PLACE-NAMES OF THE ISLE OF MAN

George Broderick

1.Pre-Scandinavian Names

A handful of pre-Scandinavian names are found in Man. They include the name of the island itself: Man, probably from the IE root *men ‘rise’ such as. a hill or mountain rising out of the water on the horizon. So is Man seen from the surrounding areas; Douglas, G. Dubhghlais, probably PCelt. *dubros ‘water’, W. dwfr, w. G. glas, glais(e), W. glais ‘water, stream’, a name frequently found in the western areas of the British Isles, particularly in Ireland, Scotland and western England. In Wales it appears as Dulas and in Southwest England as Dawlish, Dowles, Dowlish, Develish, etc. The name Rushen, G. roisean, is a diminutive form of ros ‘moor, heath, hill, headland, swamp, wood, etc’ and is an element also commonly found in the British Isles. In addition, the element ard, normally ‘height’, but in the parish of Maughold in the Northeast of Man it may have the meaning ‘headland’, cf. G. aird, originally referring to Maughold Head but later to the adjacent rounded hill of ‘the Ards’. The name of Maughold Head appears in the Book of Armagh as Ardae Huimnonn (r. ardaí?Manann) ‘the heights of Man’ and could very well be considered as pre-Scandinavian. Other contenders would include Appyn, ScG. apuinn, ‘abbeyland’ (of which there a few examples) and may likely refer to the Early Christian period of Manx history (6th-7th centuries). The element is also common in Scotland. Finally there are one or two names in be-, bi-, ba-, e.g. Bemahague, Billown, Balthane, probably representing names in G. both ‘hut, hermitage’ plus a personal name, viz. both mo Thaidhg ‘my Tadg’s hut’, both ghille Eòghainn ‘hut of the tonsured servant of John’, both Ultáin ‘Ultan’s hut’, i.e. names from the Early Christian period.

2. River Names

It is noteworthy that there are no old river names attested in Man of the sort found in Britain or Ireland, e.g. Dee < fem. of *deivos ‘god’, Boyne < Bouinda ‘cow-white’. The longest river in Man, the Sulby River, is some 22km long and is known in Mx. as yn awin vooar (G. an abhainn mhór) ‘the big river’ and as such in English among the Manx people themselves; there is also the awin ruy (G. abhainn + ruaidh) ‘red river’. However, apart from Douglas, there is no trace in Man of the pre-Germanic British or Old European river names commonly found in Britain and Ireland.

3. Names of Ancient Monuments

Another category conspicuous by its absence, completely in this case, are meaningful sets of names for prehistoric monuments, e.g. graves, fortifications, etc. In Ireland and Scotland such artefacts, in particular fortifications, bear names that make clear that the local population fully understood their function, e.g. dún, ráth, lios, caiseal, cathair. In Man such monuments, as well as large rocks, would all be termed cashtal (G. caisteal) ‘fortification’. The other elements are lost to Manx nomenclature.

4. Goidelic names.

4.1. Names in sliabh, carraig (Mx. slieau, carrick) and other names

As with Goidelic names in Galloway containing the place-name elements sliabh ‘mountain, moor-hill’, carraig ‘rock’, names of this sort in Man seem to date from the earliest Goidelic settlements in Man ca. AD500 and thereafter, e.g. Slieau Dhoo ‘black mountain’ (G. sliabh dubh), Carrick ‘(the) rock’ (G. carraig). Names consisting solely of a noun (without definite article), such as Rushen, Ard, Carrick would comprise the oldest names in Man. Names comprising a noun with the definite article, e.g. Niarbyl, viz. yn arbyl (G. *an earball) ‘the tail’ (rock formation; unless this is a prepositional form in earball ‘at the tail’) would be the next oldest, but are also seldom attested. Nevertheless, they are pre-Scandinavian. Names such as Purt ny Hinshey, Cashtal yn Ard, Cronk y Voddy, etc, have the form: definite noun plus dependent definite noun in the genitive and are in reality phrasal names. Names of this type, which are also to be seen in Ireland and Scotland, are relatively recent creations (12th/13th century), though they are occasionally attested in the 9th century outside Man. They form the overwhelming majority of Gaelic names in Man and in their present form are unlikely to be pre-Scandinavian, but may be reformations of earlier names.

4.2. Names in baile (Mx. balla-)

The name-type most often found in Man is that with balla- ‘settlement, farm, village, town’. Except possibly for one or two examples the general distribution of names in balla- seem to be post-Scandinavian. In Ireland it can be shown that such names became much more common after ca. 1150, possibly as result of Anglo-Norman influence where baile may be a translation of L. villa. In Man the first attestation of balla- is to be found ca. 1280 in the Limites or Abbeyland Bounds attached to the Chronicles of Man, e.g. Balesalach (Ballasalla). However, most of the balla-names seem to be quite late. The earliest would be descriptive, viz. balla plus adjective, e.g. Ballabeg ‘little farm, etc’ (G. baile beag), then geographically descriptive, with an attached noun in the genitive, e.g. Ballacurree (nom. Curragh) ‘marsh farm’ (G. baile curraigh (currach)), then with a personal or surname as the specific, e.g. Ballakelly ‘Kelly’s farm’ (G. baile (mh)ic Ceallaigh), Ballacorlett ‘Corlett’s farm’, Manx surname containing G. mac (mhic) plus the Scandinavian personal name Thorljótr.

5. Scandinavian names

Many of the prominent natural features in Man, such as valleys, mountains, coastal rocks, etc, bear Scandinavian names, e.g. (valleys): Cardle (< kvernárdalr ‘mill river dale’, Eskdale (< eskedalr ‘ashdale’ (the older name for Dhoon Glen)), Groudle (< grafdalr ‘narrow dale’; mountains: Snaefell (< snæfjall ‘snow mountain’, though this may be a translation of G. sliabh sneachta, found also in Donegal), Greeba (< gnípa ‘summit’), Barrule (< vörðufjall ‘cairn mountain’). Ramsey (< hrams-á ‘wild garlic river’) and Laxey (< laxá ‘salmon river’) are originally river-names transferred to settlements. Many headlands and peninsulas bear Scandinavian names: The Howe (< höfuð ‘hill, headland’ or haugr ‘hill, mound’), Cregneash (< krók-nes ‘crooked (indented coastline) promontory’). There are some 28 vík-names, e.g. Fleshwick (< flesja(r)-vík ‘green (grassy) spot creek’), and 26 -names (probably bestowed by immigrants originally from the Danelaw), e.g. Dalby (< dalr-bý) ‘dale farm’, Sulby (< súla-bý ‘farm by the cleft fork (in a river)’). The element staðir ‘farm’ also occasionally appears, e.g. Leodest (< Ljótólfsstaðir ‘Ljótólf’s farm’), Aust (< Auðir ‘Auðolf’s (Adolf’s) farm’).

6. Inversion-Compounds

"Inversion-compounds" are formed from two elements from one language, but set together according to the syntax of another language, and as such are a result of language contact, e.g. Dreemlang ‘long ridge’, i.e. Mx. dreeym (G. driom), w. English dialect lang ‘long’, but in Gaelic word-order, viz. ‘ridge long’. Scandinavian names of this type are scarce, but one or two examples are attested, e.g. Toftar Asmund (ca. 1280) ‘Asmund’s hillocks’ (< ON toftir ‘hillocks’ w. Sc. personal name Ásmundr, but Ásmundar-toftir in normal Scandinavian word-order), Crosyvor ‘Ivar’s cross’ (ca. 1280) (w. Sc. kross as a borrowing from G. cros, itself a borrowing from L. crux), G. cros-Íomhair, Sc. Ivars-kross. The available evidence for inversion-compounds is scant and as a result little can be said about them, other than they appear to be a development of the later Scandinavian period in Man (ca. 13th century and possibly later).

7. English names

Castletown and Peel are English. The name Castletown itself is first attested as casteltown in 1511. In the Abbeyland Bounds of ca.1280 Castletown appears as uillam(acc. case) castelli, which in all probability is a translation of G. baile a’ chaistil (caisteal), Mx. balley y chashtal, although it is not known what the local people in fact called this town. Peel is first evidenced in 1595. Prior to that it was known as Holmtown (1417) ‘island town’ (< ON holmr ‘island’ w. ME toun, referring to the small island of St. Patrick’s Isle at the mouth of Peel harbour). Peel is ME pele (< MedL. pela, palus) ‘palisade, fortification’ (referring to the same on St. Patrick’s Isle), and like Holmtown is probably an independent name bestowed upon the town by the English (garrison) inhabitants, and not a translation from the Manx, i.e. Purt ny Hinshey ‘harbour of the island (St. Patrick’s Isle)’, G. port na h-inse. The use of the French definite article le(s), as in Le Calf (1511) ‘the Calf of Man (island)’, Lezayre ‘the Ayre’ would date back to early English influence of the 14th century, cf. Newton-le-Willows, in Cheshire, etc.

8. Kirk-names

The parish names in Man comprise the element Kirk plus the name of the saint to whom the parish church is dedicated, i.e. in Gaelic word-order, viz. Kirk Maughold, Kirk Lonan, Kirk Braddan, etc (though Kirk falls away in everyday speech). Originally the element is ON kirkja ‘church’, and the parish formation in Man seems to be part of a general development taking place in adjacent territories, e.g. Northern England and South Western Scotland, where (in Galloway at any rate) ON Kirk has replaced earlier G. cill (see also below) but retained the Gaelic word-order. The development in Man seems to be similar and to have taken place around the same time (13th century).

In Manx the generic for church is keeill (G. cill) and is the normal word for a ruined church or cell of the Early Christian period. Many of these keeills, however, are of later date, probably of the late Scandinavian period (13th century). In place-names the element is used to denote small churches or chapels, e.g. Keeill Woirrey ‘St. Mary’s Church’ (G. cill Mhoire). In the genitive it is found in such names as Ballakilley ‘church farm’ (G. baile cille), Lag ny Killey ‘the church hollow’ (G. lag na cille). Although Christianity established itself in Man in the 6th/7th centuries and that the building of cells or churches was set in motion to serve the new cult, nevertheless, it is not very probable that the present-day ruined keeills and the names attached to them survived in the memory of the Manx people from the beginning right through the Scandinavian period to the present day, when older pre-Scandinavian settlement names have not survived.

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