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Place-name of the week – Garth, Gerdie, Gorsendi

Published: 11 June 2020

Over 300 Shetland place-names originate in two Old Norse words – garðr: fence, enclosure, yard and gerði: enclosure, fenced field. A third of these are in Unst, Yell and Fetlar. The most common forms are garth (usually pronounced girt or gert), gord, gerdie, gardie and gardins; many are very old names relating to crofts towards the outskirts of the township. Some appear in clusters, like the crofts at Sandwick, Unst - Smirgarth, Framgord, Vatnagarth, Houlligarth, Hostnigarth, Gardiebotten, Housigarth, Brecknagarth and Hannigarth.

Some names relate to the animals kept in the yards - Grisigarth (young pig), Hestingarth (horse), Gossigarth (goose), and Buggery/Buggards (cattle). Others point to the location - Midgarth, Framgord (furthest) and Evrigarth (upper), or terrain - Brecknagarth (slope), Leagarth (slope) and Flugarth (marshy). Some take their names from adjacent features, e.g. Kirkigarth, Noustigarth and Burragarth. 

Holmsgarth in Lerwick takes its name from the Holm of Vadill, a landmark that disappeared when the entire Vadill was reclaimed.  Today, the Co-op stands in its place. Muckligarth in Gulberwick and Fetlar share a link with Instanbul!  Although the scale was much greater, the Old Norse name for the great walled city of Constantinople was Miklagarðr - the same name that had been given to these large Shetland crofts. 

When appearing as the first element in a place-name, the form is usually gor, as in Gorwill, Gorsiflet and Gorsendi Geo. The latter comes from garðsendi: place where a fence ends, and Gorsendi Geos are easy to spot by the daek (wall) or fence that terminates at the head of the geo. Sometimes they are also called Daekend or Dyke-end Geo, but both Gorsend and Gorsendi remain common place-names, with over 20 instances. Very occasionally the name is given to another feature; two houses in Sandsound are called Gorsend and North Gorsend. A similar term, garðstaðr: place with the remains of an old fence, gives names like Da Gerste in Sound, Gorstedelds, Eshaness and Gorstenastoura, Fetlar.

Which gard, gerdie and gorsendi names are near you and do you know what they mean? Please share details and photos of your favourites by emailing  placenames@shetlandamenity.org

Eileen Brooke-Freeman, Shetland Place Names expert, June 2020

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