The Place-Names of Fife

Simon Taylor, Research and Teaching Associate in Scottish Name Studies, University of Glasgow

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This most detailed place-name survey of any Scottish county saw completion with the publication of Volume 5 of The Place-Names of Fife in December 2012, and was finally delivered from the printers in early April 2013. The volumes in this series have been appearing since 2006, and are as follows:

Simon Taylor, with Gilbert Márkus, The Place-Names of Fife Vol. 1 (West Fife between Leven and Forth) (Shaun Tyas: Donington 2006) [PNF 1]
Simon Taylor, with Gilbert Márkus, The Place-Names of Fife Vol. 2 (Central Fife between Leven and Eden) (Shaun Tyas: Donington 2008) [PNF 2]
Simon Taylor, with Gilbert Márkus, The Place-Names of Fife Vol. 3 (St Andrews and the East Neuk) (Shaun Tyas: Donington 2009) [PNF 3]
Simon Taylor, with Gilbert Márkus, The Place-Names of Fife Vol. 4 (North Fife between Eden and Tay) (Shaun Tyas: Donington 2010). [PNF 4]
Simon Taylor, with Gilbert Márkus, 2012, The Place-Names of Fife Vol. 5 (Discussion, Glossaries and Edited Texts, with Addenda and Corrigenda of Volumes 1–4) (Shaun Tyas: Donington 2012). [PNF 5]

The first four volumes cover the whole of Fife divided up into roughly equally-sized quarters (see Map 1). Within each of these volumes the names are arranged alphabetically by parish, each parish furnished with a brief historical introduction, with special reference to changes in parish boundaries, as well as to ecclesiastical and settlement history that has a bearing on the local place-nomenclature. All in all 61 modern (pre-1975) parishes are covered, containing approximately 3,200 head-names, with many scores of additional (non head-name) place-names mentioned in the text, as well as in the Elements Glossary of Volume 5, all of which are indexed in the individual volumes.


Map of Fife with the pre-1975 parishes and the areas covered by the first four volumes of Place-Names of Fife. From PNF 5, p. 4.

The final volume (5) attempts to take stock of the findings made in the preceding four, as well as providing a physical and historical frame-work, especially for the medieval period, when the bulk of Fife’s more important place-names were coined. It does all this in a series of nine chapters (pp. 61-273).

Chapter 1 ‘Fife Physical’ describes Fife as a geographical and geological entity, comprising the sections Geography, Water-courses, Geology, Soil and Early Descriptions of Fife.

Chapter 2 ‘Fife and Fothrif’ examines the earliest references to Fife as well as to Fothrif, a now obsolete territorial name referring to west Fife, proposing etymologies for both; the section headings are: Fife: Earliest References, Fife and Fothrif, Extent of Fothrif, Early Forms of FIFE and FOTHRIF, and St Andrews Diocese.

Chapter 3 ‘Fife, Some Early History’ includes the sections Historical Frame-work c.550-1000 A.D., The Early Church in Fife (with a distribution map of place-names with Celtic words such as Gaelic cill and Pictish *eglēs indicating ‘certain or possible churches’), Scandinavian Settlement, Fife c.1000 to 1058, Fife in the Reign of Mael Coluim III (1058-1093), Fife in the Twelfth Century.

Chapter 4 ‘The Earldom and the Kingdom of Fife’, with sections on: The MacDuffs and the Earls of Fife, The Earls of Fife from Donnchad I [died 1154] to Robert Stewart, The Law of Clan MacDuff, The Earldom of Fife: the Final Years, Lands of the Earls of Fife, Sheriffdom of Fife, The Quarters of Fife and The Kingdom of Fife, a late conceit first recorded in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. This chapter includes three genealogical tables: ‘Kings ancestral to the earls of Fife’, ‘Early earls of Fife and related families’, and ‘The earls of Fife to 1425’.

Chapter 5 ‘Methodology, Sources and Early Forms: the sources which supply important early forms are discussed in some detail, in particular the rich collection of Fife monastic cartularies (Balmerino, Dunfermline, Inchcolm, Lindores, May and St Andrews), the Register of the Great Seal (RMS), the Exchequer Roll (ER) and Retours, as well as early maps and The Ordnance Survey Object Name Books (the notebooks of the surveyors of the OS 6 inch 1st edition maps).

Chapter 6 ‘Place-Names and Language’ explores what the Fife toponymy can tell us about the various languages spoken in Fife over the past 1,500 years, above all Pictish, Gaelic and Scots. The chapter contains the following headings: Pictish in Fife, Gaelic in Fife (Epenthetic Vowels, Eclipsis and Devoicing, Old Gaelic Dental Fricative, Lenition, Palatalisation and Name Structure), The Going of Gaelic and the Coming of Scots (Personal Names, Leuchars: a Special Case?, Place-names and Scots and Place-names and the Scots Lexicon) and French.

Chapter 7 ‘Place-Names and Places’: this attempts a taxonomy or system of categorisation of place-name elements regardless of language, grouping together elements under 47 categories, such as Agricultural (including Arable, Pastoral, Other Types of Husbandry and General), Colour, Ecclesiastical, Meteorological, Prospect, Roads and Transport (including Roads and Tracks, Crossing-places (non-watery), Crossing-places (watery) and Miscellaneous), Stones, Vegetation (including Flowers, Grasses and Plants, Trees and Bushes, Fruit and Vegetables, Woodland and Miscellaneous), and Weights and Measures.
This chapter (7) also contains a section on Humorous Names, including verbal names such as Hungerhimout, Cla-thy-was and Pluck the Crow Point. Other humorous names include Coldbrose and Toomtunns, as well as hall-names with low-status specific elements such as whinny ‘abounding in whin (gorse’), cabbage and sybie ‘spring onion’, as well as bird-names such as clochret ‘wheatear, stonechat’ and gowk ‘cuckoo’.

Chapter 8 ‘Names in pett, baile and toun’ examines the three principal habitative elements in Fife i.e. those elements which explicitly refer to a settlement, and their relationship to each other. The first of these, pett, which is treated as a Scottish Gaelic word borrowed from Pictish, is found to occur in 77 names (82 within the medieval boundaries of Fife), considerably more than W. J. Watson’s 57 for Fife and Kinross (1926, 407). The types of specifics are analysed in detail (p. 221), and found to contain only a handful of personal names, in contrast to the 120 baile-names, at least 28 of which contain personal names. Importantly some of the eponyms of these baile-names can be identified definitely or probably with individuals who can be assigned to the twelfth (in one case perhaps even the early thirteenth) century. Distribution maps of both these elements are also included. The third element, Scots toun, is discussed in terms of the division of older land-units as well as, in two cases, of documented replacements for earlier names, namely *Ledmacdungal or *Ledmacdougal, later Mastertown (Dunfermline) and Melcrether later Friarton (Forgan). In nine cases before c.1400 individuals are identified who can be found in toun-names, the latest being John Glen (fl. 1310) of Glenniston (Auchterderran).

Chapter 9 ‘Perambulating Marches in Medieval Fife’ presents some of the richness of the perambulations and boundary descriptions which tell us so much about the languages, landscapes and perceptions of landscape in medieval Fife. It contains new editions of several such documents, including the three early thirteenth-century ones describing the 11.5 km boundary of Dunfermline Abbey’s ‘forest’ of Outh (printed as Dunf. Reg. nos. 192, 193, 213). It also contains an inventory of all 43 pre-1400 boundary-texts I have identified for Fife, with references to detailed discussions in earlier volumes.

At the heart of PNF 5 is the Glossaries section (pp. 274-571), the bulk of which is taken up by the Elements Glossary (pp. 275-535). Other glossaries are ‘Personal and Other Proper Names’, ‘Verbal Place-Names’, ‘Unidentified Elements’ and ‘Glossary of Historical Terms’. The Elements Glossary includes every identified word from the six languages (French, Gaelic, Norse, Pictish, Scots and Scottish Standard English) which have been used to coin place-names in Fife. At the end of each entry the names which contain (or may contain) the element under discussion are listed alphabetically by volume, along with their modern parish. It provides the core of what can be expanded into a ‘Vocabulary of Scottish Place-Names’.

Addenda & Corrigenda Vols 1–4
The first four volumes have much to be corrected (corrigenda), as they contain errors ranging from the typographical to the substantive. In this section every effort has been made to address the more substantive ones, but the purely typographical have largely been left to fend for themselves. Much of this section, however, is taken up with material to be added to the first four volumes (addenda), above all to PNF 1 (West Fife), whose addenda & corrigenda occupy 34 pages (572-606). This is in stark contrast to the other volumes, with 6 pages for Vol. 2, 7 pages for Vol. 3 and 2 pages for Vol. 4. Vol. 1 of PNF is out of print, and a reprint will of course include this extra material.

Appendices including Edited Texts
Four of the five appendices contain material relating to the place-names and history of parts of Fife extending over more than one volume. Other editions and translations of important medieval texts relating to St Andrews were included as Appendices to Vol. 3.
The first two of the five appendices contain new editions of important medieval documents, translated into English for the first time. These are (Appendix 1): Genealogies of the Men of Dunfermline Abbey, a remarkable set of documents, the text of which was first printed as Dunf. Reg. nos. 325-31. It consists of details of about forty men over several generations belonging to ten different kindreds, all of whom owed allegiance to Dunfermline Abbey. Place of death and burial is frequently given, as well as the place of abode of the men alive when the document was compiled around 1340. The other new edition and translation is Appendix 2: Lands and Income of the Earl of Fife in the 1290s, recorded in scrupulous detail for Edward I of England, who had custody of the young earl of Fife, still a minor. This set of documents gives an unprecedented picture of the lands and income of Fife’s premier secular land-holder. This new edition supersedes the only other complete edition, that in Stevenson, Documents i (1870), which contains several serious errors.
Appendix 3, Lands and Income of the Earldom of Fife in the 1450s, lists in modern form, and in order of appearance, all the lands and properties appearing in the income section (ER v, 466–70), omitting the details of rents. By this time the title and honour of earl of Fife had been suppressed, and the lands and income annexed to the Crown.
Appendix 4 is a hitherto unpublished document (NAS RH6/16) dated 1202 detailing an agreement between the bishop of St Andrews and the earl of Fife (1202), concerning various churches, lands and rents, including those Kilconquhar, Kilmany and Scoonie.
The final Appendix (5) is a comprehensive survey of the place-names of the Isle of May, augmenting and refining the May material in Vol. 3.

The volumes retail for £24. This is a remarkably good price for substantial hard-back books of six or seven hundred pages, and was made possible by the generous grants made by the following trusts and charities: the Fargher-Noble Trust (Vols 1, 2, 4 and 5), and The Scottish Place-Name Society (including the Margaret Evans bequest) (Vols 3 and 5), the Strathmartine Trust (Vols 3 and 5), The Russell Trust (Vols 1, 2 and 4), The Hunter Trust (Vols 1, 2, and 4) The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (Vol. 1), Hunter Marshall Bequest (University of Glasgow) (Vol. 3).

Sources and References
Dunf. Reg.: Registrum de Dunfermelyn, Bannatyne Club 1842.
ER The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, ed. J. Stuart and others (Edinburgh 1878–1908).
Stevenson, Documents: Documents Illustrative of the History of Scotland 1286–1306, ed. J. Stevenson (2 vols, Edinburgh 1870).
Watson, William J., 1926, The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland (Edinburgh and London; reprinted with an Introduction by Simon Taylor, Edinburgh 2004; and, with an extended Introduction, Edinburgh 2011).

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