07 January, 2010

Pictish female names

The king-lists in the Pictish Chronicle provide quite a few Pictish male names, such as Alpin/Elpin, Drust, Talorc(an), Cinad, Bridei/Brude and Nechtan. Unfortunately, there is no comparable source for Pictish female names. Very few Pictish women are recorded in surviving documentary sources. Given that the Picts practiced a form of matrilineal succession according to contemporary writers such as Bede (see article on Pictish matriliny), it seems surprising that so few royal female names were recorded. Can we infer anything useful about the likely form of Pictish female names?


Symbol stones

Pictish symbol stones are found in Scotland, mainly north of the Forth and Clyde, and are generally dated to the period of the 6th to 9th centuries AD. The frequency distribution of the common symbols is a fair match for the frequency distribution for the Pictish names recorded in the Pictish king lists, which is consistent with the theory that the symbols may represent names (Cummins 1995). Ross Sansom (1995) has suggested that a specific symbol, a stylised comb and mirror, may indicate that the person named on the stone was a woman. If true, this may shed some light on Pictish female names.

If a special comb and mirror symbol was needed to indicate the sex of a person named on a symbol stone, this implies that the symbols themselves did not convey this information. In other words, if the symbols represent names, either these names could be borne by either sex (i.e. there were not specifically ‘male’ and ‘female’ names), or male and female names were sufficiently similar that they could be represented by the same symbol, perhaps differentiated by adding a male or female ending.

A system of differentiating male and female names by means of a specific ending is familiar from Latin, where the ending –us indicates a male name and –a indicates a female name, e.g. Julius / Julia, Claudius / Claudia. If Pictish names followed a similar pattern, the main symbol would represent the masculine form of the name (e.g. Julius, in the analogy with Latin) and the comb and mirror symbol the element required to turn it into the feminine form (something like –ia or -a, in the Latin analogy).

Annals of Ulster

The Annals of Ulster mention one Pictish royal lady by name, a Pictish princess who died in the late eighth century:

778. Eithne, daughter of Cinad, dies
--Annals of Ulster

The death of Cinad, king of the Picts, is recorded in the Annals of Ulster in 775.

Eithne is, however, an Irish or Gaelic name. This may indicate that the Picts routinely used Irish names for girls, which would be consistent with the colourful origin legend of the first Picts having obtained wives from Ireland (see article on Pictish matriliny for the legend). If the Pictish language (about which little is known) contained a sizeable component of Irish Gaelic, Irish names may have fitted readily into Pictish culture. However, this possibility is not easy to reconcile with the suggestion from the symbol stones that female names were the same as male names, differentiated by a specific feminine name element or ending.

Another possible explanation is that Eithne may be exceptional in having an Irish name, perhaps indicating that this particular Eithne had important Irish ancestry or other connections that the family wished to signal when choosing her name. This would be consistent with her presence in the Annals of Ulster, as strong Irish connections could explain why the Ulster annalist(s) thought it worth recording her death. Unfortunately, with a sample of one it is pretty well impossible to tell whether it represents an exceptional or typical situation.


So, did female Picts use Irish names, like Eithne daughter of Cinad, or did they use the same names as male Picts (such as those recorded in the king-lists), perhaps with a specific element to indicate the feminine form, or indeed something else altogether? I don’t think the available evidence is sufficient to be able to say. The meaning of the symbols on the symbol stones is unknown, and the comb and mirror symbol might convey some other meaning that has nothing to do with gender. Indeed, the symbol stones may not be personal memorials at all. As for Eithne daughter of Cinad in the Annals of Ulster, we know her name but arguing from the particular to the general is perilous at the best of times and doubly so on the basis of a small sample.

For what it is worth, I think it is fair to say that high-ranking Pictish ladies could have Irish names, since Eithne daughter of Cinad did; and that the symbol stones can be interpreted in a way that is consistent with Pictish female names being the same as or similar to Pictish male names. These are not mutually exclusive, of course, since there is no reason to assume that Pictish female names were all of the same type. Name choices could have varied according to region, family, prevailing fashion at the time or simple personal preference.


Annals of Ulster, available online

Cummins WA. The Age of the Picts. Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1995, ISBN 0-7509-0924-2.

Sansom R. Power to the Pictish ladies. British Archaeology 1995, available online


Meghan said...

How interesting, and yes it does seem possible to have an Irish name. Any idea how to properly pronounce Eithne? (Ee-th-nay?) (eye-thne?)

Doug said...

I have read something to the effect that the Picts and the Irish/Scots had some names in common, although using variant (dialectal?) spellings; Ciniod = Kenneth, Onuist = Angus, Mailcon = Malcolm, and probably others obvious only to a Gaelic speaker. A Pict named Eithne would be more of the same, and it is unfortunate that we do not have a good sample to be able to see how common this was in females. My feeling, based on these Pictish - Irish links, would be that since the Irish do not generally make female names by modifying male ones, neither would the Picts.

Jack Dixon said...

This is an excellent article, Carla, and a nice examination of the subject. I struggled with names in my own story precisely because of the dearth of good information or evidence. I chose Irish or Irish-sounding female names, first because there are so few examples of feminine Pictish names, and second because I embraced the origin myth that included intermarriage with the Irish (Scoti) tribes.

I enjoyed this post very much. Thanks!

Jack Dixon

tenthmedieval said...

Thoughtful as ever, and I'd add only two comments rather than any kind of answer: firstly, that the idea that the comb-and-mirror combo might be a gender token is much older than Sansom's paper, I think it goes back to Charles Thomas. It runs into obvious difficulties with gender assumptions especially since similar physical assemblages in Anglo-Saxon graves have now often proved to be deposited with a skeleton of the 'wrong' sex. The assumption that personal grooming equipment arch├Žologically means femininity is therefore under attack.

The other thing is about Eithne's Irish name. I don't know how it plays into this but as you've probably noticed the AU uses an Irish term for the Picts themselves, Cruithne (possibly with an accent, my sense of the Gaelic is extremely weak). Also, of course, what Pictish writing we have is also in an Irish script, Ogam. There is therefore a slowly developing idea that Pictish written language might have been Gaelic, effectively, and that Pictish was almost entirely oral. At that rate, there might be parallel Irish forms of most Pictish names and this one might not tell you much about what people called her in Pictish. Sorry! (I wonder where I came across this idea. The trouble is that I get most of my updates in this field by word of mouth now. If it's important I could e-mail someone to ask for more.)

Bernita said...

"it seems surprising that so few royal female names were recorded."
It does indeed. How frustrating!

Carla said...

Meghan - Something like Enya, I believe, like the singer (Google for her, I think her name is Eithne in its Irish spelling)

Doug - Yes, I've read something along those lines too. The more similar the Pictish language was to Gaelic, the more likely it would seem that names and naming conventions would also be shared; conversely, if one takes the view that Pictish was a non-Gaelic language (and even a non-IE language at the extreme of this view), then the names might well behave differently. Annoyingly, the sample is so small (even with the names in the king lists) that it's hard to draw a firm conclusion. It's possible that different fashions prevailed with regard to male and female names too; after all, nowadays you are far more likely to meet a Julia or Claudia than you are a Julius or Claudius.

Jack - many thanks! Your solution sounds very reasonable, and is also completely consistent with the one piece of solid evidence, i.e. Eithne's name.

Tenthmedieval - Sansom's article was easy to link to :-) Agreed, combs are very commonly found in Anglo-Saxon male graves (i.e. identified as male because of objects like weapons etc), so personal grooming appears to have been important to both sexes in that society. Pictish society might have differed from Old English, I suppose, or the symbol might have simply lost its meaning and become an abstract symbol for female by the time of the symbol stones. I don't suppose many people now automatically associate the 'Ladies' symbol with Venus' hand mirror.

I mentioned the Irish name for the Picts in Irish sources in an earlier post, Picts (or Cruithne or Albans): what's in a name?. If Irish chroniclers used Irish-language names for the Picts as a whole, it would be consistent if they also Irish-ised (Gaelicised?) personal names, even if only to make them easier to recognise. So Eithne could well have been called something different, perhaps very different, by someone speaking Pictish. If the Picts used Irish Gaelic for writing and Pictish for speaking, having a Pictish name and an Irish name might have been so commonplace that no-one thought twice about it at the time.
Isn't this fun? :-)

Bernita - par for the course for early medieval Britain, I'm afraid. So inconsiderate of people not to keep better records :-)

Doug said...

What an informative site! The name "Eithne" appears fairly often on radio and has always been pronounced "Eth-ni", which I was happy to go along with, but it's actually pronounced "Enya" and that is why the singer calls herself that, because then foreigners could pronounce it correctly! I wish I was more familiar with Gaelic, lists of Irish cabinet members show the most obscure-looking names, which turn out to be such as "Frank" . . .

Carla said...

Doug - now you mention it, I think I remember seeing an interview with Enya where she gave that explanation for her choice of spelling. It makes perfect sense, and luckily the phonetic spelling still looks attractive. I came across a novel once that had spelled the Irish name 'Aoife' phonetically as 'Eefay' thoughout, and while I can see the logic (and appreciate the author making it easy for non-Gaelic-speaking readers), I did feel that some of the romance of the original spelling had gone.

I can make a halfway reasonable attempt at most (not all!) Scottish Gaelic hill names, but that's about my limit, alas. I remember a line from a radio comedy once in which a character was presented with his name written out in Irish and responded, "There must be something wrong with your typewriter"

Rick said...

I don't suppose many people now automatically associate the 'Ladies' symbol with Venus' hand mirror.

More evidence that I am a geek. But Venus/Mars has taken pretty firm root in the pop culture, even if people don't know the planetary symbols.

But even if the comb and mirror on Pictish symbol stones did mean 'female,' this needn't mean that women's names were not distinguishable by gender.

The mark might have indicated legal or religious status, and the legal/priestly mind is not troubled by redundancy. The Picts presumably didn't need a special mark for 'heiress,' but they might have a special symbol for a female head of a household.

Or maybe they just couldn't make heads or tails of Irish names. They are somewhat in favor currently, bringing the problem of Gaelic spelling rules that are not a bit like English.

Carla said...

Rick - Good point about redundancy. So your suggestion is that the comb and mirror perhaps meant something roughly equivalent to 'Lady', indicating a female head of household, and the combination of comb-mirror and a name symbol (if the other symbols represent names) might be approximately equivalent to 'Lady Jane', have I understood that correctly? 'Jane' is a gendered name, but that doesn't stop the title being gendered as well. Interesting to speculate as to why there doesn't seem to be an equivalent symbol for 'Lord' to indicate a male head of household. That could be consistent with the idea that the comb and mirror indicated status (of some sort) alone and had nothing to do with gender, which seems to me perfectly possible, rather like Cummins' theory that it was roughly equivalent to the 'Here Lies' that he says appears on a similar proportion of Welsh symbol stones. How very remiss of the symbol stone carvers not to have left a translation list somewhere :-)

Rick said...

Something like 'lady' is what I had in mind. As to why no equivalent 'lord' mark, it could be an unmarked default - as, for example, if symbol stones marked a claim that might have to be defended.

On the other hand, as you say, the comb and mirror may have no gender connection at all. I could easily imagine long hair as having religious significance, and the symbol marking a religious status.

Rosko said...

Carla has summed up a lot of the main difficukties here, quite succinctly. I think the main points to remember, based on the two edinburgh uni early scottish history textbooks i've read recently, are ....
1) that Pictish is basically a non-literate language - the main use for literacy at this time/region was connected to religion and associated secular laws and this was enacted in Latin (possibly Irish Gaelic sometimes) by Irish trained priests in Pictland, with their main monastic bases in centres established by students of [St.] Columban sanctuaries e.g. Iona.
2) We know that Picts at one time lived in ayrshire (the South-West) from stone work, but that later on the main non-viking/angle areas south of Glasgow/Clyde Valley were part of a Kingdom of Strathclyde which definately spoke a version of Old Welsh, so it is highly likely that Pictish language and names start from a Brythonic base of a dialect of Old Welsh, then absorbed Irish influences on top of that.

So basically, I would say that the only solution I would be satisfied to attempt at the moment is to look at Brythonic/ Old Welsh type names, particularly of the 'Cumbrian' variety used in Strathclyde, then try to make an educated guess at how these names might have been mangled as a northern dialect and possibly gaelicised to some degree as contact with the Irish increased. I don't see the point in starting from the point of an Irish name, as beautiful/romantic as those names may sound.

Carla said...

Rosko - Hello and welcome. It's fair to say that no sample of written Pictish that we can read has survived, although as we still can't decipher the symbol stones satisfactorily we can't say whether the symbols, and/or the ogham inscriptions that also haven't been deciphered, represent a form of written Pictish, perhaps a limited sub-set of the language used for particular purposes. We probably need a bilingual inscription (equivalent to a Pictish Rosetta Stone) to turn up before we can do much to decipher the symbol stones. I'm not holding my breath on that one :-)

Material culture such as stonework can co-exist with different languages and/or cultures, so a certain amount of caution is in order when extrapolating from one to another. A Pictish-style sculpture in Ayrshire tells us that someone in Ayrshire carved a Pictish-style stone sculpture, but not necessarily that the person or people who did it considered themselves Picts or spoke a Pictish language. Also 'Picts' is something of an umbrella term used to apply to more than one group, e.g. Bede refers to two distinct groups, and material culture varies by region (see Jonathan Jarrett's post 'Pictland should be plural'), so there may have been regional variations.

The presence of clearly Brittonic (P-Celtic) place name elements like Aber- in the areas traditionally considered Pictish is reasonable evidence that there was at least a component of P-Celtic in the Pictish language, though it was evidently distinct enough from Brittonic for Bede to call it a separate language. That could be consistent with Brittonic or Brittonic-derived names. Conversely, the one name we actually have is Irish, so that could equally be consistent with Irish or Irish-derived names, which would also be consistent with the origin legend. As so often, these are not mutually exclusive; there seems to be no reason why Picts could not have used a mixture of Irish, Brittonic or other names, perhaps with fashions varying by region and/or over time, or even for people to have parallel names in both languages, as tenthmedieval suggests above.

Rosko said...

I think the key point you've made there is over time. I think the timing is critical to how much Irish influences had entered into the popular conciousness of people living North of Argyle and East of Rannoch. I don't believe there is evidence that the Picts existed as a standard type of 'nation' really (e.g. their high kings are recorded by early foreign historians, but then regional leaders/kings are also mentioned at certain times and the high kings are not always based in the same place geographically, and different king lists disagree on reign lengths and successions - differing accounts and opinions), so I wasn't saying that Ayrshire was a lost part of their 'nation', just to clarify. I was basically saying that there was at one point an artistic and symbolic culture that was very consistantly replicated in more Southernly areas (some symbols are identical)- in addition to this, there is no real mention of some titanic struggle to take strathclyde away from the northern peoples labelled 'Picts', i.e. I think that Strathclyde probably just slowly moved away from the more Northern territories over time and thereby became a distinct entity and dialect (with it's own recorded kings), but to say that Ayrshire was part of a Pictish nation doesn't really make much more sense than saying that Pictland was a Cumbrian nation once (the early bishops of Glasgow called his congregation 'Cumbrians' because of their language and family links to earlier west coast britons, p-celtic speakers). I simply think that these two neighbouring cultures are historically, artistically and religiously linked in the early post-Roman era - not the same, just linked - and therefore their languages are far more likely to be associated with one another, than with Q-Celtic Irish language (the language usually communicated in ogham and used by Columba, who of course needed a translator with him when visiting Bredei in the Moray Firth as late as the 570s, long after the Irish had established eastern Dal Riata in Argyle). Even if an ogham rosetta could be discovered, they would still have to try and translate the text back into oral pictish, difficult unless it is accepted that the way to understand it is via p-celtic patterns.

I think that this is critical to understanding what Scotland or Alba is - the coming together of two peoples, two languages, due to the embracing nature of Columban Christianity and the threat of Viking invasion which had already transformed coastal Ireland, the Scottish headland and various islands. Perhaps this is why England remained so bitterly divided for so long, and vulnerable to sustained regional invasion/occupation - because they didn't initially have a hill of belief to bring them together and the geography was obviously much larger too, coupled with the fact that the majority of the population was increasingly non-celtic, leading to a degree of repression of the intitial 'idigenous' culture, seemingly tied in with the eventual rejection of Columban Christianity, including by the religious group Bede belonged to. That's not to say that Alba was founded by hippies dancing round a hill holding hands (there were constant tribal disputes), but I think there is a very different type of machiavellian nation building going on in the Northumbrian areas you've written about in your novel.

Rosko said...

'Pictish' culture, to me, is just what it sounds like - a culture of pictures, not easily comprehendible to others, hence the simplistic label (Whether that be stone art, carvings, tatoos, textiles, metal work etc). To me, calling someone a Pict, is like a modern person calling someone a 'goth' or something of that sort. i.e. it does not denote a specific geographical kingdom, but rather a pagan culture dotted about in various places that was open to a degree of christianisation but on its own terms, retaining its rich symbolic and mythical culture. It is not directly linked to a language - that is, as you say, much more down to geography and time. I would imagine the Picts in Srath Earn would have a different dialect to those in the Moray Firth (those are two known 'pictish' strongholds when cross-referencing evidence). However, I do think both regions, and other 'pictish' regions would start from a Brythonic base when it comes to the basic language elements and names - and the concepts represented in names and stonework would have had an even wider geographical spread, right across the non-irish areas of what became 'alba'.

If someone is going to commit to writing about an imagined Pictish character, from say the Central Highlands, they can't really afford to take the purely academic approach of shrugging and saying, well maybe they used 2 names. Clearly many Pictish names have Irish equivelants and vice-versa but on a day to day basis, people use one name, and if they were from this part of Britain I would say it is most likely they used some sort of Brythonic based name, or in a smaller number of cases a translated Irish name (e.g. if they had ancestors of differing ethnicity- like the princess Eithne, daughter of Cinaed, from the annals of ulster). To put it simply, if you look at Kings associated with northern picts, they usually either have latin names like Constantin, mangled welsh names like Uen/Wen, or Irish names like Ciniod (Cinaed in Irish). Looking at various websites, I think that many people find it tempting to think that the Picts adopted Irish culture and names early on, because there is definite later evidence of this and plenty of names to choose from....but I would prefer the slightly more difficult option when writing my characters.

So the question for me is, how do I convert names like: Bodicca, Barita, Catimandua, Cunovinda, Huctia, Tanconx, Vertissa and Verica into something that sounds less latinised and more like that sort of northern dialect that eventually merged with Irish Gaelic to give us medievil Scots Gaelic Women's names. Shame that inscriptionists were so sexist when it came marking womens' lives eh? not much choice out there to give me a feel of regional brythonic differences.

Rosko said...

...the other thing I wanted to ask yoy Carla - do you think that a theoretical P-Celtic northern dialect would place as much distinction between male and female names as a latinised or saxon language? I mean, do you think that women's names in the north may have been much more based on their symbolic meaning rather than standardised suffixes like the ending -ca. It's difficult when trying not to make assumptions about the flavour of the language - Could the 'foreignness' which writers like Bede perceived in the Pictish attitude towards women be reflected in their language? What kind of pict women are you writing about?

Carla said...

Rosko - A P-Celtic component in the Pictish language, whatever it was, is consistent with P-Celtic place names such as Aber-. Something made the language sufficiently distinct from Brittonic for Bede to consider it a separate language. Whether this was a component of Q-Celtic, a component of some other language (I have wondered about links with Scandinavia; there were certainly strong links between Scotland and Scandinavia in the Viking age, and since geography doesn't change perhaps there were cultural links earlier), a distinctive dialect, an archaic form of P-Celtic, something else altogether or any combination thereof is pretty much open to speculation. Similarly with the political situation; there were evidently regional kings/rulers (who may reappear as the later mormaers?) and some sort of overall High King, but exactly how this worked - and how it varied over time - is not certain, so again is open to debate. Religion is also uncertain; some of the Picts may have been Christian from an early date given the reference to 'apostate Picts', but Bridei had a 'mage' - presumably some sort of non-Christian priest or advisor? - when Columba visited him, implying that Bridei's court was not, or not all, Christian. How the language, culture, politics, religion and ethnic identity ascribed by others or by the 'Picts' themselves played out over time is difficult to reconstruct definitively with the limited evidence available, so you can largely take your choice. It is a very long time period. If we take the beginning to be the first mention of Picts in Roman records in the third/fourth century and the end to be somewhere around date of the Pictish Chronicle in the fourteenth, that's a span of a thousand years, more than separates us now from William the Conqueror. There could have been a lot of social, cultural, religious, political and linguistic change over such a long period - indeed it would be surprising if there wasn't.

Carla said...

Rosko - If you're writing fiction in a Pictish setting then the relative lack of evidence is both a boon and a curse, as it is in any poorly documented era. On the one hand you have a wide scope for storytelling, on the other you have few if any secure anchor points for the narrative. In this situation I would say the main thing is to be clear about where the evidence stops, and where inference, interpretation and speculation can take over as the basis for your fiction. Given the near-complete absence of evidence on female names, you can pick a naming convention that you think fits with your interpretation of Pictish culture in your setting. Make one up if you want to. Whatever you choose, it will probably help your readers if you apply it consistently so they have a chance of picking up the pattern - that will help provide some orientation in the narrative. Fantasy world-building may be a good place to look for clues in this respect - nobody had ever heard of Quenya or Sindarin before Tolkien, but after a while the reader gets to recognise related groups of names and thereby infer cultural connections, even without needing to know about the invented languages in any detail. Your task in creating a believable Pictish world for your story to happen in, for your characters to inhabit, and for your readers to step into is not so very dissimilar to the task Tolkien had in creating Middle Earth, or Richard Adams had in creating the rabbit culture in Watership Down. So if you want to create a set of female Pictish names based on a set of symbolic meanings that fit with your story, go right ahead. There's no evidence to contradict you (unless someone happens to discover a Chronicle of the Pictish Queens in the interim, which is unlikely - welcome though it would be from a historian's perspective). You can always explain the rationale for your choice in your author's note (or on a blog like this one!) for any interested readers.

If you read Exile you'll pick up hints of my take on the Picts, although as most of the story is set in what's now northern England the Picts are mainly offstage, apart from one important secondary character (who appears in the free chapters on my website, if you want a sample).

Rosko said...

...an irish gaelic example of my problem - there is a 16th century gaelic source recording a female name 'Sitheag', spelt 'Scheak' in Scots by a court official in Inverness in 1572. Sidhach is Irish for wolf. Sitheag is the female Irish name derived from wolf, so 'she-wolf' basically - not so different from some of the Anglo-Saxon names used in their famous literature, in terms of symbolism - gaining strength from the spirit of a strong ancestral animal and so on. Some names like that don't appear to have much of an obvious 'female' notation, unlike the latinised names e.g. Bodic - ca. There's a similar thing with many old welsh names, no universal rules which denote femininity- men and women's names ending 'dd' or 'i' and so on. I'm not sure that I could create a naming pattern that's a version of languages which lack much general patterns themselves in their oldest forms. I feel like it would be forcing a modern latin based assumption onto a language which may have only made subtle changes to imply gender. I wish I could understand how spoken pictish might change the inflection of a word to make it feminine, like changing 'ach' to 'eag' in Irish, taking a generic word and giving it a gender, like a more subtle version of the french use of 'la' and 'le'. One general thing I was thinking, if you look at the way northern dialects changed English later in history, in Scots for instance - there seems to be a pattern of the more north you go, the more stoccato and abbreviated, almost as if the landscape, weather and lifestyle affect speech and then language over time.

Carla said...

Rosko - interesting possibility, about the landscape modulating the language. Perhaps you could apply that in creating Pictish female names for your novel.

Rosko said...

...I don't know how relevent it is, but having lived in Scotland all my life but also having visited many parts of England, it's notable how much we are unable as a nation to call people by their names - we have to give them a punchy knickname e.g. Bob/William is Boaby, James Murdoch is Murdo, Douglas is Doogy, John is Jock, George is Geordie, Stephen is Stevie, Margaret is Maggy, David is Davie, Alexander is Zander/Sandy, Allister is Ally, Elizabeth is always Betty and so on. I know that people abbreviate and alter names in other parts of Britain, but not quite to the same degree or sound, I would say.

I tried to post a comment about Tolkein but must have messed up the publish - I was just trying to say that I much prefer his approach to building an imagined naming culture because, as I assume you know, he was a Proffessor of ancient language primarily, not only in Anglo-Saxon but in scandinavian, brittonic, east european, middle eastern and classical ancient languages - infact that was his full time job, with the fiction being more of a hobby, all be it a very successful and time consuming one. I seem to remember reading his diaries at Glasgow Uni, as he explained how he devolved ancient languages back into some root principles and used the logic of this to construct new languages and associated cultures - i.e. the dwarf language is like an invented dialect of the language which preceded Old Welsh. His theories about the evolution of language and commonality of the underlying logic was later to be vindicated by scientific research at M.I.T. e.g. by Proffessor Noam Chomsky, who helped to establish the theory that language comes from brain structure as much as environment i.e. given a certain root language base culture, such as early Q-Celtic, different dialects will evolve independently and arrive at a conclusion which may superficially sound different but which has many underlying similarities with other connected dialects.

Carla said...

I greatly admire Tolkien's naming and language conventions too. It's one of the things that sets Middle-earth apart.

Rosko said...

went a bit further than naming conventions though aey? The poetry marked on the secret entrance to the underground mines and so on. He virtually invented whole theoritical languages just so he could get a backround feel for his characters. Almost as if his characters were like the conclusion of a thesis, an experiment.

Carla said...

Which they were, no? Didn't he say that his purpose in creating Middle-earth was to invent a world in which "elen sila lumenn omentielvo" would be a common greeting? Also something about the whole book being an essay on linguistics, or something along those lines.

Anonymous said...

It's pronounced eth-ne

Carla said...

Hello and welcome, Anonymous. It may vary by dialect. I have also heard Etna and Enna, among others.

Anonymous said...

Remember when foreign people came to the land of America and names were miswritten for the books, mispronounced either on purpose, or because the person recording the name could not pronounce it properly. Now imagine Picts given wives from the Irish. Pornounciation, accent, inflections in the sound of the language may be different to the Pictish ear. St. Columba, in his travels to Pictland had to have interpertors to understand the language, and he spoke Irish. So although we do not have written names (other than one), and if we subscribe to the "Irish wives" and the succession choosen by the women's lineage why the problem of the Pictish women's name may not have been recorded or ignored. Also, some of the names are spelled differently one some of the pages of the Annals, are we to honestly assume these are all mens names, especially if we do not know if there were masculine and feminine divisions of names among the picts. Perhaps the comb and mirro were to distinguish that difference because the language did not. It is something to think about.

Carla said...

Hello and welcome, Anonymous. Indeed, it is possible that the comb and mirror symbol was used to distinguish gender if the name itself did not, rather like the ending -a in Latin, as mentioned in the post.

Anonymous said...

It's (AY-he-ne), in Gaelic.

Carla said...

Hello and welcome, Anonymous. Many thanks for the pronunciation in Gaelic.