The word shire is of Old
English origin and meant office, charge, administration. The Norman Conquest
introduced the word county—through French from the Latin comitatus, which in
mediaeval documents designates the shire. County is the district ruled by a
count, the king's comes, the equivalent of the older English term earl. This
system of local administration was in England the result of a gradual,
orderly and natural development; in Scotland, on the other hand, it was the
result of the administrative Act of David I (1124-53), who, by residence in
England was so "polished from a boy" that "he had rubbed off all the rust of
Scottish barbarity." With an intimate knowledge of English methods of
administration he sought to introduce some of these. He accordingly divided
Scotland into sheriffdoms. This step marked the beginning of the Scottish
county division as it is known today, although it took a long time to
complete, for the Celtic chiefs in the north and in Galloway were as yet too
powerful to allow royal officials to hold courts within their territories.
The policy of David, however, led to the all but complete expulsion of the
Celtic system from the whole of the east of Scotland up to the Moray Firth,
including a not inconsiderable portion of Banffshire. Originally the civil
counties were synonymous with the sheriffdoms or stewartries, the stewartry
ceasing with the abolition of hereditary jurisdictions in 1748. By the Act
of David, Scotland was divided into 25 sheriffdoms or counties. In the
latter part of the thirteenth century they numbered 34; there are now 33.
The county of Banff existed
at an early period of the new regime. In the twelfth century and in the
thirteenth we find such varied forms of its name as Banb, Banef, Bamphe,
Bane, Banet. Curiously divergent derivations have been given. The Celtic
words for "white ford or beach," for "sucking-pig," and for "holy woman,"
have been suggested. Banba, a Welsh or Irish queen, has also been mentioned
as bestowing her name. Amid such divergencies, who shall decide?