THE fact that nearly all our place-names are Celtic,
shows that Gaelic was at one time the language spoken in Carrick. Some
of these names have altered little in the course of years, but some of
them have been changed so much that we can only now guess at their
meaning , just as some coins have their impression sharp and clear,
while others have grown smooth and illegible. Most attempts at etymology
are mere probabilities; while in many cases, even a probable guess can
hardly be made. In these latter cases, the coin has been worn so smooth
through constant use that the original impression has become
undecipherable. Still, in many cases, the meaning of the name is clear
enough to those who have a knowledge of Gaelic.
Our Celtic forefathers had a happy knack of giving
appropriate names to places. Some, for instance, are named from the
nature of the ground, as Blair, a plain; Clauchrie, a
stony place; Genoch, a sandy place; Curragh, a bog;
Mini, a marsh; Craig, a rock.
Some, again, were named from the trees found on them,
as Dunure, fort of the Yew; Culzean, place of the holly;
Beoch, place of birches; Craigskeoch, rock of the
hawthorn; Minunchion, place of the ash; Pinwherry, hill of
the copse; Auchenairnie, field of the sloebush; Drum/aim,
ridge of the alder; Drumranie, ridge of the fern; Drumdarroch,
ridge of the oak; Daljarroch, dale of the oak; Shalloch,
place of the willow.
Some were named from the wild animals that used to
frequent them, as Knockshinnoch, hill of the fox; Lochmoddy,
loch of the wolf: Brockloch, loch of the badger; Todey
glen, glen of the fox; Dinnymuch, fort of the swine;
Mochrum, ridge of the swine; Dalquhat, dale of the wild cat;
Pen-whapple, hill of the horse; Craigengower, rock of the
Some received their names from the persons who owned
them, as Ballochneil, Neil's pass; Kilhenzie, Kenneth's
church; Auchencleerie, field of the clergyman; Balsaggart,
house of the priest; Cloncaird, gipsy's meadow; Knockcrocher,
hill of the hangman ; Drumullin, ridge of the mill. Ton,
at the end of a place-name means town, and indicates it to be the
property of the person whose name precedes it; as Lyons/on, Loveston,
Smiths ton, &c. These names, therefore, should not be spelled with
the final e.
Colour, occasionally, had something to do with the
name, as Blairbowie, yellow plain ; Craigfin, fair hill;
Craigdow, black hill, Knockdon, brown hill; Glenower,
grey glen; Culroy, red corner.
Many places were named after the churches built on
them, and these were named after the saints to whom they were dedicated.
In this way we have Kirkoswald, Kirkmichael, Kirk Dominae or
Dotninick, Coltnonell, Kirkcudbright Innertig (former name of
Ballantrae), Kildonan, Kilkerran (Church of St. Kieran),
Kilantringan (Church of St. Ninian), Killochan (perhaps
Church of St. Chon). Hence, too, such names as Monkwood, Hallow
Chapel, Lady Cross, &c.
We have at least five different words meaning a
height. Ben or Pin; hence Pinmore (big height), Letterpin
(slope of the height), Pinbain (white height), and the Beinn
or Byne hill. Knock; hence Knockdolian (mocking hill,
and known as the false Craig), Knockgerran (hill of the rough
stream), Knockdow (black hill), &c. Ard; hence Ardstinchar,
Ardmillan (height of the mill), Ar dwell (height of the
stranger). Barr; hence Barr, Bardrochit (height of the bridge),
Barrhill (height of the wood). Tor; hence Tormichell
(height of St. Michael), &c.
Dun, again, in Gaelic means a round hill, which
in ancient times was usually surmounted by a fort. Hence Dounan
means a little round hill; Dinvin, the fair fort; Kildoon,
the church by the round hill, &c.
Of our Carrick streams, the Girvan (the rough
river) rises within a few miles of the Doon (the black river) and
is the Garonne of Scotland. The Stinchar (Staing, & pool) means
abounding in pools, and its tributaries are the Duisk, the black
water, the Muck (from Muc, a pig), the Tig (perhaps from
Tigh, a house), the Asset, the Cross-water, and the
Gregg (perhaps from Craig, a rock).
Lag means a hollow, and Laggan a little
hollow. Hence such names as Laggan, Balig (house in the hollow),
Laggan w/iilly (woody hollow). Gart means a field; hence
Dan-gart (the field of the round hill). Macher means a
little field; hence Pinmacher (the little field on the hill).
Drum means a ridge; hence Drumbeg (the little ridge), and
Drumore (the big ridge).
Mains means the farm attached to the Mansion
house, and Grange was the place where rent and tithes paid in
grain were deposited.
In these modern days it is becoming common to give
English names to places, as Woodland, Park, Trees, Ford-house,
and this is proper enough. I confess, however, to having a partiality to
Scotch names, such as Kirklands, Clachanton, Brackeny Brae, Broom
Knowes, Burncrooks, Lochs pouts, White faulds, not to speak of the
quaint flavour of such as the Whelk, Cosy Glen, or the Splash
Mill. At the same time, it must be admitted that
neither Scotch nor English names have the antique grandeur of the old
Celtic, which called hills Cairns or Baings (a bing), a
sea rock a Skellig (hence Craig Skelly\ a saugh hill
Barsalloch, and a town by the shore Ballantrae!
For information regarding the foregoing etymologies,
I am much indebted to Dr Ronald Currie of Skelmorlie, and Sir Herbert
Maxwell's elaborate volume entitled Studies in the Topography of