Edinburgh Doesn't Rhyme With Pittsburgh
- A Guide to Scottish Placenames

Edinburgh Skyline

"Edinburrah" does not rhyme with "Pittsburgh"

Visitors to Scotland who have only seen Scottish place names in print sometimes mis-pronounce them. So here is a feature explaining how to pronounce many of the place names which can be found in Scotland. Along the way you will also learn some of the origins of these Scottish names.

But to start with, here is the advice given by Ronald MacDonald Douglas, a writer and nationalist, regarding the finer points of Scottish pronunciation and what is technically known as a "glottal fricative"... After reading it, however, do not despair!

While "dour" (obstinate and humourless) in Scots is usually pronounced to rhyme with "moor", the place name is pronounced 'Aber-dower'. "Aber" is a Brittonic word meaning "meeting of the waters" and "dour" means water. Aberdour is on the Fife coast.

Anstruther is a coastal fishing port in the East Neuk (corner) of Fife and is known locally as "Ainster" with the emphasis on the first syllable - though many folk in the rest of Scotland are likely to pronounce it as it looks on the page. The name is derived from the Gaelic "an strathair" - the little stream. These days, the harbour is home to more pleasure craft than fishing boats.

Looking almost like an invented, archetypal Scottish name, Auchenshuggle is pronounced Ochenshoogle and it can be found on the outskirts of Glasgow. It was a terminus for the tramway system and it was the end of the line for the last official tramcar service in Glasgow in 1962. Buses travelling through the city still have Auchenshuggle as a destination.

Athelstaneford in east Lothian is pronounced "Ail-shin-ford" with the stress on the first syllable. Legend has it that Athelstaneford is where the original Scottish saltire - the white diagonal cross on a sky blue background - was first adopted. On the eve of a battle between the Scots and the Angles (English) in 832AD, Saint Andrew, who was crucified on a diagonal cross, came to the Scots King in a vision and promised him victory. The next morning the Scots observed a white diagonal cross formed by clouds in the sky. They won the battle, and the victorious forces attributed their victory to the blessing of Saint Andrew, adopting Saint Andrew's cross as their flag, and naming him their patron saint. The retreating English King, Aethelstan, was slain at a nearby river crossing, hence the name Athelstaneford.

If you can get the 'ch' sound in the back of your throat without strangling yourself, this one is easy also. "Auchter" is from the Gaelic 'air uachdair' meaning 'on top of" so the Fife town of Auchtermuchty means 'high ground of the pig rearing'.

The stress is on the middle syllable of this dormitory district outside Edinburgh. 'Bal' names can be found all over Scotland and simply means town or village. In Balerno's case the second part of the name comes from 'airne' or damson tree.

Pronounced "ball-a-hoollish" this village in Lochaber, on the shores of Loch Leven, is not far from Glen Coe. It gets its name from the Gaelic "baile chaolais" meaning "village of the narrows".

Pronounced 'beoollie' with the emphasis on the first syllable, this town owed its prominence to being on a river crossing on the road to the north of Inverness (the Kessock Bridge at Inverness now means that it is possible to bypass the town). The name comes from the French words "beau lieu" (fine place).

The pronunciation of this Royal Deeside town is straightforward enough but, as in so many Scottish placenames, particularly those derived from Gaelic words, the stress is on the second syllable - Aberdeen, Inverness are other examples. But these days you will hear many people incorrectly putting the stress on the first syllable of Aviemore.

Broughty Ferry
Pronounced "Brottie" Ferry and located three miles east of Dundee, there was indeed a ferry to Newport there until the Tay Road Bridge made it redundant in 1966. It became the favoured spot for successful Dundonian jute manufacturers in the 19th century to construct their handsome villas.

This seaside town was very much in the news when the Open Golf championship was held at the links course in the town. Hopefully all the commentators will know that it's name is pronounced "Carnoostie" - with the emphasis on the second syllable.

Pronounced "Cumry" with the emphasis on the first syllable, this lovely Perthshire town sits astride the geological "Highland Fault Line" and minor earth tremors are not infrequent. The Museum of Tartans is located here.

The name of this lovely, historic village on the shores of the Firth of Forth in Fife has not really been created to confuse the tourists. But despite the spelling it is pronounced "Cooross" with the emphasis on the first syllable.

Pronounced "Coolter" with the accent on the first syllable, the name of this village on the periphery of Aberdeen, on the road to Royal Deeside, is from the Gaelic ' cul tir' or 'back lands'. A few miles along the same road is Peterculter


Culzean Castle with its associated country park in Ayrshire is regarded as the "jewel in the crown" of the heritage organisation, the National Trust for Scotland. "Culzean" is pronounced "Kull-ane", with the accent on the second syllable. The Kennedy family became established in the area in the 12th century.

It was not until the 18th century that the wealthy family, now known as the Earls of Cassillis, engaged Robert Adam to design a splendid castle. And to add to the wonders, a 565 acre parkland surrounding the castle was designed by Alexander Nasmyth and two pupils of Capability Brown.

Dalziel is a village in North Lanarkshire. Dalziel, Dalzell or Dalyell are also Scottish Lowland surnames. All should be pronounced "dee-el" or "deeyel" with the accent on the first syllable. The odd pronunciation goes back to the days when "yogh", a letter in old English and Scots was in use (looking a bit like the number 3 or an old copperplate z and sounding like "ng" as in the word song). When printing became established in the 16th century the "yogh" fell out of use and z was substituted. But the spoken language continued with the sound for such names as Dalziel (dee-el) and Menzies (often still pronounced Ming-iss).

Pronounced "doon", this Stirling town became famous for the manufacture of firearms - the famous "Doune pistols". It also has a castle and there which was used in the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

This Stirling village is pronounced along the lines of 'Drmn' rather than 'Dry-men'. The name comes from "drumein" meaning "at the ridge".

Pronounced "eagle-sam" as if the 'h' was not there, the name of this village south of Glasgow also has French origins - the 'ham' or village of the 'église' or church.

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