Gaelic Terminologies that Survive in Scottish Place Names
Written by Helmut Watterott
Below are some familiar words usually found within place names in Scotland. The list will help you understand how these came to being. The majority of these place names are derived from Scots Gaelic words for geological features in conjunction with river names—hard to explain but with the examples below I am sure you will understand this much better.
When you tour Scotland and you leave the central belt, especially when you tour the Scottish Highlands you will notice the road signs have both the Gaelic and English place and directions. A typical example would be the welcome sign for Inverness near Loch Ness. It reads first ‘Failte gu Inbhir Nis’ and below it will say Welcome to Inverness. I am assuming you can guess what Failte gu Alba means. We will make another blog about some common Gaelic phrases and words also often encountered.
Mor – Big
For example Rannoch Mor. In other words Big Rannoch. These words are usually associated with mountains, hills or passe
Ben – tip of or top (not mountain)
Usually tip or top of a mountain like Ben Nevis, Ben Lomond etc
Inver – Mouth of the river
You can see this quite often. Inverclyde, Inverary et
Dal – Meadow
Ard – a height, overlook or promontory
Drum – ridge
Drumnadrochit or Drumchapel
Aber – The place that is drained by the river
Aberdeen for example is the place that the Deen river drains. Slightly different from ‘Inver’ which means the ‘Mouth of’
Coal – Kyle
Narrow see or channel
Loch – Lake
These can be land locked, fresh water like Loch Lomond and Loch Ness, the most famous or a sea loch like Loch Long or Loch Fyne.
Inch – Island
Inchmahome, Inchcolm etc
Kin – a head
Firth – Large sea bay or inlet. Usually at the mouth of a large river
Firth of Clyde or the Firth of Forth (Edinburgh)
Strath – Wide valley
Auch – Field
Auchentoshan, Auchtermuchty (wear the fox hat?)
Glen – A narrow, usually U shaped valley with a river or burn running through it
Dun or sometimes Dum – Fort or fortification
Bal – Town
Kil – Churchyard
On your Scottish Tour (hopefully with us) you will encounter these all over the place. The Gaelic language is beautiful, ancient and very lyrical and has left its mark on modern Scotland even though it was under extreme pressure after the collapse of the Jacobite uprising and the Highland clearances.
Isle of Skye Tour
3 nights / 4 days tour of Skye and the Scottish Highlands
Escape the city and join us on this magical tour to the land of the faeries, passing through some of the most majestic scenery in the whole of Scotland.
Loch Ness Day Tour from Edinburgh
Great way to explore Scotland!
Visit some of Scotland’s most iconic countryside on this day trip, such as Pitlochry, Glencoe, and Aviemore, hidden gems often missed on larger tours.
William Wallace Tour Package
This Tour can also depart from Glasgow and Edinburgh locations!
Do you want to walk in the life of the legendary William Wallace? We start at his birthplace and make our way to his last point in Scotland before he met his grisly end.