About Place Names
Shetland’s place names reflect our strong Norse heritage, with subsequent Scottish and English influences. From 800 AD onwards Norse settlers applied highly descriptive names to almost every feature of the landscape (both natural and manmade) replacing most of the original names. Their language was West Norse or Old Norse, from which Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic are derived. In Shetland and Orkney, a language called Norn developed and was spoken until the seventeenth century. This extensive period of Scandinavian influence resulted in the majority of place names in Shetland today having roots in Old Norse.
These place names have many parallels in Orkney and the Western Isles and throughout Scandinavia. However, many names have been modified through time and spelling changes often mask the true origins. Listening to the local pronunciation can help point to the root word and therefore unravel the meaning.