I’ll be the first to admit, my attempts at pronunciation of some Scottish place names are shocking.
I’ve been that person stood on the platform with friends and announced that the train to Miln-gavee would be arriving in a second. Laughter followed, along with ‘have you never heard it pronounced Mill-guy?’ Well no, in my years of living in Scotland, I had indeed not heard it being pronounced like that. I was brought up on the east coast in Perth so that’s my excuse for that one.
There are some brilliant place names across Scotland that can be more baffling than others. You’ve got the lovely straight forward easy-to-pronounce place names such as Dundee, Aberdeen, Wick etc, then you’ve got the places that upon first impression look like a bunch of letters put together for a bit of a giggle. Regardless of how easy or difficult it is to pronounce, most of Scotland’s towns and cities have fascinating stories behind the origins of their names. But that’s a story for another time.
So, let’s go on a little journey around Scotland looking at places that should come with a pronunciation guide. By the end of this article, we’ll all be experts in making sure we’re not that person on the platform sounding like a numpty.
Let’s start with one of the most commonly baffling names. It’s got to be Milngavie! Pronounced Mill-guy. After you’ve made the faux pas once, never again will you pronounce it wrong. The disconnect between the way the town name is spelled and the way it’s pronounced goes back to when the name was adapted into English from Gaelic.
Chatelherault: Chatel – her – oh
Next we’ll hop on the Argyle Line and head to South Lanarkshire for a walk in the country park right next to Chatelherault station. Sounding like a traditional French town, the station and country park was named after the Duke of Chatelherault, the title bestowed upon James Hamilton by Henry II of France in the 16th century. This is where the name of the district that Chatelherault sits in, ‘Hamilton’ also came from.
Wemyss Bay: Weems Bay
Heading out further west for our next stop, to a town where the railway station is regularly praised as one of the most beautiful in the whole of the UK. On first sight, the station name looks like it should be something along the lines of ‘Wem-iss’ but it’s simply just pronounced Weems. And the station really does sit right on the Bay. You can walk straight off the train, down a short wooden walkway, straight onto the ferry to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.
Lochailort: Lok – eye – lert
Time to take a ride on one of the most scenic railway routes in the world, the West Highland Line. As you go further north, there’s more of a Gaelic influence in the names of places with lots starting with ‘loch’ meaning lake. We could probably write a whole post on how to pronounce names in the west of Scotland but we’ll stick with just a couple for now. The first one – Lochailort. It’s pronounced Loch (lok) – eye – lert. True to its name, it has a stunning location at the head of Loch Ailort.
Loch Nan Uamh – Loch Nan – Oo Av
Next, heading three miles down from Lochailort, the road takes you to one of Scotland’s trickier-to-figure-out-how-its-pronounced viaducts and lochs. Say hello to Loch Nan Uamh Viaduct. Loch Nan is easy enough to figure out but the last four letters leave many a person baffled. In Gaelic ‘mh’ makes a ‘v’ sound so it’s pronounced ‘Oo-av’.
Let’s carry on up north to take a ride on the Kyle Line. Around an hour and a bit after leaving Inverness takes you through the stations of Achanalt, Achnasheen and Achnashellach. Ach comes from the Gaelic word meaning field. The landscapes around all three are beautiful with a dramatic backdrop of mountains. But how on earth do you pronounce them? Similar to Loch, the ‘ach’ sound is more along the lines of the German ‘ach’ than a hard ‘k’ at the end.
- Achanalt: Ack – a - nalt
- Achnasheen: Ack-na-sheen
- Achnashellach: Ack-na- shell-ack
We’ll finish off our journey in the beautiful countryside of Dumfries and Galloway. The name Sanquhar means ‘Old fort’, which at face value looks like it links to the old castle ruins that overlook the town. But records show that the name predates this and goes back further past the 15th century. And rather than it being a fussy pronunciation of ‘San-kwa-har’ it’s simply pronounced Sanker.
Thanks for joining us on this station pronunciation journey. If you fancy visiting any of these stations or simply exploring all the wonderful places Scotland has to offer, start planning your adventure here.
Written by Nicola, ScotRail’s Content Executive. A keen blogger, when not in the office she can be found exploring Scotland by rail with her family.