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Highland Place Names

Historically Scottish place names were in Gaelic along with everything else, as the language gradually fell out of use, especially amongst the "Moneyed classes " names got anglicised to a variable extent. The Gaelic language is very descriptive and names followed this, particularly names of prominent landmarks. In the Gaelic a mountain that catches the glow of sunset.may be Called something like The big red peak shining above the small blue loch, this would have been abbreviated and scrunched up into some monosyllabic grunt, but they knew what they were on about. Once the Lowland Scots and the English got their hands on the place it would become Red Mountain or something similarly uninspired. The names of villages and settlements also tended to "morph"over time into something that can be pronounced by an English speaking tongue.

In the days when farming was very labour intensive, in a fairly remote, thinly populated area the farm workers mostly needed to live on the farm, so all but the very smallest farms would have the main farm-house but there would also be a number of cottages or "Bothies" as they were termed, lived in by the farm workers and their families. The Bothy usually went with the job, rent free, so if you lose your job you lose your home. Frequently many of the farm workers would be the Brothers, In-Laws, cousins etc of the farmer, so put two or three farms together and you got small hamlets, often lived in by various families mostly of the same name.  This was not as incesteous as it sounds, marriages between cousins whilst legal at the time were strongly disapproved of and in fact very unusual. Just as well really !

So as time went by, the Gaelic name of a farm would turn into a hybrid sounding name of a hamlet or small village. The names of individual houses however, can be a little harder to pin down.

House Names.

Taking an imaginary farm called Dochnacruie, this would have started off a few hundred years ago as a single building, inhabited by the farmer with his wife and family, whatever men, family or otherwise, who worked the farm with him plus whatever livestock they had to over-winter. There may have been a stable if they had enough cash to keep a horse and some animal pens. There may have been a curtained off corner at the back of the house where the farmer and his wife would sleep and create future manpower for the farm.


Over time less squalid living conditions did evolve, sheds and perhaps a barn would house the livestock and allow them to keep fodder so that they did not have to slaughter most of their animals every Autumn. Later on small cottages, or bothies would be erected close to the main house for the farm-workers, allowing them to have families themselves, this not being very practical when they all lived together in the same house. Once the farmer and his family actually had the house to themselves, it would have been worthwhile to work to improve it.

By now Dochnacruie would have consisted of a larger farm house, a cluster of cottages and farm buildings. They would all have been collectively known as Dochnacruie. There was no great need for the individual buildings to be named, Jimmy';s bothy at Dochnacruie or the Bothy by the Burn at Dochnacruie was perfectly adequate. Slowly though, over time things changed, more could read and write, (even some farm-workers) and officialdom started to intrude into people's lives.

After a while "The second cottage past wee Jimmy's house" was no longer adequate. At any contact with officialdom, the first thing asked for would of course be Name & Address, people started to need an actual address. To allow for this individual houses started to acquire names, outside of towns and villages house numbers were of little use as there were not houses in rows, scattered cottages needed names.

At first many house names just reflected who lived there, The Greaver House housed the Greave, Smith's Cottage was where the Blacksmith lived etc.  For others a more descriptive name was useful Red House, Burnside Cottage and the inevitable New Cottage, equally inevitably still called New Cottage 200 years later. Gradually things evolved into addresses as we know them today. The biggest force pushing this along was the development of a proper postal service. If you had a proper address then people could send you things direct to your house. No proper address and your mail would get as far as the Post Office, after this it was up to you to go and collect it.

The old Gaelic language is being resurrected to some small extent, especially in the Highlands & Islands and it is getting more common for a sign or name-board to have the name in English with the Gaelic version alongside.With Gaelic being spoken by so few now, it is hard to believe that when Mum was a child, some of the men who worked for her Father only spoke Gaelic, having no English at all. That would have been in the 1930's. so not really all that long ago.

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