Aber and Inver (placename elements)

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Aber and Inver are common elements in place-names of Celtic origin. Both mean "confluence of waters" or "river mouth". Their distribution reflects the geographical influence of the Brittonic and Goidelic languages, respectively.

Aber[edit]

Aber goes back to Common Brittonic. In Old Welsh it has the form Oper and is derived from an assumed *od-ber, meaning 'pouring away'. It is found in Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

Place names with aber are very common in Wales. They are also common on the east coast of Scotland, where they are assumed to be of Pictish origin. They are found to a lesser extent in Cornwall and other parts of England and Brittany. It may be that the relative dearth in Cornwall is simply a result of there being fewer rivers on a peninsula.

In Anglicised forms, aber is often contracted: Arbroath (formerly "Aberbrothick") for Aber Brothaig, Abriachan for Aber Briachan. In the case of Applecross (first attested as Aporcrosan), it has been transformed by a folk etymology. (Its Scottish Gaelic name, a' Chomraich, has lost the "Aber-" element altogether[1])

"Aber" is rendered into Scottish Gaelic as Oba(i)r,[2] e.g. Obar Dheadhain "Aberdeen", Obar Pheallaidh "Aberfeldy", and Obar Phuill "Aberfoyle."

The Welsh names Fishguard (Abergwaun), Brecon (Aberhonddu), Cardigan (Aberteifi), Milford Haven (Aberdaugleddau), Mountain Ash (Aberpennar) and Swansea (Abertawe) all contain Aber- in their Welsh language equivalent.

Inver[edit]

Inver is the Goidelic or q-Celtic form, an Anglicised spelling of Scottish Gaelic inbhir (originally pronounced with /v/, though in modern Gaelic it has shifted to /j/), which occurs in Irish as innbhear or inbhear, going back to Old Irish indber, inbir, inber. This is derived from the PIE root *bher-, 'carry' (English bear, Latin fero) with the prefix in-, 'into'. The word also occurs in Manx in the form Inver [3]

Place-names with inver are very common throughout Scotland, where they outnumber aber-names by about 3:1. They are most common throughout the Western Highlands and the Grampians such as Inverness. It is usually assumed that in many cases, places which originally had a name with aber experienced a substitution, and occasionally this can be verified from historical records. This must be seen in the context of the Gaelic settlement of Scotland from Ireland in the early Middle Ages.

Place-names with inver are, however, oddly seldom in Ireland, given that the form is originally Irish; Ireland tends instead to have names with béal ('mouth') in such locations, as Béal Átha na Sluaighe (Ballinasloe, Co. Galway), Béal an Átha an Fheá (Ballina, Co. Mayo) or Béal Feirste (Belfast). The difference in usage may be explained by the fact that Gaelic names in Ireland are typically a thousand years older than those in Scotland, and hence the prevailing fashion could have been different.

In Anglicised forms, inver occasionally appears as inner: such as Innerleithen. Innerhaddon is also variant of Inverhaddon.

In some cases, an "Inver" has been lost, e.g. Ayr (Inbhir Air), which was recorded as "Inberair", and Ayre (Inver Ayre) in the Isle of Man.

Occasionally, the English name forms are entirely unrelated: Dingwall (Inbhir Pheofharan) Scotland and Arklow (An tInbhear Mór) in Ireland both have "Inbhir-" in their Gaelic forms.

Syntax[edit]

Because Celtic languages place the generic element of a compound (what kind of thing it is) before the specific element (which one it is), the elements aber and inver normally appear at the beginning of a place name, the opposite of the English (Germanic) pattern. Contrast:

  • Inver-ness (mouth of the river Ness)
  • Eye-mouth (mouth of the river Eye)

This explains why Celtic placenames are often stressed on (the first syllable of) the last element (Inverness, Aberystwyth), whereas English placenames seldom are.

A variation occurs when the confluence itself is made the specific element. The names Lochaber and Lochinver both mean 'lake of the confluence'. Here, exceptionally, the elements aber and inver answer the question which loch, and so are placed second. This is reflected perfectly regularly in the stress patterns: Lochaber, Lochinver. Similarly, Cuan Inbhir on Clear Island, Co. Cork, means the "harbour of confluence".

Use in British colonies[edit]

Place names from the British isles were frequently exported to the colonies which became the British Empire, often without any thought being given to etymology. Thus there are many examples in the United States and in Commonwealth countries of places with names in Aber- or Inver- which are not located at a confluence. In Gaelic-speaking Nova Scotia, however, the element Inbhir- seems to have been productive in its original sense.

Invercargill in the South Island of New Zealand is a special case. It was first named Inverkelly in honour of an early settler called Kelly, and was then renamed in honour of Captain William Cargill, who was at the time the Superintendent of Otago, of which Southland was then a part. Since the city was indeed built at the mouth of the Waihopai River, the Inver- element was apparently chosen consciously.[3]

List of place-names with Aber and Inver[edit]

In Wales[edit]

Aberaeron, Aberaman, Aberangell, Aberarth, Aberon, Aberbanc, Aberbargoed, Aberbeeg, Abercanaid, Abercarn, Abercastle, Abercegir, Abercraf, Abercregan, Abercych, Abercynon, Aberdare, Aberdaron, Aberdaugleddau (Milford Haven), Aberdulais, Aberdyfi, Aberedw, Abereiddy, Abererch, Aberfan, Aberffraw, Aberffrwd, Ceredigion, Aberffrwd, Monmouthshire, Abergavenny, Abergele, Abergorlech, Abergwaun (Fishguard), Aberkenfig, Abergwesyn, Abergwili, Abergwynfi, Abergwyngregyn, Abergynolwyn, Aberhafesp, Aberhonddu (Brecon), Aberllefenni, Abermaw (Barmouth), Abermorddu, Abermule, Abernant, Carmarthenshire, Abernant, Powys, Abernant, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Aberpennar (Mountain Ash), Aberporth, Aberriw (Berriew), Abersoch, Abersychan, Abertawe (Swansea), Aberteifi (Cardigan - town), Abertillery, Aberthin, Abertillery, Abertridwr, Caerphilly, Abertridwr, Powys, Aberystwyth, Llanaber

In Ireland[edit]

An tInbhear Mór (Arklow, Co. Wicklow), Inbhear (Inver, Co. Donegal), Inbhear nOllarbha (Larne Lough, Co. Antrim), Inbhear Scéine the traditional name for Kenmare Bay, Co. Kerry

In Scotland[edit]

Aberarder, Aberargie, Aberbothrie, Abercairney, Aberchalder, Aberchirder, Abercorn, Abercrombie, Aberdalgie, Aberdeen, Aberdour, Aberfeldy, Aberfoyle, Abergairn, Abergeldie, Aberlady, Aberlednock, Aberlemno, Aberlour, Abermilk, Abernethy, Aberscross, Abersky, Abertarff, Abertay, Aberuchill, Aberuthven, Abriachan, Applecross, Arbirlot, Arboll, Arbuthnott, Arbroath (historically Aberbrothick - Obar Bhrothaig), Fochabers, Kinnaber, Lochaber, Obar Neithich (Nethybridge), Slongaber

Achininver, Inbhir Air (Ayr formerly "Inberair" etc.), Inbhir Bhrùra (Brora), Inbhir Chalain (Kalemouth), Inbhir Eireann (Findhorn), Inbhir Eighe (Eyemouth), Inbhir Ghrainnse (Grangemouth), Inbhir Nàrann (Nairn), Inbhir Pheofharain (Dingwall), Inbhir Theòrsa, Inbhir Ùige (Wick), Innerleithen, Innerleven, Innerwick (in Perth and Kinross), Inver, Inverarnan, Inverallan, Inveraldie, Inveralmond Inveramsay, Inveran, Inveraray, Inverbervie, Inverclyde, Inveresk, Inverfarigaig, Invergarry, Invergordon, Invergowrie, Inverhaddon (or Innerhaddon), Inverkeilor, Inverkeithing, Inverkeithney, Inverkip, Inverleith, Inverlochlarig, Invermoriston, Inverness, Inveroran, Invershin, Inversnaid, Invertrossachs, Inverugie, Inverurie, Kilninver, Lochinver, Rossinver

Notes - "Bail' Inbhir Fharrair",([4] is an uncommon name for Beauly, usually "A' Mhanachain"); Fort William was formerly known as Inverlochy, and a small district nearby is still referred to as such. Inbhir Ghrainnse and Inbhir Eighe may be of modern origin.

In Brittany[edit]

Aber Benoît, Aber Ildut, Aber Wrac'h

In England[edit]

Aberfal (Falmouth, Cornwall), Aberford (West Yorkshire), Aberplymm (Plymouth, Devon).

Isle of Man[edit]

Inver Ayre (Ayre)

Canada[edit]

Italicised names denote usage in Canadian Gaelic. Baile Inbhir Nis (Inverness, NS), Siorramachd Inbhir Nis (Inverness County, NS), Inbhir-pheofharain (Dingwall, NS), Loch Abar (Lochaber, NS), Inverhuron, ON

New Zealand[edit]

Invercargill

Sources[edit]

  • David Dorward, Scotland's Place Names, Mercat Press, Edinburgh, 2001.
  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ "Te Ara". Te Ara online. Te Ara. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  • Reed, A.W. (2002) The Reed dictionary of New Zealand place names. Auckland: Reed Books. ISBN 0-790-00761-4.

See also[edit]