There is an apochryphal story of an American couple passing through Milngavie who became aware that it had a pronunciation to confuse most tourists.  So they thought they’d ask a local.  When having lunch they asked the waitress: “Can you tell us how you pronounce the name of this place and say it slowly so that we can pick it up“.  The obliging lass said, slowly and clearly “B-u-r-g-e-r  K-i-n-g“.

While this may or may not be true, there are certainly many Scottish place names that get not only visitors tied in knots but often Scots too.  I’m not talking about place names which are just plain weird – such as Dull in Perthshire (see my Forest Safari post), Lost in Aberdeenshire or Rest and Be Thankfull in Argyll.  No, I’m focusing here on the place names that sound very different to how they’re spelled.


Photo credit –

And there’s certainly no shortage – there’s no space in my Top 10 for the likes of Strathaven, Auchenshuggle, Kingussie or Wemyss.  So here’s light-hearted look at difficult-to-pronounce place names – with thanks to Rampant Scotland for many of the definitions:

10.  Milngavie
Pronounced “Mill-guy”.  It is often said that the name derives from “Gavin’s Mill” but another possibility is that it comes from the Gaelic “muileann gaoithe” meaning windmill.
9.    Auchtermuchty
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’.
8.    Ecclefechan
A town in Dumfries and Galloway.  The name combineds the hard “cc” sound together with the more rasping “ch” sound (as in “loch”).
7.   Culzean
Culzean is pronounced “Kull-ane”, with the accent on the second syllable.  Culzean is best known for its Castle with its associated country park in Ayrshire, one of Scotland’s top visitor attractions.   In the 18th century the Earls of Cassillis engaged Robert Adam to design a splendid castle, and the 565 acre parkland surrounding the castle was designed by Alexander Nasmyth and two pupils of Capability Brown.
6.    Freuchie
Pronounced “Froochie”.  A villabe in Fife perhaps best known for its Cricket Club, who surprised everyone, particularly those in England, by winning the national village cricket championships at Lord’s in 1985 and then again in 2007.
5.    Findochty
Surprisingly, this Moray fishing village is pronounced “Finechty” with the accent on the first syllable.  The name is from the Gaelic words “finn” meaning white and “dabhach” meaning a tub or vat.
4.    Garioch
Pronounced “Geerie”, this small Aberdeenshire community is in the shadow of the famous hill, Bennachie.  The area has a large number of Pictish standing stones and cairns dating from 2000BC.
3.    Anstruther
Anstruther is a coastal fishing port in the East Neuk of Fife and is known locally as “Ainster” with the emphasis on the first syllable – though many people 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.
2.    Kilconquhar
Pronounced “Kinnuchar”.   A place where witches in the East Neuk of Fife were executed by drowning in the loch.
1.    Kirkcudbright
A small town near the Solway Firth in Dumfries and Galloway, pronounced “Kirkcoobray” with the accent on the second syllable.

This is my Top 10 … have I missed any ?  And is there any reason why Fife appears most frequently ?!

11 Comments on “Top 10 Scottish place names

  1. I’ve always liked the name Knockando which is near Huntly. Knockando is most famous for its distillery.

  2. You could also have included Finzean near Banchory in Aberdeenshire – pronounced ‘Fing-in’!

      • No worries, in a similar vein and staying in Aberdeenshire it’s always surprised me how many places have two names – Aberchirder (Foggieloan), Stuartfield (Crichie), Gardenstown (Gamrie), Fraserburgh (the Broch), Fetterangus (Fishie) and Auchleven (Premnay). Is this something prolific throughout Scotland?

      • I’m personally not aware of places having two names in other parts of Scotland – and I’ve lived in various parts of the Borders and Central Scotland. This is interesting … My grandparents lived at Old Rayne and they always referred to Premnay as Premnay (never Auchleven).

        I’m interested to know if anyone has come across this ?

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