What’s in a Name?


The late Nigel Tranter tells us that Aberlady is nowadays nearly always mispronounced, at least from its original form. ‘Aber’ refers to the mouth of the Peffer Burn. And ‘ledaig’, he advised, means a flat place. So that river-mouth at a flat place is an eminently suitable descriptive name. And some of the long-time locals still call it ‘Aberledy’.

There is a problem with this analysis however. ‘Aber’ is p-Celtic (Old Welsh or Brythonic) which fits with Aberlady’s past. ‘Ledaig’ on the other hand is q-Celtic or Gaelic. That a place name would have both elements stretches the imagination. It infers that the Gaelic speaking monks of the early Celtic church who created a settlement at Kilspindie changed the second part of the name from its original Old Welsh – whatever that may have been.

Moreover, the bay is continually changing its shape, indeed contracting. Once it was fully twice the size and depth that it is today, with its salt waters reaching far inland eastwards­. So why would anyone want to call it a flat place?


As for Kilspindie, it was tradititionally handed down as meaning “Cell of the Black Hoods”, a reference perhaps to the early Celtic Church. “Kil” means cell or chapel in Gaelic. Gaelic was brought here by the early Irish Scotti monks of Dal Riata on route between Iona and Lindisfarne. Nigel believed the remainder of the name was a dedication to St Pensahdus, a Celtic saint.

Luffness is usually mispronounced, or at least mis-accented; Most folk call it Luffness, the accent on the ness; whereas it ought to be Luffness. Probably this mistake is caused by the pronunciation of more widely¬≠known places, such as Inverness, where the accent is on the last syllable. Ness here is a form of the Norse word for nose, or point. In Inverness it is the name of the loch and river, inver like aber meaning at the mouth of. Luff is a corruption of Lofda. The story, dating from the 9th century, refers to a typical Viking raid by the notorious Anlaf the Dane. One of the henchmen was called Lofda, and he was slain here, and actually buried beneath the floor of what is now Luffness House. So Luffness is Lofda’s Nose or Point.



Formerly, the tide came quite far up the Vale of Peffer and Saltcoats got its name from the salt-pans in which the sea-water was heated to evaporate and leave the salt. This work was done by the monks of Luffness Priory (above).