. You could argue that Lord Berkeley’s Knob, near Glencoe, is more of a single entendre! As indeed is the West Lothian village of Slackend. And there’s simply nothing more to be said when mentioning Rotten Bottom, in Dumfries and Galloway.
But yes, there really is more to Scotland’s standout place names than just having a giggle at names that have another, ruder meaning. In fact, names that look, on the face of it, to be easy to say often have a very different pronunciation.
The Glasgow suburb of Milngavie is actually pronounced as “Milguy”, while the town of Strathaven in Lanarkshire, famous for its toffee, should be said as “Straven”.
Generations of schoolchildren have sung of The Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede but if you want to join in, you should know that you enunciate that particular town as “Kircoobray”.
Then there’s the infamous Scots “ch”, as in loch, but let’s not even go there – just remember that it’s not LOCK! You’ll need that “ch” to pronounce Auchenshuggle, immortalised as the last tram stop in Glasgow, and Ecclefechan, the Dumfriesshire town that was the birthplace of Thomas Carlyle.
The shortest place name in the UK is also in Dumfries – Ae, pronounced “Ay”, is also one of the UK’s youngest villages, established in 1947 by the Forestry Commission at the centre of a forest.
For centuries, Scotland enjoyed a warm relationship with France known as the Auld Alliance and Edinburgh’s streets and districts often pay testament to that era, none more so than Little France, the site of which is now the city’s Royal Infirmary. There hasn’t been the same Russian influence in Scotland yet you’ll still find a little hamlet called Moscow in Ayrshire.
There’s great fun to be had in exploring Scotland’s weirdest, funniest and oddest place names – maybe you can have Jam tomorrow?