Commemorations of Saints in Scottish Place-Names

A map-based database containing 5000 places, 13,000 place-names, and some 750 saints potentially commemorated in these names across Scotland.

Database entry for names and places related to St Columba
Database entry for names and places related to St Columba

Scotland’s landscape is rich in place-names incorporating names of saints (hagio-toponyms), mostly of medieval origin. These names, several thousands of them, span Scotland’s historical linguistic range, including names in Northern British (Ecclesmachan), Gaelic (Kilmacolm, Tobermory), Norse (Barra) and Scots (St Quivox, Ladykirk). Many are the names of medieval parishes, but more are the names of chapel sites, wells, stones, and other landscape features associated with saints (e.g., St Baldred’s Boat. Sometimes it is obvious that there’s a saint in the name, as in St Andrews, but language changes and spelling mutations over time disguise this fact in others, like Exmagirdle or Chipperdingan. Because place-names ‘fossilise’ saints’ names, they are often the earliest evidence we have of saints’ cults in Scotland and, consequently, the earliest information we have about religious activity in a region. The commemoration of saints in Scottish place-names provide a window on a diverse array of aspects of the past, from the distribution of saints’ cults themselves, through linguistic ebb and flow, to political or regional affiliations and identities. These names thus constitute a major aspect of Scotland’s medieval past, yet they have not been studied systematically.

The database that has been assembled presents the fruits of our research. It contains over 5000 places, 13,000 place-names, and some 750 saints potentially commemorated in these names. The backbone of the database are records drawn from the Ordnance Survey 1st Edition 6" maps, produced from 1843 to 1882. All names we could identify from these maps likely to commemorate saints, and many unlikely to but nonetheless worth considering, have been harvested for the database, and linked to the current map forms of the names, where they are still current. We harvested many other sources for earlier historical forms: earlier maps, monastic cartularies, the Register of the Great Seal, antiquarian accounts. This process of historical harvesting is not complete, but we aim to continue to augment the site through periodic harvesting and uploading of selected documents. We would be happy to hear from individuals willing to help us in filling out our historically recorded forms.

At present, as well as information about the places recorded, and historical forms of names, we have identified where possible and applicable the saint or saints who may be commemorated in the place-names. We have been careful to indicate our level of confidence in these identifications. We have also excluded many of the names recorded here as not containing saints' names.

Project website:

Main contact: Thomas Clancy

Developer: Matthew Barr

Start year: 2010

End year: 2013

Funded by: Leverhulme Trust

Subject areas: Celtic and GaelicInformation Studies

Keywords: Digital CatalogueGaelicHistoryMappingPlace-names

Record last updated 2019-12-19