from lonelyplanet.com

Before we begin with today’s interesting name, I should carry out some belated housekeeping. Remember the Names of the Week feature that I pulled many months ago to revise? Well, what I failed to mention is that I’ve decided to end it indefinitely and instead just do name profiles of random names at least once a week.

Then I forgot to mention this to you all. Bah.

When you hear the name Orkney, you may well be thinking of the group of islands off the coast of Scotland. I certainly do, and indeed they were the inspiration for this post.

When it comes to place names, I usually sit on the fence. Of course, plenty of so-called place names were technically names to begin with, I’m thinking of Adelaide in wonderful Australia when I say this, as the city was indeed named for the consort of William IV.

The practice of naming places after people is centuries old, indeed our old friend Alexander the Great left behind a sea of cities named after him during his conquests. One of the more important one’s being Alexandria in Egypt, which remains to this day one of the largest cities in the country.

But back to Orkney, which unless there has been a major cover up, was not named after a person. The islands were inhabited by the Norwegians from the 9th to 15th century, when they were returned to the people of Scotland following a dowry dispute.

The Gaelic name for the islands is Insi Orc, which comes from Celtic and means piglet.

A medieval name for the islands was Orcadia, whilst the Roman era name for the islands was the Orcades. The name, again, most likely comes from Celtic origins and means young pig.

As for the name Orkney, we look to the Vikings for clues to it’s meaning. The second part of the name is relatively easy to guess at, coming from the Old Norse ey, which means island. As for the first part of the name, the Old Norse word orkn means seal.

So, there we have a rather quirky place name to consider.

Categories: Name Profile | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Orkney

  1. Pingback: Stroma & Swona « Mer de Noms

  2. It’s definitely quirky, but it reminds me of the Orcs in the LOTR! And the killer whale (Orcinus orca) – it’s Latin name means “whale belonging to the kingdom of the dead”.

    Now is it just me, or does it strike you as odd that the Celtic for pig, the Norse for seal, and the Latin for whale should all be so similar? Because all of them are known for having fatty (blubbery) meat, and (horribly) all of them have been eaten at various times and places. They have all featured heavily as mythological icons as well, as “sacred beasts”.

    No idea what this means, if anything, but it’s a strange coincidence. Even stranger, if you’ve hung around pigs a fair bit, the noise they make is very much like “Orkney, orkney”.


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