Place-names can be complicated in Gaelic translations. Gaelic names for prominent places such as Glasgow – Glaschu or Edinburgh – Dùn Èideann, are known by all Gaelic speakers as are key names in areas where Gaelic is or has recently been spoken as a community language. What is more difficult is the Gaelic forms of place-names where Gaelic was once spoken as a community language but hasn’t been for many centuries. For example, the South West of Scotland and Fife are full of names which Gaelic speakers can recognise as being derived from Gaelic but where the exact Gaelic form and meaning have been lost in the mists of time. There is often a lot of myth and legend around place-names so it is important that they are researched by place-name experts to make sure we get the correct forms. This is particularly the case given the welcome increase in the use of Gaelic on signage and of Gaelic translation.

Consequently, when Ayrshire Roads Alliance asked Global Connects to help with the translation of a number of signs in their region, we went to two of the most experienced individuals in this field – Eilidh Sgaimeal of Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (Gaelic Place Names of Scotland) and Dr Alastair MacCaluim (who, aside from his work in translation, is also Gaelic Development Officer at The Scottish Parliament).

Two of the place names began with “Pin” – Pinwherry and Pinmore. Our team told us that it seems certain that they reflect Gaelic peighinn ‘penny-land’, which is an old term for a piece of land that was worth a penny, viz,

Pinmore ~ A’ Pheighinn Mhòr – “the big penny-land”

Pinwherry ~ Peighinn a’ Choire – “the penny-land of the corrie”

The other two place names are Barrhill, which translates as Am Bàrr, and Colmonell, which is Cill Cholmain Eala.

Not all place-names in Scotland have been fully researched and allocated an official Gaelic version. This includes many names clearly originating in Gaelic (like the ones in this project). This is particularly the case for names in the south-west of Scotland which are mostly from Gaelic but where the language hasn’t been spoken for some time and where not many Gaelic initiatives have taken place.

If we had only needed to translate common place-names or ones covered in the national Gaelic place-names database, it would be a straightforward job. However, for place-names for signage and official uses that don’t appear in the database, it’s very important to go to a place-names expert rather than a translator to research the names them to ensure they are correct and consistent, which is why we went to Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba. They told us that not all of these – and others – have official forms in the national Gaelic place-names database. Our decision was supported by South Ayrshire Council’s Gaelic Plan, which states that it’s necessary to “ensure that interpretation and translation contractors comply with the latest Gaelic Orthographic Conventions and place names recommended by Ainmean-àite na h-Alba.” We believe that it’s this level of attention to detail that makes the difference between an average translation service and a great one. Getting it right takes time and effort, but it’s worth it!

Fiona Woodford, Head of Translation Services, Global Connects