December 16, 2015
A quick look at the Wikipedia page or a more lengthy inspection of the mammoth "Place Names of Fife" reveals that the meaning of the name Dunfermline has remained a mystery for over 1000 years. The problem in recent times has been the assumption that the name is Gaelic in origin.
Actually the name is barely changed at all from its Pictish original and I am now in a position to explain it!
The oldest spelling we have dates to 1128 - Dunfermelin. It should be parsed Dun-fer-melin.
Dun is the same as the old Pictish/Brythonnic "dyn" and means "fort" (usually hill fort);
Fer is the same as the modern Welsh "ffêr" which means "brave men"/"heroes";
Melin is a corruption of the modern Welsh "melan" which means "made of steel".
So Dunfermline is "the fort of the steel-hard heroes".
The closest to an accurate original spelling I can offer is "Dynyffêrmelan". - which is also a bit closer to how the name is actually pronounced by local people (the "y"s are hardly pronounced and are like "uh"). Because the name is Pictish and NOT Gaelic we can be sure that the name (and hence the town) was founded a long time before 850AD.
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