New schools project to explore the names of Scottish places

Published: 2 April 2014

A new education resource is teaching school children from around Scotland the hidden history behind the names of their local communities.

The online resource will teach pupils from Galloway to Shetland the history behind the names that they may take for granted, what they mean and how they have evolved.

The resource was developed by experts at the University of Glasgow in partnership with Education Scotland to create an online set of materials called Scotland’s Place Names aimed at upper primary and early secondary in the new curriculum.

Scotland’s Place Names is designed to raise awareness about Scotland’s cultural and linguistic history by providing a guide for teachers and learning tools for students. It will explain what languages various place-names are from, what they might mean and the stories that are attached to them.

The four-level course forms part of the ‘Studying Scotland’ series of teaching resources developed by Education Scotland to teach about the forces and events which have shaped Scotland’s national identity through a wide range of geographical, historical and cultural perspectives. By the end of it learners will be able to use a variety of maps to interpret place place-names and see how they have changed over time.

The Scotland’s Place Names course was developed by teaching practitioners and academics at the University of Glasgow as part of Scottish Toponymy in Transition (STIT), a major AHRC-funded research project into Scottish place-names.

The STIT Project is producing detailed place-name volumes on Clackmannanshire, Kinross-shire and Menteith (which includes the Trossachs). A previous AHRC-funded project at the University of Glasgow completed a five-volume series entitled The Place-Names of Fife.

Dr Simon Taylor, Chief Researcher of Scottish Toponymy in Transition at the University of Glasgow, said: “Scotland is a country where many different languages have been spoken over the last 1,500 years, and its place-names reflect this rich and varied history. We are pleased to be working with Education Scotland on such a unique project and we hope that it will encourage young people to learn more about the different languages and peoples that have created the modern namescape, and to appreciate the rich cultural legacy embodied in their place-names.”

Lynne Robertson, Senior Education Officer, Education Scotland, said: “Scotland is a nation rich in artists and writers and a nation of several languages and of many voices. Studying Scotland helps teachers to plan interdisciplinary learning experiences which draw on a wide range of geographical, historical and cultural perspectives in a coherent and relevant way.”


Clackmannan: A Gaelic name meaning ‘stone of Manau’, Manau being an ancient province straddling the Forth, including much of modern Clackmannanshire as well as east Stirlingshire as far south as Slamannan, also Gaelic, meaning ‘moor or upland of Manau’. The stone itself was clearly very important, and was probably used as part of the inauguration ceremony of the ruler of Manau. In the nineteenth century the stone thought to be the one in the name was found near Clackmannan and mounted on a large stone plinth in the centre of the town, where it can be seen today.

Polmadie: A Gaelic name meaning ‘burn (stream) of the sons of God’. We only know this from a form of the name recorded about 1185 AD, Polmacde. The ‘sons of God’ no doubt refer to members of a religious community. As Glaswegians know, this name is said with the stress on the poland the die (pronounceddee). This is exactly as it would have been stressed in Gaelic - a remarkable thing about place-names is that they keep the stress-pattern of the original language centuries after that language has ceased to be spoken in the area.

Another remarkable thing about place-names is how people create stories to try and explain them once their original meaning has been lost. The story told about how Polmadie came to be so called is that Mary Queen of Scots was escaping after losing the battle of Langside on her pony called Paul. Poor old Paul collapsed here, causing Mary to say: ‘Paul may dee, but I maun flee’ (Paul may die, but I must flee). While pure fiction, it does nicely preserve the local pronunciation of the name.

Marlioun Rode: this is an example of a minor name found in an old charter of about 1570 describing a boundary between Kinnesswood and Scotlandwell on the east side of Loch Leven (Kinross-shire, now Perth & Kinross), and not far from the RSPB reserve of Vane Farm. It is a Scots name meaning ‘merlin path’, the merlin being the smallest species of native falcon.

Notes to editors:

  • Scottish Toponymy in Transition (STIT) is a major AHRC-funded project on Scottish place-names, which began in May 2011. It aims to build the future of survey, research and engagement with place-names in Scotland. The project draws on the University of Glasgow’s considerable and growing strengths in research within Name Studies and on Scotland’s history and languages.
  • Studying Scotland is a comprehensive web-based resource developed by Education Scotland. The resource will continue to be built and augmented to ensure that new contexts for learning are available in addition to new learning and teaching ideas.

First published: 2 April 2014

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