Scottish Baby Names: Happy St. Andrew’s Day!
Tomorrow, Scotland celebrates its national day, kicking off a trio of traditional winter festivals in the Scottish cultural calendar. In honour of the occasion, we’re putting the spotlight on some truly off-the-beaten-track Scottish baby names inspired by Scotland’s unique geography.
The country encompasses well over 700 islands, whose language and culture (and, of course, names!) have been heavily influenced by a long history of occupation by their Gaelic, Nordic and English neighbours. Some of these names are familiar — Isla, Iona and Skye; Lewis, Harris and Arran — but many others remain virtually unknown.
Let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing island offerings:
SCOTTISH NAMES FOR GIRLS
Ailsa — Ranking at #103 in its native land, airy Ailsa derives from the island’s Viking name: Alfsigesey (“island of Alfsigr”). It remains a rare name outside of Scotland, but would make a great alternative to popular soundalikes such as Isla, Elsa and Alyssa.
Eriska — The little island of Eriska is a pretty holiday destination at the entrance to Loch Creran. It is used as a given name in Scotland, but sparingly: only one baby girl received the name in 2016, making it a very underused gem with an exotic feel.
Faerey — Two of the islands of Orkney, Fara and Faray, were known as Færey (“isle of sheep”) in Old Norse, though now the area is home to a protected colony of grey seals. Sweet and elfin, Faerey has a decidedly Tolkienesque feel.
Jura — A unisex choice in Scotland, Jura is a large Hebridean island where George Orwell wrote his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (coincidentally, Jura is also a Croatian form of George). It fits the trend for short, clean, a-ending names for girls, which has seen the likes of Alba, Cora and Luna rising in recent years.
Kerrera — Kerrera or Cearrara is another Hebridean island with an appealingly on-trend name. If feisty, feminine names like Keira and Kerensa appeal to you, this might be another unexpected option to consider.
Lismore — Once a center of Celtic Christianity, lush Lismore is now predominantly agricultural; in fact, its name means “great garden” in Gaelic. Lismore would make for a soft and distinctive Scottish given name, perhaps even a creative way to honour a Liz or Lisa.
Switha — Small but significant for conservation and research, the isle of Switha is home to a wide variety of sea birds. As a given name, it has a soft and pleasingly medieval sound.
Tiree — The popular island of Tiree is famed for its mild climate, beautiful beaches, and big surf. It’s a lovely namesake and a sweet-sounding name which gets sporadic use in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Its vibrant -ee ending is trending for girls, particularly in the US, so Tiree feels likename that would travel well.
Vaila — Pronounced “VAY-la”, this melodic name ranked #311 in Scotland last year. It has never charted in England & Wales, making it a thoroughly Scottish choice. The little northern isle of Vaila recorded a population of just two at the last census!
SCOTTISH NAMES FOR BOYS
Barr — The island of Davaar takes its name from St Barr (also called Finnbarr) and is famous for its natural caves, one of which contains a mysterious full-scale painting of the crucifixion. Strong and simple, Barr could make a rugged alternative to cute celebrity favourite Bear.
Donan — Eilean Donan (“island of Donnán”) is named for a martyred Celtic saint who supposedly established a church on the island. Donan is an underused option to consider for fans of popular Gaelic soundalikes like Ronan and Declan.
Firth — Not strictly an island name: a firth is a coastal body of water in Scotland, where many of its islands are found. As a novel word name, it feels very on-trend: strong, distinctive, nature-inspired, and with a cool celebrity namesake in British actor Colin Firth.
Haskeir — A remote island with a striking name, which possibly derives from the Norse Skilðar (“shields”), Haskeir feels like an interesting and distinctly Scottish elaboration on gruff Gaelic choice Keir.
Hearnish — The name of a small island in the Outer Hebrides, Hearnish brings to mind another Scottish offering: Hamish, a form of James, which is currently a fashionable favourite amongst Telegraph-reading British parents. Hearnish could make for a handsome and unique alternative.
Innes — Innis is Gaelic for “island”, though the Innes spelling is much more prevalent as a given name. It’s a popular choice in Scotland: just outside the Top 100 for boys last year, and occasionally given to girls too.
Taran — Taran is another name for St Ternan, after whom the island of Taransay is named. It’s an unusual but surprisingly international choice: a Welsh and Cornish name meaning “thunder”, a Sanskrit name meaning “raft, boat”, and a Persian name meaning “music, song”. It ranked just inside the Top 1000 for England & Wales last year.
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on November 29th, 2017 at 3:25 am
I feel like I could have made this list myself! Half of my cousins (including myself) are named after Scottish islands, and I’ve got a list of them that I think could be used as names. There’s a couple here that I haven’t heard of (Switha and Hearnish) but I’ve got many more on my list, especially for boys.
on November 29th, 2017 at 8:18 pm
Katinka, may I congratulate you on a beautifully written and presented piece about St. Andrew’s Day to the names and Islands. So clear, comprehensive and interesting. Not having the local knowledge myself, I really appreciate your introducing so much fascinating information and amazing but usable new names.
You set a standard for ‘blogs’ that is also amazing!
Very best wishes, I_I_M
on November 29th, 2017 at 8:37 pm
Wow, thank you for the lovely words, I_I_M!
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