It’s a good time of year to think about all things Scottish. You might have welcomed the new year by singing Auld Lang Syne or be celebrating Burns Night on 25 January. Name nerds can also celebrate because Scotland has already released its provisional Top 100 for 2015 – we can look forward to the full data on 15 March.
A lot of the top names in Scotland are popular all over Britain, but let’s look at some names that are almost exclusively Scottish at the moment. These names were given to three or more children in Scotland in 2014, but didn’t chart at all (ie they were given to less than three children) in England and Wales.
Ailey, Ailidh, Ailie
Yes, we’re looking at tiny numbers of individuals here, and this list will change a lot from year to year. But three children in Scotland is a bigger deal statistically than it is in England and Wales, because Scotland has a much smaller population. To put it another way, these names were given to over 1 in 10,000 children in Scotland and less than 1 in 100,000 children in England and Wales. Let’s look at some of the reasons why they’re relatively much more popular north of the border.
Not surprisingly there are many Gaelic names on the list, including Marsaili (Marjorie), Mhairi (Mary), Seumas (James), and the delightful Breagha, meaning ‘beautiful’. There are also variant spellings of Gaelic names that are already familiar outside Scotland. For example, Eilidh is used steadily in England and Wales but Ailey, Ailidh, Ailie and Aylee are barely heard of. You’ll find versions here of well-known exports Alistair, Callum, Cameron, Finlay, Lachlan, Orla and Rory.
Place names also feature strongly, reflecting wider Scottish trends (island names Lewis and Harris rank much higher in Scotland than in England and Wales). Parents outside Scotland have fallen for place names like Skye and Iona, but the ones on this list haven’t made it big south of the border yet. They include islands (Jura, Sula, Torran, Vaila), landscape features (Blair ‘field’, Cairn ‘stone mound’, Carrick ‘rocky headland’), lochs and hills (Lomond, Morven) and regions (Argyll, Moray, Nairn).
There are plenty of Scottish surnames here, many with a long history of use as first names. We’re used to Scottish surnames like Fraser and Graham, so could the likes of Baillie, Conlon, Forbes and Nicol become more widely popular? Wallace did for a time, but has now fallen out of fashion.
Diminutives as given names are a trend all over the UK, and there are a few distinctive Scottish ones on this list, like Jock (from John) and Sandy (from Alexander), as well as Gaelic diminutives Seonaidh (Johnny) and Ceitidh (Katie).
Scotland has a long history of connections with Scandinavia, especially Norway, and this shows in names like Malin, Sorren and Thorfinn. The Norse origins are subtly disguised in Aulay (from Olaf via the Gaelic Amhlaibh) and Sorley (from Sumarliði ‘summer traveller’ via the Gaelic Somhairle).
For girls’ names it looks like Scottish parents love the ‘ar’ sound and are using it in spellings that English parents just aren’t so into at the moment, like Aryia, Harli, Karah and Karys. Carly, which is spelled in three different ways on this list, is Number 104 in Scotland but has been falling for decades in England and Wales, currently ranking at 740.
The prize for the most exclusively Scottish name of them all goes to Mirren and its variants Mirrin, Mirryn, Miryn and Murryn. Mirren is Number 95 in Scotland, yet not on the England and Wales charts at all in 2014. Actually that’s unusual, as it’s normally given to a handful of girls there every year, but it’s still very characteristically Scottish. Its origins are uncertain: it might come from any or all of the Irish names Muireann or Meadhrán (that’s the name of a male saint also known as St Mirin) or the Gaelic name Muirne. In case you’re wondering, the actor Helen Mirren doesn’t have a Scottish background – her father changed the family’s name to Mirren from the Russian Mironoff – but she’s probably helped to keep this the most popular spelling.
Are you surprised that any of these names aren’t more popular outside Scotland? Are they only usable for parents with Scottish connections?