Shetland Place Names
As well as helping us find our way in the world, place names are an important component of our cultural heritage, providing vital clues about the environment, history, geography, and the people who lived here in the past: where they came from, what language they spoke and how they used the land.
enlarge Shetland's place names reflect our strong Norse heritage, together with subsequent Scottish and English influences. From 800 AD onwards, Norse settlers applied highly descriptive names to almost every feature in the landscape. Today, around 95% of Shetland's place names have roots in the Old Norse language.
Wick, firth, wick and voe names describe bays of different shapes, nesses are headlands, and narrow inlets are called geos. Over 150 beaches incorporate the word ayre, whilst stack and skerry names often reflect shape, colour or associated wildlife.
Many names describe terrain: brecks and lees are slopes, hamars are steep rocky walls and dales are valleys. Wart or vord names signify hills with cairns on top. Bister, -sta, and -garth, names show us where farms were situated in Norse times, whilst quoys are former cattle enclosures. Place names can help locate sites of archaeological interest. Iron-age forts or brochs were situated in places called burra, burgh, burgi or brough and tings point to former assembly sites. Download place name elements/ leaflet/ article etc
Recording place names
A vast quantity of local names are preserved in a strong oral tradition and are now being collected and recorded by Shetland Amenity Trust's Shetland Place Names Project. [Link] The old names are a particularly fragile resource as increasingly fewer people use coastal landmarks or waypoints through the hills. The Project endeavours to record these names before they are lost forever.
Additional information on the place names of Shetland is available from:
Download Our Brochure
For more information about Shetland Place Names, download our free Shetland Place Names brochure [.pdf approx. 1,5Mb]