This paper was the culmination of research and fieldwork undertaken for my PhD ‘Breaking old and new ground: a comparative study of coastal and inland naming in Berwickshire’ at Glasgow University and for the Masters in Landscape Architecture programme at Edinburgh University. It gives a brief overview of some ways water might influence perceptions of topographical features, and in turn the naming of these features. ‘coastal’ is heredefined as features partially or wholly surrounded by seawater. ‘ND, App. No.’ refers to the North Durham charters, as catalogued by James Raine in 1852, now part of the collection known as ‘Durham Cathedral Muniments: Miscellaneous Charters’, held by Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Common generic elements and water

Rock is found in 29 names in my PhD research area and these are all coastal; examples include Nameless Rock and Redshanks Rock. Further south and outwith the region of my PhD is Ale Kip Rock, which is located inland on the bank of the River Ale. Although it is inland, it is next to water. Ale Kip Rock is first recorded in c.1203 as Alnekip, and this is the earliest recording of kip in the study area. The generic element kip is found in both inland and coastal names. The Scottish National Dictionary gives the definition for kip as ‘a jutting or projecting point on a hill’ (SND s.v. kip n.1) but the study area has a slightly different type of feature named kip. Ale Kip Rock is a large rock on the bank of the Ale River. Approximately 120m downstream is Kip Rock, another large rock on the riverbank, of which there is no record earlier than the six-inch first edition Ordnance Survey map (1856). The other kips are on the coast are large standalone rocks: Kip Carle, a second Kip Rock, Leader Kip, and Linkum Kip. Notably, kip is followed by rock in three of these five names. Adjectival kippid is also recorded in ND, App. No. 256 (1229×1234) in Kippidlawe, a lost place-name. The kip is Kip Rock, and the law is an inland feature near the coast recorded as Red Kip in Plan of lands of Northfield including St Abbs Head (1782, RHP43284). The more recent name, Red Kip, shows kip moving from first element to second element. These kips are not projecting points on a hill but they are rocks jutting out of the coastal landscape next to the farmed land.

Carr pertains to a ‘rock ledge, projecting rock’ (PNF 5 El. Gloss. s.v. carr 322), and most likely entered Old English from Brittonic (Parsons and Styles, 2004: 143). It is the second most common generic for off-coast features in the research area, with 20 recorded instances. Rock is used inland, however, while carr is not, so the terms are not interchangeable. Off-coast rock clusters are often found referred to as carrs, such as Big Black Carrs and Little Black Carrs.

Narrative and water

The etymologies and descriptions given in the Ordnance Survey Name Books (OSNB) provide an insight into how these names were perceived and systematized in the nineteenth century. Many of the descriptions given are folk etymologies which can be used alongside philological analysis to develop an understanding of the motivations for coastal naming, and their interpretation and reinterpretation. In turn, the interpretations of names can illuminate how categories have developed, and how these categories inform and interact with one another.

Twenty four coastal names include animal terms; these names are a combination of literal and metaphorical. This discussion focuses on the metaphorical names. There are a few bird names used metaphorically, including the goose. Goose Craves is an off coast rock, and the name probably refers to the hut geese are kept in. Geese are usually found on the farmyard or fields, not at sea, but it is also possible that the solan goose, or gannet, is the bird behind this toponym. The Rooks and The Little Rooks, again off-coast rocks, are likely to be metaphorical. The OSNB description for The Rooks records ‘Two small rocks visible at low water, having the appearance of birds of that name.’ (OS1-5-9.6).’ If this were the etymology it would be a metaphorical name. A second possibility in which the name is metaphorical is rook, dialectal English variant of ruck meaning ‘a small temporary stack of hay erected in the field to allow the hay to dry’ (SND s.v. ruck n.1). These rocks could easily resemble small hay stacks in a field, a metaphorical transfer seen in other rocks along this coastline. A third possibility is that these small dark eroded sea stacks have the appearance of chess pieces. There is also the literal interpretation rok meaning ‘a rocky eminence or an insulated sea rock’ (DOST s.v. rok n.2). If this were the origin, it would be neither metaphorical, nor an animal place-name. However, even with this possible etymology, it has been interpreted as a metaphorical bird name, shown in the OSNB for The Rooks, and this interpretation has been furthered in the derived name The Little Rooks:

This name applies to about a dozen of detached rocks, visible at low water. They are invisible when the tide is full. “Rook ” The sound emitted by the Raven. It is probable that the sound of the water when dashing against these Rocks might bear a similarity to that of the sound of the Raven; and from which the name may have been derived. (OS1-5-9.15)

Perhaps then there are multiple motivations over time.

Tods Loup and Tods Rocks are two of the tod names along this coastline; tod refers to a fox. Descriptions for these names are given in the OSNB as respectively ‘a large rock where foxes have been seen to leap’ (OS1-5-9.7) and ‘A large rock. Foxes used to lie on its summit, hence the name’ (OS1-5-9.8). The hound is often imagined as the hunter of the fox. It is found in Mahound Rock:

A half tide rock out from Shilments Beach visible at lo[w] water, according to tradition, a fox hotly pressed by the hound[s] took to the water and made for t[he] rock. One of the hounds followed and was drowned – the huntsma[n] perceiving exclaimed, My hound hence the name. (OS1-5-9.30)

The OSNB description reinforces this traditional narrative, although the name perhaps derives from the common corruption of Mahomet (DOST s.v. Ma(c)homet(e, -eit, -yte). Hounds are also recorded in inland Berwickshire names, but like other creatures, in a literal sense. Houndwood is an example of this.

Black Bull and Red Ox both resemble bovines in shape, with high withers sloping down to low haunches. The colours are due to the type of rocks: the former is Silurian Greywackes and the latter Red Sandstone. Shore Goats derives from Scots gote ‘narrow inlet’, but it appears to have spurred on a dynamic naming process after which other names followed. Gote altered to goat due to folk-etymological development. Shore Goats is 2.5km from Red Ox, and 5km from Black Bull. It appears that Shore Goats was named not due to its shape, but due to analogical reformation and its position. The initial naming of Shore Goats was stimulated by the geological formation, the name appears to have become part of the semantic category of animal names which then prompted further animal names. This feature is also near to Tod’s Holes, Hawk’s Heugh and Horse Road Rock. Although some of these toponyms are literal and some metaphorical, together they create a landscape filled with creatures. The literal names, such as Hawk’s Heugh, do not necessarily guarantee sighting of a bird of prey. Instead the name is part of the onomastic category alongside meta-phorical names albeit with a different reason behind the initial naming. Another point to note in the comparison between literal and metaphorical naming is the positioning of these in relation to one another. Hawk’s Heugh and Earns Heugh overlook the shore and the metaphorical Shore Goats, Red Ox and Black Bull graze on the coast line below. These named relief features are, perhaps partly by coincidence and partly by design, positioned in a way we perceive the animal kingdom, with birds in the sky and other animals on the ground.

Ship Rock

This stretch of coastline, strewn with smaller features, has a metaphorical coherency and a narrative. However, it is not that simple and other metaphors are in the mix. Ship Rock is so named because this feature has the appearance of a ship when viewed looking down the coast towards St Abbs harbour. The earliest record of this name is Shipesburh (ND, App. No. 264, c.1203).

The ‘Dragon’s Teeth’, Cramond

In the Firth of Forth, a story attached to Inchmickery is that the World War One army fortifications built on it were made to look like a warship so that any German boats coming up the Firth of Forth would think it was coming into contact with a British craft. It only looks like a warship from the shore so this is unlikely to be true. While this story has not created a toponym, it has become part of the wider narrative of coastal boat-like features, fitting in with the growing history of the surrounding landscape. Near to Inchmickery, towards the Midlothian coast, lies the tidal Cramond Island. It is linked to the mainland by a causeway and the remnants of watercraft barriers created in World War Two. These barriers are now known as the Dragon’s Teeth and add another facet to the dynamic process of naming and narrative the twentieth century brought to the coastline.

Abbreviations and references

DOST – Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (2002). Dictionary of the Scots Language.

Available from: <> [Accessed: 10/03/2017]

ND, App. No. – ‘Durham Cathedral Muniments: Miscellaneous Charters’, 1093 – 19th century, Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch to the Mile Maps of Scotland, 1st edition, 1843-1882. National Library of Scotland. Available from: <> [Accessed 10/03/2017].

OSNB – Ordnance Survey Name Books: Berwickshire (1856-58), Book No. 9. Available from: <>

[Accessed 10/03/2017].

Parsons, D.N. and Styles, T. (eds.) (2004) The Vocabulary of English Place-Names

(BRACE-CÆSTER). Nottingham: Centre for English Name Studies.

PNF 5 El. Gloss. – Taylor, S., with Márkus, G. (2006-2012) The Place-Names of Fife: volume five – Elements Glossary. Donington: Shaun Tyas.

RHP43284 – ‘Plan of lands of Northfield including St Abbs Head, the property of Lord Kames, with contents list’, 1782. Register House Plans, National Records of Scotland.

SND – Scottish National Dictionary (1976). Dictionary of the Scots Language. Available from: <> [Accessed: 10/03/2017]

Leonie Dunlop (from her talk at Galashiels)