Etymology of Scotland

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The founders of Scotland of late medieval legend, Scota with Goídel Glas, voyaging from Egypt, as depicted in a 15th-century manuscript of the Scotichronicon of Walter Bower.

Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Alba [ˈal̪ˠapə]) is a country[1][2] that occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain and forms part of the United Kingdom.[1]

The name of Scotland is derived from the Latin Scoti, the term applied to Gaels. The origin of the word Scoti (or Scotti) is uncertain. Brian Boru famously referred to himself in an inscription in the Book of Armagh as a Scot. "Brian “Boru” MacCinneteig, Lion of Thomond, and Emperor of the Irish, was “the last great High King of Ireland” from 1002-1014; Famous for crushing the Viking oppression of Ireland in Limerick and Dublin, subduing those overbearing northern O’Neill kings, and unifying the regional kings into one great nation of peace and prosperity.... His inscription on the Book of Armagh enhanced his own legend: in conspectu Briain… Imperator Scottorum: In the presence of Brian… Emperor of the Irish."[3] This was in the early 10th Century.

The word "Scot" is found in Latin texts from the fourth century describing a tribe which sailed from Ireland to raid Roman Britain.[4] It came to be applied to all the Gaels. It is not believed that any Gaelic groups called themselves Scoti in ancient times, except when writing in Latin.[4] Oman derives it from Scuit, proposing a meaning of 'a man cut off', suggesting that a Scuit was not a Gael as such but one of a renagade band settled in the part of Ulster which became the kingdom of Dál Riata [5] but 'Scuit' only exists in Old Irish as 'buffoon/laughing-stock'[6] The 19th century author Aonghas MacCoinnich of Glasgow proposed that Scoti was derived from a Gaelic ethnonym (proposed by MacCoinnich) Sgaothaich from sgaoth "swarm", plus the derivational suffix -ach (plural -aich)[7] However, this proposal to date has not appeared in mainstream place-name studies.

The Late Latin word Scotia (land of the Scot(t)i), although initially used to refer to Ireland, by the 11th century at the latest was being used to refer to (Gaelic-speaking) Scotland north of the river Forth. Some of the earliest surviving documents to mention the word Scotland include versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from Abingdon, Worcester and Laud, written during the 11th Century, which state that prior to the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, Earl Tostig had sought refuge in Scotland under the protection of Malcolm III, King of Scots.[8][9] 'Scotland' was employed alongside Albania or Albany, from the Gaelic Alba.[10] The use of the words Scots and Scotland to encompass all of what is now Scotland became common only in the Late Middle Ages.[11]

In a modern political context, the word Scot is applied equally to all inhabitants of Scotland, regardless of their ancestral ethnicity. However, a 2006 study published by the University of Edinburgh suggest that segments of Scottish society continue to distinguish between those who claim to be Scots on ethnic grounds and those who claim to be Scots on the grounds of civic commitment.[12] "Scots" is also used to refer to the Scots language, which a large proportion of the Scottish population speak to a greater or lesser degree.[13]

The Scots- and Irish-Gaelic name for Scotland, Alba, derives from the same Celtic root as the name Albion, which properly designates the entire island of Great Britain but, by implication as used by foreigners, sometimes the country of England, Scotland's southern neighbour which covers the largest portion of the island of Britain. The term arguably derives from an early Indo-European word meaning 'white', generally held to refer to the cliffs of white chalk around the English town of Dover, ironically located at the furthest end of Great Britain from Scotland itself. Others take it to come from the same root as "the Alps", possibly being an ancient word for mountain and therefore related to the north end of Britain.

Caledonia is an old Latin name for Scotland, deriving from the Caledonii tribe. It is unknown what name the Caledonians used of themselves, though it was possibly based on a Brythonic word for "hard "or "tough" (represented by the modern Welsh caled).


  1. ^ a b "Countries within a country". 10 Downing Street. Retrieved 2007-09-10. The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  2. ^ "ISO 3166-2 Newsletter Date: 2007-11-28 No I-9. "Changes in the list of subdivision names and code elements" (Page 11)" (PDF). International Organisation for Standardisation codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions -- Part 2: Country subdivision codes. Retrieved 2008-05-31. SCT Scotland country
  3. ^ "Brian Boru Emperor of the Irish referred to himself as Emperor of the Scotti".
  4. ^ a b Online Etymology Dictionary: "Scot"
  5. ^ Sir Charles Oman: A History of England before the Norman Conquest
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ MacCoinnich, Aonghas Eachdraidh na h-Alba (Glasgow 1867)
  8. ^ Swanton, M. (2000) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. London. Phoenix Press. Quoted by Retrieved 14 October 2007.
  9. ^ "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles" Source: Garmonsway, G.N. (1994) The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Everyman. Retrieved 14 October 2007.
  10. ^ Ayto, John; Ian Crofton. Brewer's Britain & Ireland : The History, Culture, Folklore and Etymology of 7500 Places in These Islands. WN. ISBN 0-304-35385-X.
  11. ^ Keay, J. & Keay, J. (1994) Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland. London. HarperCollins.
  12. ^ Institute of Governance Identity Briefing "Who is Scottish? Political arguments, popular understandings and the implications for social inclusion. Briefing No. 14. January 2006" Retrieved 14 Oct 2007
  13. ^ " Initial Periodical report presented to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in Accordance with Article 15 of the Charter" Archived 2007-10-31 at the Wayback Machine. (pdf) European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. (01/07/2002). Part 1, Section 3 states "However, surveys have indicated that 30% of respondents said they could speak Scots; a large proportion of the Scottish population speak Scots to a greater or lesser degree. Scots is on a linguistic continuum with English. Many Scots literally switch between English and Scots in mid-sentence by using Scots words and Scottish grammar". Retrieved on 26 September 2007. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 31, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

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