Digging up our Norse past

Publication Date
Professor Donna Heddle
Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE

The Norse are woven right through the tapestry (or tartan!) of Scottish history and culture. But why do we not know more about them?

Why do most of Scotland see the Norse as ephemeral invaders and not part of the polity? Digging just a little beneath the surface reveals that the Norse impact is hidden in plain sight – we find the last remnants of the Norse in our placenames, our landscape, and our language. This talk will delve deep into the Norse substrate in our placenames and analyse them through an interdisciplinary linguistic, onomastic, social, and historical focus, shedding some light on our Viking past.

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This transcript has been automatically generated and may feature errors.


Okay, I think we’re ready to roll. Well, lovely to see folks always see you virtually or hear you virtually all know you’re there virtually. And welcome to our Curious next about Curious events. I’m Jeremy Smith, I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. And I’m here to chair today’s events. It’s one of our Curious operations, as you will know, and a whole series of talks which are both virtual and in the Royal Society of Edinburgh buildings in Edinburgh. Today is going to be a great talk. I know because I know Donna’s work. And I think she’s, she’s pretty fantastic. She’s going to give a talk about one of those languages of Scotland, which sometimes gets a bit occluded, which is, it is Norse and it’s and what Norse does and when Norse is or how Norse culture impinges on on on the on the nation. So it really what I need to do is just introduce our speaker today. Professor Donna Heddle. And Donna is the head of the research environment and culture at the University of Highlands and Islands, and a mover and shaker in that institution. She is directs also the University’s Institute for Northern studies. And I had a little look at well, I know but Donna’s work already. But I had a quick glance down her current pages of these matters. And she’s all she’s all over the place. But she’s extremely vigorously active in a whole range of areas do with Scottish cultural formation. Ranging Scottish and Northern, indeed Arctic language, and I think, is exciting cultural tourism, but also a lot of a lot of the historical background and all those areas where the history and the present day interact and talk to each other. And she, as a personal chair from the university. She was the acting Vice principal in 2021-22. And she is currently a trustee of the Society of antiquaries of Scotland. And Sir Sean Connery is Scottish International Education Trust, and she works for the RSE and Northwest advisory board. Well, I’m going to shut up talking now so I will disappear into the ether, but I’ll be lurking, still keeping an eye on the q&a. So I’m going to hand on now to Donna who is going to address us all. I should flag that Donna said to me, she has a slight cold, but I know she’s a trooper. And that won’t that won’t deter her. Does she suddenly fall silent, she will wave at me, I will pop up and say something. Okay, so that’s great. lovely to have you Donna. Thank you so much for giving today’s talk.


Thank you very much, Jeremy. It’s not often described as being all over the place and a trooper in the same sentence. But I’ll take that. Hello, everybody. It’s lovely to have so many of you join me tonight to talk about one of my favourite subjects. I like to thank the Royal Society of Edinburgh for asking me along for this talk. And we’re going to try to do as we go up breathlessly through quite a lot of history and information in the next 40 minutes or so, pausing only to grab our dear stalkers of detection, as we investigate the facts and come up with some conclusions. Is it good to try and tell you a little bit about the Norse in Scotland, I’m going to tell you a little bit about the myths that reveal about them. But mainly, I’m going to talk about place names, hopefully, I’m going to surprise you with some information about place names that you didn’t know. And I’m going to take three, I suppose I mean elements of place names and tell you a little bit about them and how the we can we’ll go on to around Scotland and we’ll have a look at those and I’m very much indebted to the late  Professor Emeritus Bill Nicolaisen for these lovely maps, I love a map myself and  Bill some wonderful ones to do with place names and very delighted to be able to use them tonight because Bill was one of our first lecturers when we first started our courses at the University of the Highlands and Islands and was very supportive there. So the Norse then there woman rate through the tapestry or the tartan of Scottish history and culture and it’s time this is recognised. I mean, why do we not know more about them? Why do we assume that raiders have came in the night on long ships with horned helmets to rape and pillage while under the influence of hallucinogenic substances and then left? Why are the Norse so much a part of the story of Orkney and Shetland and Caithness and not anywhere else in Scotland? Why does most of Scotland see the Norse as ephemeral and leaders and not part of our history and story? Well, one of the reasons is there’s no single name for the Norse occupation of Scotland, unlike the Danelaw in England, despite the longevity of the Norse seats of power. And this may be because there are very little contemporaneous historical accounts and we’re forced to rely on just a handful of rather biassed text, including Orkney Nirsaga which is a work combining fact and fiction, the work of faction, maybe the best way of describing it. Another factor is timing, having lost power and influence early on in the development of the kingdom of Scotland, they’ve historically been seen as other to this country, Norse power in Scotland wained before the kingdom of Scotland fully took shape. And the main figures in the story of Scotland come from Pictish and Gaelic Scott, not Norse. You know, the the big heroes of Scottish history are the Southwest boys like Bruce and Wallace, for example, the Norse areas of greatest influence, such as Orkney do not map onto modern centres of population of Scotland either. So they’re marginalised in every sense, I’m afraid. Dundee is not a Norse place name at all. Willie is not a Norseman. So we’re going to share my screen and start my presentation.


So the picture here, of course in the front and the first screen is up heavier and Shetland and Shetland and Orkney as I said, have a very strong Norse identity along with Caithness on the mainland. Now, one of the great problems that the we have is that in the 19th 18th and 19th centuries, people started to search for origin. Thus, after the two great events of the 18th century, which were the Industrial Revolution, and French Revolution, the fabric of society was completely changed. And later on, people started to search for their own origin stories. And there are two main origin stories the Celtic and the Norse, if you like, and Scotland chose the Celtic the Fenian myths, and so on. And England chose the the Norse of the Anglo Saxon myth. And, for example, Tolkein uses this to great effect and Lord of the Rings for him, in many, many ways the real heroes of that other riders of Rohan who are the Anglo Saxons, but we didn’t choose that. So they’re marginalised there in that sense. The other problem they have is they sometimes don’t seem to have a voice of their own. And I’ll come back to that in a minute when I talk about non other people interpret their story. They are the victims of a politicised exocentric discourse founded on the writings of people like Adam of Bremen, who was writing random at 1070. Which creates creates a huge campaign of otherness. Adam Scary foreign beast of medieval times, the reinvention as the noble warrior of Victorian times, their Subversion of National Socialist iconography in the 20th century, all are fictions with a political agenda. And this includes the fundamental origin with choice of most of Scotland, including Lewis and I’m going to come back to that because it may surprise you to know drumroll that nearly all of the place names in Lewis aren’t Norse, they just don’t look like it and I’ll explain that a bit later. The northern Isles have always identified themselves with the other prevalent 18th century origin myth that of the Norse but the truth is that our settlers and traders not as raiders, they left a permanent imprint in our legal system in our language that influences us in our names. If there’s anybody out there called Lachlan, the Norseman or McLeod’s son of Lea McCauley, son of Ola, and then there are the place names. And that’s what we’re going to talk about tonight. But I want to say a little bit too, about the Norse themselves.


Northman that is the name that they most often called themselves. Viking is an activity. It is not a name of a people. You go Viking, you go into the fjords, so Viking is pirating, if you like, they call themselves Northmen. What did other people call them? Vikings. Viking to the Anglo Saxons. Ascomanni, the Ashman to the Germans this is quite interesting too, because quite often the they used an ash as a mast for the boats but actually in this case, it refers to the hawk-like foreign policy if you like of doing damage everywhere. Loch Lanach, which gives us the name Lachlan, that was just referring to men of the loss. Thenuch as well for the Anglo Saxons also use that term, Russ or Ross, which is also used, which gives us the modern place name Russia and Belarus and so on. And this make it come from the timber ruin. It may come from a place name, but nonetheless that’s what we call the record. And also Varangian meanfing the sworn men never the Varangian Guard, where the guard of the Emperor Constantinople point of fact and one Harold Hardrada, who some of you may have heard of spent 20 years as the chief of the Varangian Guard in Constantinople before deciding to come home to Norway kill his nephew and become King of Norway. It’s certainly an approach to promotion, so I can see. So other problems we have the horned helmet issue. This is not a viking helmet. This is a Bronze Age ceremonial helmet. In the 19th century, people thought that the actual viking helmet which looks something like this was a bit too borring so they transcend the horned helmets, the horns and that helmet onto this helmet. Now let me tell you no Norseman worth his salt was worn a horned helmet for fighting, they fought very close hand to hand combat on board boards and so on. And they’d have easily had an eye out if they try that. So if you take nothing away from this talk tonight, ladies and gentlemen, please remember, the Vikings did not wear horned helmets, we have never found one. Other than this, of course, include the fact that there was going to drink out of skull, the skulls of the enemy, this is not something that happened either. And I often wonder if that’s been confused with the toast ‘skål’ into that one as well. So what was the actual truth? I should also say to that, for those of you who are fondly imagining that a burial for the Viking includes a burning ship, I’m afraid that’s entirely wrong as well. My husband, who is very much of viking stock, his family came in the fresh bought from Telemark to Orkney built a boat and I said to him, when you die my love Do you want me to push you off at Scapa and set fire to the boar – I’m based in Orkney I should point out.  And he said Do not be foolish woman that would be the waste of a good boat. And I’m afraid that would have been the Viking view of that as well. So I’m sorry if your illusions are shattered there. But let’s talk about the facts very briefly before we get on to the place names, which is the meat of the matter. So we can see here in this map. And I do love a map. The Viking homelands there A, B and C. So you’re looking at Norway, Denmark and Sweden there. And you’re looking at the movements that they weren’t know most people assume that the Vikings went to the west and I’m using the term vacancy because the Viking expansion is recognised term. And indeed they did and you can see the places that they went Orkney, Shetland, the pharaohs that’s J Iceland, K Greenland. And L is what we fondly hope is Finland. But you can also see that the good D into England they go E into Europe, they’re right round into the Mediterranean, do in the inrivers of Europe as well. So it’s an extensive expansion, fueled mainly by the desire for glory and for profit. Let’s not forget the story of the Vikings expansion usually cites the behaviour of Harold failure in uniting all of Norway and becoming extremely undemocratic. But in point of fact, it’s really got an awful lot to do with people looking for profit and of course, going on a viking trip gave you great glory. So let’s have a look at this in more detail there. So you can see when they actually got to various places. So they they get to Scotland pretty early on actually in the story we get Scotland in the eighth century. And the famous quote from the theory of the Norseman good Lord delivered us I’m afraid probably referred to by kings from Orkney and Shetland, rather than making this coming straight from Scandinavia. But you can see that in 1854, for example, they’ve got to Novgorod. Once the there was the breakup of the Soviet Union restored the viking galley to the proudly to the coat of arms there. We also see Kyiv, and Kievan Rus, of course, was the great kingdom there. And it does ammuse me with Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ideas, ideas, if you like that Russia was in fact, more likely to be part of keeping Russia the other way around the nation, but not that much. And if you look right at the bottom there, you can see Miklagard, which is Constantinople, I love the Norse understated way of naming places. Miklagard, the big enclosure, the big place. Great stuff, boys. Well, that absolutely does what it says on the tin. And we’ll see that in a minute when we started to look at the place names, in a bit more detail. So you didn’t see that is a very is an incremental but steady movement there. Also draw your attention to Normandy. As you can see the north of France there. And Normandy was actually settled by quite a few Norse from Orkney as well Rollo who was the great great, great grandfather of William the Conqueror was actually the son of the Earl of Orkney. So I’m just like to put a wee posit down here for the fact that in 1066, you have the Orkney conquest, and not the Norman Conquest I’m not serious, of course, but it’d be nice to think that we could change history a little bit. So I think you’re getting a sense here of where they went. And the fact that navigation and travel was incredibly important to them. And that’s actually incredibly important to the place names as well. The place names tell us about what kind of settlements they were, but they they also use navigation and identification of places as being particularly important as well. And the travelling viking boats, and I can’t let this talk past whether it’s in one or two things, Viking boats they really are one of the finest pieces of engineering of the mediaeval period with a draft sometimes as low as 50 centimetres. There we are, you can see there. Now this little This looks very familiar to us in in Orkney and Shetland and indeed in the Western Isles and the shape of the boots. pointed at both ends, the Orkney and Shetland Yules, for example, and it is obviously a very powerful symbol today because that is the symbol of the Western Council of the Western Isles. And that is the flag of Lewis. So the means by which they travelled is equally as important as the places that were left behind in many ways. But my vviking boats this lecture was wait for another day for we’re here to talk about place names.


So I said that they didn’t speak for themselves. And this is true, their story was written down by other people in other places. In other times, what they did use was ruins. And we can see here some examples of yelling stone, for example, some examples of Runic inscriptions, and I’ve chosen this particular one because although we don’t have a lot of writing that they did themselves, contemporaneously inscriptions do tell us a lot. And this is a particularly good one King Harold ordered, this monument in memory of his father, and his mother that Harolder her who won for himself, all of Denmark and Norway. And made the Danes Christian. Well, he’s got it all going on. And this inscription, ladies and gentlemen, because he’s the memory of his father, but also his mother, which is quite important. And it’s going to lead me on to a rediscovery that I’ll share with you later on in the talk about Harold, who is a valiant Viking, and has won all Denmark, Norway, but is also a Christian, and has made that so I’ve seen a question. Oh, that. I’m sorry. Is that better? Can you see that better? No. Thank you. I got somebody keeping me right in the shadows is quite unnerving. Right. So you can see that a little bit better. Now you can see with without me and the stone, sort of, but in this little inscription, it may not be a lot of words, but it tells us quite a lot about what was important to them, and what they valued. So I think that’s, that’s useful, but he said the really very much the only bits that we have that are actually contemporaneous. But the language of the Scandinavian occupation of Scotland was a language called Norn. And we’ve nowadays be part of the very small family of languages that includes Icelandic of what we call West Norse. Eastar says the language group which gives us English, Danish, Swedish, Dutch Friesian, what have you and


Technology’s not with me today. I’m iffy. No piece of Northern. So I’m going to be a long time since this language is here and certainly on online so I’m going to read this to you and I think you’ll recognise what it is as I go along.


Fy vor or er i Chimeri. / Halaght vara nam dit. La Konungdum din cumma. / La vill din vera guerde i vrildin sindaeri chimeri. / Gav vus dagh u dagloght brau. Forgive sindorwara / sin vi forgiva gem ao sinda gainst wus. Lia wus ik? o vera tempa, / but delivra wus fro adlu idlu. For do i ir Kongungdum, u puri, u glori, Amen


And that is of course the Lord’s Prayer and known so that’s the language that they would have spoken. But how does that fit into place names Okay, now when we’re looking for the Norse influence in place names in Scotland, it’s it’s easy to think as we can see them in places like Caithness so let’s start with Caithness and and let’s burrow down a little bit. So here are some places Caithness answer a couple of Sutherland ones you can see. So this is how they look today. So what happens if we take these place names away and we put them back to how they used to look not so very different are they? If you look at the cursor there, interestingly enough, people in Thurso pronounced Thurso Thursa. So there’s clearly some atavistic remembrance of that we can see that Wick quite simply as Vic, we can see that Watten quite simply is Vatten and Duncansby  gives you Duncansby as well and Hyalmansval and we’ll come back to that when that’s when I want to talk a little bit of it. But a few years ago, when the Gaelic place names were coming to the north of Scotland, the Caithness counsellors asked me to come and do a presentation to the high counsel to explain just Norse the place names. And I actually mocked up a road sign with it with the police names on it, which you can see a very, very similar. So this is not unusual This is we’d expect this we’re not surprised by this. We know that this is where we would expect to find. So let’s just have a move on for a moment. And have a look at Lewis, let’s look to go straight to the heart of the Gàidhealtachd if the place has the most Gaelic speakers per capita in Scotland, is Lewis and let’s have a look at some of their place names of the 126 place names in Lewis 99 are Norse. And here are some of the placing elements. Nis up there at the top that you can see, meaning a headland or a point, which gives you the wonderful tautology point of Ness. Bakk, Borg, which is the fortified area. Vik, which I think is one of the most important elements in the place names in the Western Isles because it gives you Uig. And this is quite interesting because the Nortse substrate is very, it’s buried by the spelling in a way. And so for example, the glamorous village on Skye Tarskavaig – how romantic that sounds in Norse that’s called – bay which is less romantic. Tarbert of course the narrow strip of land, you can see that it’s there on the map, just with that big red dot is At the bottom there, that has been a narrow strip of land actually in many cases where the Norse is the place where the North’s used to move their boats from one body water to another. Val, of course, is a hill Kirk is a church, holm is a small island. Vatn is a lake. Ey is an island and fjal is a brewery and they are all there in place names so we see them there as elements and we’re going to look at them in a wee bit more detail. Okay, so first of all, we’re looking at patterns and Norse settlement and activity. And we can see that the density of North police names is very much probably where we’d expect them to be in in a fairly pure form, Orkney, Shetland, and the Western Isles you can see that it’s the very dark hatching there. But there’s also place names of mixed Gaelic and Norse character which we can see in Sutherland down the western seaboard, Lewis and so on and so forth. And we can also see other place names, which are mixed Gaelic, Norse and Danish character. So there’s quite a puzzle to unravel. And I’m going to start with one here, which is Dingwall is right up in the heavens if you like it’s right there in the centre of the Gàidhealtachd this is the fact of the story that the Gàidhealtachd is absolutely studied with Norse place names like a fruitcake and Dingwall was one of them. It is the place of the Norse thing or parliament. Now one of the problems that we have are the Norse in the landscape and we have to go looking for them didn’t build great constructs generally speaking, and their thing their parliament wasn’t a big building of any nature ike that. It was an area where people came from what was basically a conflict resolution meeting they’s agree that the law and so on, and they would sort out the problems so you know, the Norse thing sayin Dingwall is actually in the carpark at the supermarket, which is rather sad but there it is. It’s they’re sitting looking at us from the map that tells us clearly where that is. Dingwall Let’s see what else we can vote stone have a lovely Stornoway. The steering bay – completely Norse place name. Let’s have a look and see what else we can find. Brodick in Arran, the broad way and the Gaelic Heartlands, of course. Colonsay, there we we are still very much in the Gàidhealtachd. Falkirk slightly off the Gàidhealtachd that’s in Caithness. Of course. Mallaig what could be more Gaelic than Mallaig you might imagine that we’re not entirely sure of the etymology of the first bit we think it may be gul but it’s definitely a Vik. Ulva if there’s anybody out there the same age as me you might have learned the poem Lord Ullin’s Daughter at school:


Now who be ye would cross Lochgyle, This dark and stormy water?’ ‘Oh! I’m the chief of Ulva’s isle, And this Lord Ullin’s daughter.


well, Ulva means wolf Island. could not be more entrenched in the Gàidhealtachd  and yet sitting in plain sight is a Norse place name. Sunart as well. and Sleat of course, which means a smoothed place. The part ofSkye down there, Sleat there. So we have these policemen sitting there. But what I want to do now is take us back a little bit through the story and start off with something that’s maybe quite obvious. That is a Norse place name and it’s dalr or dale. And the interesting thing about this is this is quite it’s, it’s a more, it’s a younger place name element and the ones that I’m working backwards through the story. So dalr is a place in many cases where people don’t do leisure activities. It’s a place where after the settlements well settled, it would seem in Scotland at any rate, the dales the dalrs are places where people undertake various leisure activities like hunting, shooting, fishing, that sort of thing, if you like, and we see where they are, and then we’ll see we can see what we expect here with the dale names that Orkney and Shetland. Absolutely covered in them. Plenty in Lewis plenty in the inner Hebrides, and down where we would expect to find them on the coast. There. So let’s just nip through a few. Quendale in Shetland, Helmsdale. There we are. In southerland we saw that earlier in the map of cases and southern names. Now, Helmsdale, one of the things that I love so much about Norse place names and those two like is that they’re either sort of navigational descriptive, or they’re somebody’s place, and this is an example of Helman’s dalr. So Helm came with his friends, to shoot and fish and hunt and have a good time. Laxadale – that tells us exactly what we’re trying because we’re about that place. It was the Lax, it was the salmon. And we spent a lot of these across the Highlands and Islands because that’s what people wanted to know where the salmon rivers. Lochboisdale. That’s another personal place name there. I was just there last week, as well as well. Another example Saddel notice that the spelling changes as we come further down. Clydesdale. Again, that’s a mixture of two things there. And that’s really refers to the valley of the clyde. And we can see how the dale term has been incorporated into that later name. And, of course. So we have the pure example up there in Shetland, we have the examples for the Salmon River, we have the examples for Helmsdale we have the examples of places and an idea where it’s incorporated into an understanding of the landscape. So what happens or individual as well, that’s a personal place name one. So what happens?


And Rodel is a very interesting one that’s actually in the Isle of Harris, and that’s the value of the Rood. So again, that’s an example of taking the Norse police theme and adding something of a Christian variety to it or indeed a Latin varieties to give a special place name there. And it’s quite interesting how that a sound often changes to an e sound when we’re dealing with the Gaelic homelands as well but I’ll come back to that when we look at something else in a moment. Okay, bolstagger that if I was ever in love with the placement element, it’s this one means far, but it’s one of the most oldest and most prevalent North placing elements. Those that are settlements are important and sizable central farms in fertile areas, indicating early settlement and the pattern of bolster beams on the map is very much the pattern of North settlement as we can see from the map here. These place names appear in many forms from the bis Vista bust buster names of Orkney and Shetland, the stern and stir names of Caithness, Paul and Bo. and traditionally gGaelic speaking areas. And the Gaelic influence on the Norse language has led to the loss of the final syllable and indeed to the substitution of a voiceless for the voiced consonant i.e. P for B, and indeed the loss of ST for L in several instances, and examples include Habost that we can see there, the high farm Leurbost, the muddy farm, which doesn’t sound ideal, Garrabost was and Shawbost which is the farm by the sea, but also let’s just go on tour with this particular this new element, robust edits with expected and the northern Isles verb stood. The farm of the comments can stir in cases as well, but also reverse engineer and I love which means the brush would fire. You see what’s happening on this. On the north side of things. We’re keeping the second part of the police name element in the Gaelic side of things. We’re keeping the first part of the place name is bost. Right, Ullapool. There we go now that this is a great favourite, because nobody expects that to be a norse name. It’s actually Ulla’s fun. But that kept the ball from bolstered. But it’s it has gone to that voiceless thing of p, you know, and as I haven’t done, we tend to have that kind of teuchter way saying chissy and gene and things like that and aspirating and going for the voiceless sound. That’s what’s happened with Ullapool. Did you think for a minute, anything that like Ullapool was actually a bol place name? Well, it is and it’s not the only one. You got Eriboll right up there. On the north coast, just right there. known to everybody my family is loch horrible because it’s so difficult to drive down, but Eriboll is Eric’s farm. And here what’s happened is they’ve kept the v, but they o is, is not a it’s not a pool, it’s a bowl. So you can see that the kept the boill from both settled there. It’s quite the story because it goes on  just keeping that boll component of the boll element is a place name quite extraordinary.


Let’s move on let’s move back a little bit. The story is Setter is a township and this place name element came to Scotland before the settlement of Iceland actually probably in the 9th century, and its distribution maps onto the secondary Norse settlement which was extensive.  In Orkney and Shetland, it appears Shetter for example, or airport human capital is Grim Setter cetera so Grim’s farm, very popular names for boys in the Viking Edo might not perhaps necessarily be adopting them today, but they were. in Orkney, Shetland, then it’s settler and then Hebrides appears as Shader as we can see in these two names you get Geshader which is the goat sheering , and Shulishader, which is the farm by the sea. They’re not alone. Grimshader, they are just the same as Grimsetter, yin Orkney but that’s over there in the Western Isles. Now Shader  just simply farm occurs quite frequently. Guershader the farm of the island. Linshader which means the the flax farm is there.  So we can see that these are very descriptive place names that tell us a story of who lived there and why.


The next one I want to have a look at is Stata meaning dwelling or farm again. And this is one of the very oldest Norse police name elements. It was a popular in Norway before the Viking expansion and the starter place names there’s roughly 37 Shetland, 25 in Orkney and 25. In the Hebrides, usually with a personality analysis, give it give us the earliest indication of North settlement patterns in these areas. The element is usually in the form of staff in Gaellic speaking areas and start are starting in Orkney and Shetland.


So let’s have a look at some of them. Tolsa. Tolst’s farm you see again, what’s happening here. That’s the first component of the place name element that is giving us the Gaelic place name, and it’s the second component of ston or sta, and so on that it’s giving us the policing elements in the northern areas. So that’s Tolsta we’ll start with and it was actually on that beach last week. Mangersta, brace yourself talks. That’s Magnus is fun. My favourite Mealista, which is Meal’s farm. My son’s name, which is why I’m particularly fond of that one. So we have quite a lot of them there. We also have there, again, Bearesta, another personal name, oops, sorry, go back to something. But there are other things that are buried in this place name information. They tell us about how long people were there, when they came, what kind of dwellings they made, and where they travelled. But I found a wonderful secret. And I think Ian Taylor, the place name expert also has noted this, that there’s a police name on Lewis called Eoropie. And if you drill right down, we’re finding this place name is telling us something incredibly important about the Norse and their traditions, because Eoropie is Eurines, Eurine’s dale and Eurine is a woman’s name. And that tells us that Eurine was a woman of enough importance to have a place named after. And it also leads us into knowing a little bit about the society that would allow a woman to have a plae called after women in the Norse age and in the colonies in Scotland and so on, were very important. They had much better rights than we had in this country up until the marriage was Property Act at the end of the 19th century. And they could own property, they could go to this thing, you know, for example, if they didn’t like her husband, if he was particularly poor Viking, for example, they could complain, and they would be offered another husband, perhaps, or they might be offered their dowry back or whatever it might be. But they had rights, they could travel, they could own property, all of these different things, people, women in our era couldn’t really travel until the 20th century, which is why for example, the herring girls are treated with such disdain when they travelled, because this was not seen suitable for a woman to do at all. And, for example, it’s quite interesting. The rape laws in mediaeval Europe are damaged amongst property and norse law, it’s a very different matter and kind of the body and so on. So women had much better rights. And here’s the evidence for it sitting there looking at us on a map. There it is. So we get wonderful evidence of all of these kinds of things. there as well, we get the evidence for the Norse in place names, but we also get them in the personal names I was referring to earlier, and the surnames, but there is another place where we can see them in the landscape. Now, that’s an insight if you like in Shetland, as you can see, there’s nothing nothing there is a liminal space between land and sea. So where do we where do we see the Norse everyday, not just in the place names.


We see them the shape of our houses. The kind of shape of the very room that you’re probably sitting in now is very much due to the norse settlements. Because before that, we were living in cloverly shaped houses or round houses. So it’s in many ways, it’s an every day story of ordinary folk, when it comes to the norse. They sit in the landscape, they’re looking at us, in the place tnames waving at us through two layers of language, through the Gaelic versions, in most cases, and the English versions as well, they wave at us, but yet, they are absolutely fundamental to who we are, and where we came from the colour of our hair, the laws that we that we have the concept of social democracy in Scotland, all sorts of things that the norse didn’t come in, and hit in the back teeth and magic mushrooms and rape and pillage and leave. They’re here. They are us. Thank you very much. I’d be very happy to take any questions.


Thank you so much Donna. That was a real tour de force. So so interesting. All sorts of new things came out there. That was that was absolutely splendid. Thank you. Well, we have some q&a. So I’m going to open them up a little peek and see what we’ve got here. Some of them right at the start, I just put one in because there’s someone here who says hello, one of your former students who did your lectures called Fiona and says she just wants to say that. And here’s someone else who wants to say hello. So I think you’ve got some fans already


Hello Fiona! I remeber you fine. Yeah, there you go.


There’s Donna from Texas. There we go. So So you, you’ve moved around. Now, here we go. Here’s here’s an anonymous attendee who wishes to talk about Magnus Magnusson. So he calls our attention says, Oh, yes, well, the everyone thinks is surely a cliche, Magnus and said they were farmers 42 years ago. And so as well, everyone, I’m not sure about everyone. So certainly, when my daughter went to one of these places, they offered her a horned helmet to put on so she’d have a photograph taken. So if people are still people still doing it.


It’s an interesting fact though Jeremy – Magnus Magnusson was so proud of his Norse heritage and loved Orkney so much that you chose to have the last episode of mastermind, which he presented delivered from St. Magnus cathedral.


Did he? Interesting!


Yes, he did. And another thing about Magnus and my own son’s name is Meal Magnus, is that Magnus is an incredibly popular name that said, currency even when the Norse wasn’t a thing in Scotland, you still have people called Magnus, and it’s actually Harold Bluetooth I think it sorry please. I’ve got that wrong. A King of Norway who may have Harold was such a fan of Charlemagne or Carla Magnus that he called his son Magnus. And that’s where the needle comes into the narrative and it’s nothing could be more Norse than Magnus and yet nothing and it is a name that has tremendous currency. So certainly Magnus Magnuson wrote very extensively about Icelandic things and various aspects of that, but he does have a passionate attachment to Scotland as well.


Absolutely, absolutely. There’s a couple of more detailed questions here. Here’s someone says I’m half Norwegian but raised and lived in Scotland. Almost every year I come across Norwegian words and have direct relation, to the Scots words like in Burns, has there been any extensive studies into vocabulary in Scots dialects and Norwegian?


It’s funny, you should say that. Because here in the northern isles, of course, when we have Norwegian visitors, they have very little difficulty in understanding what we are saying. And, you know, for example, we’re the same and it’s the same for a lot of Scots, but it’s the language, støv, for example, is universal, unfortunately. And that’s one of the reasons that I love the fact that the Norwegian word for Hoover is a støvsuger.


Some research, not only to the words themselves, but also the rising intonation that we have in Orkney, the cadence. I’m not speaking with an Orkney accent tnow, you know, and making every effort to speak Scottish Standard English. Could relapse at any moment. You know, I’d like a glass of wine, right example that sort of thing. That’s Norwegian dialects, which is really interesting because if you look at the history of why there’s such a volume of words of Norse, pure Norse origin in Orkney, Shetland, Orkney, Shetland, of course, became part of Scotland, in what’s called the pigneration which is a very fancy word, one February afternoon in 1472 is part of the diary of the daughter of Christian Denmark. And Orkney stayed very much a wealthy back water part Scotland, but Shetland was back and forth and had a lot of liaison with the Hanseatic League. But what they both have, is a corpus of words that have not come through Scots that come directly from Norse. So we have an awful lot of Norse words that Norwegian friends recognise, to do with weather, usually bad weather, unfortunately, though it’s lovely here today, using bad weather, for example, snawing and to do with the snow blowing, and all this sort of thing, so that there’s a wealth there. And the term bigging for example, is something is very common as a as a name for the house here is very recognisable to Norwegians There’s a volume of work. I work on it, I did a paper myself on the Norse substrate, in Orkney, and Shetland, but a number of other colleagues have written far more than me, but if anybody wants to send me an email, and I can give them some details.


So lovely, fantastic. Well, the questions are coming thick and fast. Here’s another one. Here’s someone who’s writing from Valencia in Spain. Are there any publications about theNorse in Ireland.


Oh, yes. I mean, the there’s a volume there. And again, that’s a really interesting story too. I have particular theory, and am going to sound a klaxon. Warning and alert here, about right here. Alright. This is because I myself produced his gigantic red haired child. And on his first day of school, I took him to school. And there were four other red heads in a class of 20, which is statistically very unusual. So it set me off on a long trail of finding this out. And they, they have come to the conclusion that a  red hair is obviously a an early Celtic gene, it may possibly have become identified to static not populations in Ireland, in Scotland, in Russia and Sicily, and various other places and again klaxon. Right, because there’s a lot of work going on to look at the genetics of people and has been going on for a long time. And as I speak, no, Professor Jim Wilson is giving a talk on the genetics down the road. So important, but I did have a, I did have one delightful thing, which may be the highlight of my academic career so far is that this particular idea appeared in a Val McDermot novel. And I wrote to her and said, Where did you get that from? She said, I got it from you. I think the story of the Norse in Ireland is a very interesting one. We have the North Irish kingdom’s there’s a lot of material written on that. And for example, I was talking about the role of women for example, famous character who took people all over the place looking for a home for them when their husband died. You know, there’s that connection with the Northern Irish kingdoms as well. It’s interesting too, that if you look at home, the genetics divides if you’d like to call them the Norwegian Norse a bit of a loaded term. But that takes in Scotland, Cumbria and basically Ireland and the top of Wales and other Swedish – if there’s a Viking expert in the audience that we’re throwing things at the screen. This is a very big paintbrush, big stroke view that but the other side then it’s very much more of the Danish and Swedish.


Shows how well your maps are splendid – shows how water is a  connector. I think that’s where it comes across so much, isn’t it?


That’s a really good point, Jeremy because this is the thing people say, Oh, how could they control these kingdoms? I mean, Orkney was absolutely colossal at one stage and under Thorfinn Sigurdsson, the mighty who is described in Orkneyinga Saga as an ugly man with a bad temper, but really that’s no barrier to power, as we know, but he controlled the kingdom that included Caithness, Sutherland Orkney Shetland you know, various other with boats. And that’s, that’s one thing about the boats is we know that we can still follow the sailing instructions in the Sagas today, we know that they could nip across in no time at all, and control these kingdoms. And we see we see places we’ll sea round it as distant and remte these organs places to live.


Fantastic. But it’s not not for me to ask. Here’s someone who says my grandpa was from Europie so that’s great to know. It’s a female place name. So then I’d love to.HEre someone who says, I’m so confused why there’s so little knowledge held most people in relation to Ayrshire.


Well, yes, it’s good again, because it doesn’t sit the suit the prevailing you know, the origin myth, if you like, I mean, this has been people think about if they do think about the Norse dollar, certainly don’t think about Dumfries and Galloway, or Ayrshire or anywhere like that, when of course they were there. Yeah.


Next one is Annie Anderson. And she This is very interesting, because it’s kind of layers. What about the names that preceded the Norse name? I presume she’s talking about the Kubrick and things like that? Well, yes,


So interesting. What people did. We’ve got spelling stuff here. Here we go. Here’s someone, could you give us the Norse spelling of Europe? So what what’s their word is how it looks like would you do yours?


Very interesting. I mean, that’s that’s a whole discussion in itself, Jeremy, as you know, but here in Orkney, for example, but 96% of the place names in Orkney are Norse. And there are a few other ones that we don’t know. And we do. Interestingly enough, the place names that seem to have lasted that are pre Norse, or pre Celtic whatever if you like, our island names, like Unst, Skye, Mull. And these are things we don’t know what these names mean. We give them names. We call them we see that Skye is we give it a Gaelic translation. And so but we dont actually know what it actually means that they’ve pre anything to do with the Norse, or indeed the Celts. Really interesting. And they’re still there has been people tried to take the name Lewis and make it into something either Norse or Celtic. And I don’t think it is either of them. But you know, there’s a lot of debate about that. So they just see this is the great debate always was when the Vikings came to Orkney and Shetland, did they tiptoe into a museum, or so that they kill everybody or today? This will be the facts, folks make very good use of the people that they found there and marry them generally speaking on what have you, particularly what have you, I suspect, but again, the place names it almost seems as if somebody has just taken a cloth over the map and wiped everything that was there before. We know that there were things there before we know that for example, for the Romans, Orkney was the end of the Roman Empire. Also know that Tacitus tells us that Agricola got as far as what was obviously first of all to, for us to say, Oh, brother boys.


Im not entirely sure that certainly the Eurine is right. But it’s marvellous because it’s all you know, the sounds have changed the way it’s been written. Then it’s gone through the mill as it were of, you know, the the regulation of the Gallic orthography as well, which you know, it makes it even more buried there, but it’s sitting there looking at you in the map.


It’s fantastic. More questions though they keep coming. Or here’s a here’s a slightly political one. What do you think of the Gaelicisation of place names what would you do with Dingwall?


What they’ve done is not actually even Gaelic as you know, Jeremy. Yeah. But Inverpepper, for example, it’s a name that sometimes used for. No, I’m not. I’m not a massive fan of that and I can see that as a Gaelic speaker. So no letters, please. Like, but I do find you know, for example, I’m in running feud with BBC Alba at the moment over the the way that they’ve translated Kirkwall because Kirkwall was originally Kirkuililer the bay of the KIRK then it becomes coverall pronounced here as kapwa Scots cartographers come in think, Oh, it’s a man’s demand for all that situation and put two L’s in. So we have Kirkwall right? However, this seems not to dawn to the powers that be at the BBC Alba because they’ve translated it as basically the Kirk, the town of the church you know, buying that instead of balance English rather than by English. Instead of running few days supported I would have to say it is eternal credit by the Gaelic officer at university Highlands and Islands DG McIntyre. But so I’m not a fan of enforcing it. For example, wik has been changed, but uig is wick anyway.


So it’s now bay bay.


No idea and I’m gonna No, I think you know, leave well alone. The what the one names that I did when I did my mock up routine was places like Latherin which you could give a norse a name for and gaelic one quite reasonably as well, but leave well alone, folks.


We get everywhere, Jeremy, we get everywhere.


Yeah. Well, there’s there’s there’s still more questions. Some of them are really interesting. Here’s here’s someone from the Basque Country, and she says, are supposed to be they’re supposed to be a song a song Basque as far as I can see, what’s its as the first Lord and Biscay territory? That is Jaun Zuria suppose on a Viking princess in exile from Scotland, so there you go. It’s yet moved around. Isn’t that interesting?


This keeps going on that really interesting. Well, it’s like, it’s like hearing bag pipes in in Galicia which was interesting. Here’s here’s a nice one. Do we see any evidence of Norse place names in the new world? All over there?


Yes now, this is give them names. Yes. The there’s one example, which was when they were investigating also may do a Newfoundland. They found evidence for a place that was called Hop. And this, you know, I was asked amongst many, many other far more experienced scholars to see what I thought that might be. So give me a map and I’ll show you where it is. Because a hop is a bay enclosed within a bay. Right? For example, we have here the play named St. Margaret’s Hope, in Orkney, right? Pronounced by everybody as simply the Hop? Because that’s what it is. Right? My contribution, you know, whether it was the right thing or not, was to look at the map and see, there’s your hop boys. There it is. Because if it’s a navigational thing for you, what do you need to know you need to know where the shelter bay within a bay is don’t you? Modest evidence, although there’s many artefacts and things that purport to be of Norse origin in the New World, which I


fantastic, but Doreen has come back to say a washcloth is a vascaflute


Marvelous! tHERE we go and see how all these things hang together.


Here’s a question. I’m very interested in comparison. You make Norse and Celtic things to say about Norse didn’t write things down marginalised othered, you could say about the Celts in a broader British context. How come the Celts won over the Norse in Scotland? You know, so why is it this Celtic all over Lewis but not with all the names of Norse.


Because of timing because the the apogee of Norse power was before the really before the formation of the kingdom of what we call Scotland or Alba, whatever you like. And also because of the choosing – for example, after Culloden, it’s Culloden. 1746. Of course, not a result frankly, on the day, right, and after that 30 years of hunting the North and the trampling of the culture and then of course, James McPherson finds the poes of ocean right and people identify with this they identify with this Fenian cycle and various other things that they identify with that Celtic myth and that’s another reason to and also be as I’ve seen, because  the movers and shakers in Scottish history not not all of them but not you know some big boys like Bruce and Wallace you know, their southwest boys they’re Celtic boy although Wallace’s name, means Welshman definitely not Norse, unfortunately. So that’s the problem.


Yeah, me Yeah. Well, there’s there’s more coming in. Here’s an anonymous person but it does sound this I’m a complete layman, you’d love it. Would you please be comfortable sharing recommendation for a book where I can start to understand more? There any good books on this which be quite good.


Well, if you’re looking for who can place names, and it’s an old favourite, I’m going to say it’s Bill Nicholiason’s yes, these names it’s a very accessible text you know people have different views maybe on some elements of it now but there’s good solid stuff it’s place names you’re interested in it’s it’s very very well written. Easy to read. But what would you think yourself Jeremy is that anything?


Well, I was gonna say Nicholiason because it because the thing about it is certainly he writes so well as we all know, easy reading’s hard writing. And he that he does a lovely job. There are there are there are some quite good things like introductions to to Scots vocabulary, which are worth looking at the concise Scots dictionaries got quite a nice little introduction, which is worth having a look gives you a potted history of things. And there are some references you can then follow up from there. But it’s it’s a it’s a fascinating thing. And the trouble is because you want to keep up as you’ve demonstrated so beautifully. You can’t separate language culture as they are they go together and all these things here’s here’s some more Deborah some of the stuff that Red Hat red hair seems to have started that started started a big thing here was you will maybe skate over that. And here’s the here’s the viking helmet thing. This is where yes, Polly UK Yes. There’s so presented even on some of your maps as the Vikings are wearing those damn helmets she says yes, that’s that’s where my daughter was giving her when she was little so there you go. Black Isle Sheila Callie Carrie which looks good. We have Colburn who down if he was like it’s a boundary area. Black Isle is that is that? That’s


right. It’s substantially Correct. Yeah,


yeah. That’s where you get to where you get sort of things going together.


You Viking the Norse boundary. The way they worked out boundaries is another lecture but it’s really interesting how they the demark these end they do demark them with that kind of thing. That kind of place name Yeah, I love it when you get these places will end up cultures. Yeah, the famous one is called Cupar isn’t it? The one which as the nrose, the nose bit and the Old English name, which is actually a baorder land name and the front end or Celtic element order Norse in Galloway like more on this that actually goes with that, doesn’t it? Jenny Blaine asked this into work norse in Galloway?


Oh, yes. Well, I mean, the Norse were very influential in galleries, the clues in the name there. I think if I’m the guy, or the nurse or nurse and the for the the inner Hebrides, the integral as well and it’s mighty score lead with this norsenamed antastic. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. The nursing fundamentals and study of Galloway.


They certainly are you talking about you gave a good example of Dingwall I came off motorway the other day going to take some students down to Ruthwell that get passed Thingwall was a thing wall down their way with the record plays out there. Rudell is from glss I know church well might catch the explanation of the name.


Just saying that it’s rude Valley would have been a place that wasn’t settled in same way. So it was those police apart so when they come to build the church, they build it there and they call it rood which is the you know, the old term for the cross. That’s what it is. Yeah. Oh,


yeah. And GLS has now told us that it’s actually it’s a company name. And here’s an here’s a nice one about orderings would it be the Picts came for the Norse or the Celts arrived in Scotland. Well, there’s a question about Picts. Tell us…


Again, Jeremy, that’s a whole nother basket of stuff. But yes, the  Picts were here before the Norse and the Cets or the Scots as well in the  Kingdom of Doriath , for example, the Picts were there and then within a generation roughly speaking, that’s a slight exaggeration, but not really, they were all subsumed. But there were pictures Kingdom nor Octave as a Pictish kingdom. You know,or hegemony at any rate. So yes, they were the trouble with them. The poor souls is we know that a very complicated society, but because we don’t understand the language, they are waving at us from behind the glass, if speaking, but we cannot hear them. But like I said earlier on journey. We can’t hear them, we see their symbols, but we don’t know what they are. We put our own interpretation on these symbols. Who knows, though they’re slightly detached from us in the sense, we have bits of place names, for example, Pict is a Pictish element, for example, people is another example of those mixed ones.  Pittenweem and other fabulous places like that. But they’re just there in the place names.


So that, you know, it’s, it’s like when you sort of come across really deep time things and you kind of wonder, I wonder what see the Iceman sounded like, you know, the chat will ell in the glacier. Just done. So I think I think I do need to finish here. And the questions are still coming in. But I think I’ll have to call it a day there, which shows out fantastic. It’s been. But thank you so much, for a wonderful talk. And such a learned thing. I’ve been told that we can, if you have any questions, we can pass them on to Donna to answer a later date. If you’re okay with that. They’re going to hang on all these? And I’m sure it’d be I’m sure it’s just opening up of a conversation Well, rather than closing it off, which is what a lot of these events are very like, Well, look, thank you so much. And big. Thank you, Donna, then for that. Thank you very much for the attendees, and all the people who put in questions, and even those who, who just looked there and enjoyed it. I know. It’s sometimes a rather strange experience doing this on Zoom, and we’re all getting used to it but more than we used to. But it’s, I think, a wonderful way of reaching out. And I’m particularly pleased to see all those folks who came from all out way beyond Scotland. So that was that was really, really quite really quite something. We do have more more Curious events coming up. And if you go to www.rse- curious.com. If you go to that www.rse-curious.com. There are more events, they’re still going on for the rest of at least the rest of this week. And that would be that’s do keep an eye out for some of those.