Pictish/Scottish Names


The term "Pict" first appears in a work by Eumenius in 297 A.D. The term was used by Romans to describe people living north of the Antonine Wall in the 2nd century A.D., perhaps in connection with conflicts during the time of Septimius Severus. The presence of the Romans may have led to an increase in ethnic identity amongst the Picts. (3)

There were no major cultural breaks and no signs of a large influx of people in Scotland from the end of the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages so the Picts developed from the existing people groups. The older, non-Celtic influence was strongest in north-eastern Scotland. The Iron Age Celts may have moved into Scotland after 500 B.C., bringing some change with them. (3, 7)

The language of the Picts has been much debated. An analysis of Pictish personal and place names suggests that the people spoke a Brittonic Celtic language, perhaps related to Cumbric and mixed with an earlier non-Celtic language. Cumbric was a P-Celtic dialect that was spoken by the Britons of Strathclyde. It is not known how long pre-Celtic languages were spoken in the area. Ogham inscriptions from the 8th and 9th century appear to show a "strong presence" of non-Celtic elements, which suggests that non-Celtic Pictish was spoken at a "fairly late date". Cumbric, Cornish, and Welsh are/were all Brittonic Celtic languages as opposed to the Goidelic Celtic of Ireland and Dalriada. Early place names show the influence of P-Celtic or Brythonic Celtic. Later place names also show the influence of Goidelic Celtic, reflecting the Gaelic of Dalriada and Ireland. This suggests that there was a period of bilingualism in Scotland when many people spoke both Pictish and the Gaelic of Dalriada. (3, 6, 8)

The Pictish language is recorded in native sources in three ways: on ogham stones, in insular, and in an unknown script. The ogham alphabet orginated in Ireland around the fourth century and spread to Pictland through the people of Dalriada. Originally, the Pictish ogham alphabet was very similiar to the Irish alphabet. In time, the Pictish ogham alphabet became more ornate and covered the face of the stone instead of staying around the edges of stones. Most surviving ogham stones come from the 8th century. Insular also reached the Picts through the people of Dalriada. The unknown script appears only on one stone and may be an imitation of Irish majuscule script or a 5th century Continental manuscript hand. Some Latin texts also include Pictish names. (3)

Early Picts worshipped the things of nature. The art of the Picts suggests the presence of a bull cult at Burghead, Moray. A cave at Covesea suggests the existence of human sacrifice through drowning or beheading. A pagan priest was called a "magus". St. Ninian, who is believed to have lived during the 5th century, brought Christianity to some of the families amongst the southern Picts. St. Columba introduced Christianity to the northern Picts at the court of Bridei mac Maelcon in the 6th century. Christianity did not become widespread in Pictish areas until around the 8th century, although some monasteries existed before then. The monastery of Applecross in Wester Ross was founded by St. Maelrubha from Bangor around 673. A smaller monastery was located on West Burra, Shetland. (3)

The first recorded contact between the Picts and the Romans seems to be in 43 A.D. when the kings of the Orkneys sent ambassadors to Claudius during his conquest of Britain. Agricola reached the Forth-Clyde line and set up Roman forts between 82 A.D. and 90 A.D. The 2nd century geographer Ptolemy drew on information from the time of Agricola to describe the Picts. He descibes them as being divided into 13 peoples or tribes. These tribes included the Orcades or Orkneys. Their tribal name was perhaps Orcoi or Orci, meaning 'Boar People'. The name is Celtic. Ptolemy's Ebudae may have a non-Celtic name. Other tribes included the Caereni, Cornavii, and Epidii, all Celtic names. The Caereni and the Carnonacae lived in northwestern Scotland. The Cornavii and Smertae lived in the northeastern tip of Scotland across from the Orkneys. The Decantae lived just north of the Black Isle. The Caledonii were an especially strong tribe who lived along Loch Ness. East of the Caledonii and north of the River Dee were the Vacomagi and the Taexali. The Boresti may have lived south of the Taexali. South of the River Tay were the Venicones. In the west, the Epidii lived in the Kintyre Peninsula across from Ireland. The Creones lived between Skye and Loch Linnhe. The Ebudae lived in the Hebrides. South of these groups, but north of the Romans, were the Damnonii, the future Strathclyde Britons. The Damnonii lived around the Clyde near the later city of Glasgow. The Votadini lived east of them around the Forth. Their lands included the future city of Edinburgh. The Novantae lived in Galloway and Dumfries. The Selgovae lived inland in the hill country. Their name comes from the term, "Hunters". Like the Atecotti, this group may represent a pre-Iron Age-influenced people. (3, 7)

The Antonine Wall was built along the Forth-Clyde line in 142 A.D. by Antoninus Pius. The Wall was held until 161 A.D., when Antoninus Pius died. The northern border then moved south to Hadrian's Wall between the Tyne and Solway. Around 180 B.C., the northern tribes crossed the Wall and fought the Romans. At the end of the century, they were bought off by a lot of money. By 208 A.D., the Romans in Britain again had to appeal to Rome for help. Septimius Severus and his sons came and restored Roman order. Septimius Severus died in 211 in York and his son, Caracalla, returned to Rome to become emperor. Hadrian's Wall remained the northern border for some time. The Romans periodically paid off the Picts with silver coins from the time of Septimius Severus until the fourth century. The Picts melted the coins down to make silver ornaments. (3)

In the third century A.D. the Picts seem to have been divided into two large tribal groups, whom the Romans called the Caledonii and the Maeatae. The Maeatae lived around the Antonine Wall and the Caledonii lived further north. The Caledonii are first mentioned in the early 1st century A.D. while the Maeatae are mentioned around 200 A.D. Adomnan mentions a people called the Miathi, who may be the same as the Maeatae. This division seems to have lasted until the 7th century. Bede mentions a northern and southern group of Picts. According to later authors, there were seven regions within Pictland. Fortriu or Fortrenn, the name of a region around Strathearn and Mentieth, was perhaps named after the Verturiones tribe, who were active in the 4th century. Heading further north, Fib and Fothriff were associated with Fife and Kinross. Circhenn or Circinn consisted of modern Angus and the Mearns. Fotla was the region of Atholl. Catt (Caithness), Ce, and Fidach were north of the Dee. (3)

The next recorded conflict was in the fourth century. In 305-306 A.D., Constantius Chlorus battled the 'Caledonians and other Picts'. Constantine the Great may have fought them in 315. His son, Constans, campaigned against them in 343. An agreement between the Picts and the Romans was broken in 360 when the Picts allied with the Scots of Ireland and attacked. The Picts and Scots were defeated by the Romans. In 364, Ammianus Marcellinus describes the enemies of the British Romans as the Dicalydones, Verturiones, Scots, Attacotti, and Saxons. The Dicalydones may represent the Caledonii and the Verturiones were a Pictish tribe. The term Atecotti or Attacotti means "The Very Old Ones". They may represent a pre-Iron Age people. In 367, the Picts allied with the Scots and the Attacotti and were defeated by Count Theodosius. The Picts again fought the Romans from 382 to 390 and were defeated by Magnus Maximus. In 396 to 398, the Picts again fought and were defeated by Stilicho. The Picts again revolted in the 450s. This was the last time that the Picts were allied with the Scots of Ireland. The Scots then returned to Ireland. Pictish events are largely unrecorded in the 5th and 6th centuries. (3, 7)

Bridei mac Maelcon is the first historically known Pictish king. He became king around 550. His father may have been Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd. Maelgwn was descended from Cunedda, a leader in the area around the Firth of Forth who then moved to Wales in the 4th or 5th century. Bridei reportedly defeated the Scots and ruled the northern and southern Picts. He also had control over the King of Orkney. St. Columba is said to have visited his court. Bridei died in the Battle of Asreth in Circinn in 584. Power now shifted to the south. In 603, the Aethelfrith of the Northumbrians defeated Aedan of the Scots and ended the drive of the Scots towards the south. The Scots now turned their eyes on the lands of the Picts as did the kings of Northumbria. The Northumbrians conquered part of Dalriada and Pictland. The southern Picts were controlled by the Angles. The remaining lands of the Picts were ruled by Gartnait and then by Drest. Drest attempted to throw off the Northumbrians but he was soundly defeated. His successor, Bridei mac Bili, defeated the army of the Orkneys and then defeated Ecgfrith of the Northumbrians. Bridei reclaimed the land of the Picts from the Northumbrians. Nechton mac Derelei (c 706) ended the struggle with the Northumbrians and turned to the Northumbrians for advice in religious matters. He later abdicated the throne and entered a monastery. His successor, Drust, was deposed by Alpin. Alpin was quickly succeeded by Oengus mac Fergus. Oengus conquered the Scots in Dalriada and then allied himself with Wessex and Mercia against the P-Celtic-speaking Strathclyde Britons. The Britons killed Oengus' brother, Talorcan, in battle. The Britons then defeated Oengus' army. Oengus died in 761. Dalriada defeated the Picts and regained their independence before 778. (3, 8)

The power of the Picts and the Scots of Dalriada fluctuated until Kenneth mac Alpin, King of the Scots, conquered the Picts in 843 or 844. Three Scottish kings had ruled the Picts before Kenneth mac Alpin and some of the Pictish kings had Gaelic or Dalriadic names. The Dalriadic ruler Constantine, son of Fergus, was also a ruler of the Picts under the name Castantin son of Uurguist. His son, Oengus II, was also known as the Pictish ruler Unuist son of Uurguist. His son Eoganan ruled over the Picts and Scots until his death in 839. Two sons of the Pictish king Oengus were killed in battle against the Vikings in 839. This gave Kenneth mac Alpin the chance to take over the lands of the Picts. (3)

Female Names

As one source says, there is a "complete lack of Pictish female names". (4) The same author states that for naming purposes, it would be appropriate for a Pict to have a Celtic name and that many Pictish men did have Celtic names. (5) Thus it might also be appropriate for a Pictish woman to have a Celtic name.

Male Names

Note: When an earlier form of the name is mentioned, that form would have been used around the 6th century and the later form refers to names used around the 8th century. Classical names would have been used by classical authors (4).

Allcallorred - Personal name appearing on an ogham stone (3)
Alpin/Elpin - Name of a Pictish king. Elpin is the Pictish form. Alpinos would have been the form of the name used by classical authors. (2, 3, 4)
Breth - (2)
Broichan - A magus or pagan priest in the court of Bridei mac Maelcon (3)
Bridei/Breidei/Brude - A common royal Pictish name. Brude may be the earlier form and Bredei the later form (1, 2, 3, 4)
Caltram/Gailtram/Cailtarni - (2)
Carvorst/Crautreic - (2)
Cimoiod - (2)
Cinioch/Ciniath - (2)
Ciniod - A name of a Pictish king (3)
Constantin/Castantin - Ruler of the Picts and the Scots of Dalriada. Castantin is the Pictish form of the name. (2, 3)
Denbecan/Aenbecan - (2)
Deocilunon/Deocillimon - (2)
Deoord/Deort - (2)
Domelch/Domech - (2)
Drest - Pictish king (1, 3)
Drosten - Pictish personal name on an ogham stone. It is the ancestral form of the Pictish name, Tristan. A later form of the name might have been Druisten. Classical authors would have used the name Drustagnos (3, 4)
Drust - Pictish king. Drust is an earlier form of Drest (2, 3, 4)
Eddarrnonn - Pictish personal name on an ogham stone (3)
Eoganan/Uven/Unen - Ruler of both the Picts and the Scots of Dalriada (2, 3)
Forcus - Personal name on an ogham stone. The name is Irish in origin. (3)
Galam/Galan/Galanan - (2)
Gartnait/Gartnaith/Gartnaich - A common royal Pictish name (1, 2, 3, 4)
Gede - (2)
Gest - (2)
Irb - (1)
Lutrin - (1)
Maelchon/Mailcon/Melcon - (1)
Morleo - (2)
Nechtan/Nehhton - A popular Pictish personal name. Also the name of a Pictish king. The earlier form of the name may have been Nechtan and the later form Naiton. Classical authors may have used the form Nectanos. (1, 3, 4)
Oengus/Onnist/Onuist/Onuis/Unuist/Angus - Pictish ruler (1, 2, 3)
Oswiu - Northumbrian king (1)
Pidarnoin/Eddarrnonn - (1)
Talorc/Talorcan/Talorgen/Talluorh/Talore - The name of Pictish kings and a brother of Oengus. The earlier form of the name is Talorcan and the later form is Talorgen. Classical authors might have used the form Talorcagnos. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Taran - (1)
Tharain/Tarain - (2)
Uid/Wid - (1) & (2)
Uist - (2)
Uoret - Pictish personal name on an ogham stone (3)
Uvan - Personal name on an ogham stone (3)
Wroid/Uuroid - (2)

Vocabulary from the Ogham Stones

crroscc - May be Gaelic for "cross" (3)
dattrr - May be Norse for "daughter" (3)
meqq - May be the genitive form of Gaelic "maqq" or "son of" (3)


(1) Cyril Babaev, Picts and Pictish Language

(2) Rulers of Scotland

(3) The Picts and the Scots, Lloyd and Jenny Laing, London: Sutton Publishing, 1993, 1996.

(4) A Consideration of Pictish Names - Analyzing and Using the Data, Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn (Heather Rose Jones), c. 1996, A Consideration of Pictish Names - Analyzing and Using the Data

(5) A Consideration of Pictish Names - The Material, Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn (Heather Rose Jones), c. 1996, A Consideration of Pictish Names - The Material

(6) A Consideration of Pictish Names - Introduction - What Do We Mean By "Pictish" With Respect to Names?, Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn (Heather Rose Jones), c. 1996, A Consideration of Pictish Names - Introduction - What Do We Mean By "Pictish" With Respect to Names?

(7) Celtic Britain, Charles Thomas, New York: Thames & Hudson, 1986, 1997.

(8) Lost Kingdoms: Celtic Scotland and the Middle Ages, John L. Roberts, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997, 1999.

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Updated November 30, 2009