Friday, November 16, 2007

Nomenclature in Flavian-era Scotland

I think I might actually have hit upon a scheme that works!

One of the challenges I was having was trying to fit a "type" of language to the Caledonian characters in my book, and thus a decent naming scheme to the characters. Of course, we don't know what the people of first century Scotland spoke, though it was likely a precursor to the later Pictish language. Pictish itself is a debatable subject, since it's all but lost to us. However, the two main theories seem to be this: either it was a P-Celtic language, related to Welsh and Breton, or it was an earlier, non-Indo-European dialect.

I've gone with the former theory for two reasons: a) it's easier for me to get names when I run out of ones to snaffle from the Pictish king list, and b) it's the one that makes more sense, to me anyway. We've got names like "Maelchon" and "Drustan" which appear to have comparable forms in the P-Celtic languages, like "Maelgwyn" and "Tristan", and our only actual first-century name - "Calgacus" - does seem to be Celtic under the Latinisation. So, now, most of my Caledonians have Welsh names where the king list fails to turn up results (in the case of female names, for example). I don't think the Picts really spoke Welsh, any more than they spoke Gaelic, but at least it gets across that these people are speaking some sort of P-Celtic tongue.

The exception to this is the Epidii tribe in Argyll. The reason for this is that I've depicted them as a sort of seed of the later kingdom of Dalriada, and they, along with a certain exiled prince, are part of a subplot which deals with Agricola's plans to invade Ireland. It was for this reason that I decided to make the Epidii a bit more "Irish" than the rest of the tribes, and the easiest way to show this was to give them all Irish names, or names based on Irish. This decision was originally made purely to suit the needs of the story, but it seems I might just have a leg to stand on here - archaeology suggests that Argyll has had strong links with Ireland since as far back as Neolithic times. That was good to find out, and it made my decision feel a lot less random than it did originally.

There! I've managed to organise my thoughts on the matter! I'm glad I'm back blogging - it has a very "Penseive effect". ;)


Jack Dixon said...

Hi, Kirsten. I read as much as I could find about the Picts and their language when I was doing research for The Pict, and in the end I could only come to the same conclusion you did: we really don’t know what their language was, or what it sounded like, and all we have is the King List (which doesn’t really offer pronunciations) and various surviving Pictish place-names. I ended up referring mostly to the name list here: (, and to the oldest Celtic names I could find. As you and I’ve discussed, that’s one of the challenges of writing about the Picts, as well as one of the advantages when it comes to imagination. In the end, everyone will understand that you’re left to name your characters in a way that will suit your story and that reflects your imagination of the Picts. I suspect that had they known, they would have been bemused and bewildered by our desire to know so much about them. In any event, I can’t wait to read what you’re writing about the Picts.

Crystal said...

I love reading your blog because you actually talk about INTERESTING things! I would LOVE to one day be able to travel to the UK just to learn about years past. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us;0)

Jack Dixon said...

She thinks she's boring, Crystal. She's either very modest or truly unaware of just how interesting she is.

I spent three days in Scotland, and it was exactly how I imagined it to be. Loch Lomond was surreal the day I was there. We Americans are not accustomed to structures so old that the stone steps are worn down two to three inches in the center from foot traffic. It's quite an experience for people whose oldest history is less than four hundred years old.

I agree with Crystal, Kirsten. Yours is one of my favorite blogs.

Kirsten Campbell said...

Crystal and Jack, that crash you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor.

Wow, I disappear for a few days and this is what I come back to find! Thank you both for your remarks! My reaction when I read them was, at first - "Wha...?", then *warm fuzzy feeling* I never really intended for anyone to read this. I can get pretty impassioned about this time period, and can get pretty carried away (I've noticed this happening in my Celtic tutorials lately!). I just needed a place to organise my thoughts, but I'm flattered that you can find something interesting in here. I'll try to keep it up!

Jack, I recognise that link - I've used that, too. As far as the Welsh names go, I found some old ones (eg, Elgued, Urien, Teilo) which I don't think would have looked too out of place on the king list. In the end, as you said, it all comes down to imagination, and the author's own interpretation.

As for travelling in Scotland - the sheer prevalence of history can, I think, be summed up best in Kilmartin Glen. I went there for a week in the summer (and again last month for a field trip!), and you've got the ancient and modern blending together almost seamlessly. There, you can look out of a cafe window and see cows milling about a Bronze Age burial cairn. The road even politely skirts the edge of the glen, well away from the monuments. Not to mention the house we were staying in was situated at the very foot of Dunadd itself! If either of you ever go/return to Scotland, make sure you go there! It's a mind-bending experience even for a Scottish person.

There - carried away again! Have I still not got your eyes glazing over??

Thanks again, both of you, and I hope to talk to you again soon! Now I really have to go, because I've got a Latin test tomorrow to cram for...

Crystal said...

Your personal discription of just that little place in Scotland is what I mean! The way you can discribe being somewhere makes it REAL. Does that make sense? One day I will go. Have you ever felt drawn to a place but never been? Felt that just the thought of it reaches all the way to your soul? When I think of the UK thats how I feel.

"It's quite an experience for people whose oldest history is less than four hundred years old."

Jacks words couldn't have summed it it better.

You got me hook, line and sinker on reading your blog!! I hope you tell more of the places you've been!

Kirsten Campbell said...

I know very well what you mean, Crystal. Every time I go to Argyll, whether we're just stopping on the road or staying, I get this incredible sense of homecoming. Must be the Campbell in me, lol!

I get a similar feeling on the island of Iona, and I felt like I knew Dunadd and Kilmartin long before I ever went. It's very odd, the way places can just call to a person. I've never been to Orkney, but every time I think about it...

I hope you do make it to the UK one day, especially Scotland. I'm not very patriotic, but it is a very interesting little corner of the world. And nice, too, if you catch it in the right weather. (heh!)

Donna said...

Yes, Scotland is my personal favorite. I could read about William Wallace all day as well! He had such passion and honor...

Crystal said...

Sorry Kirsten, Donna's post is really me posting...I was on my mom's computer and she has it set up to automatically sign her in...I keep forgetting to switch it over when I leave comments!

Kirsten Campbell said...

Oh dear, you just set off Calgacus-muse (heh!)

As for Wallace... I know he's the one everyone remembers, and yeah, it's a very tragic story, but he's never been one of my favourites. I think I just got sick of hearing about him, ruined it a bit. :(

I prefer Scottish history before it becomes Scotland. I'm just not patriotic enough to care about the wars of independence. I prefer it when it's: "We're the Picts who look like we're from Germany according to that one Roman guy, they're the Scots who are actually from Ireland, and they're the Britons who live in Strathclyde and who speak Cumbric - ANYONE ELSE CONFUSED HERE??"

Gotta love the Dark Ages! *wub*

But Black Agnes, that's a good story!