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Place-name of the week – Quoys, quees and hwais

Published: 20 August 2020

The re-use of place-names is sometimes confusing, especially when the same name is repeated near an original landmark, or the meaning of a name is totally inappropriate for a new house or road. However, applying old names
to new buildings helps maintain links with the past, particularly when recalling what was formerly on the site.

Quoys, Sound whilst under construction in 2008


Quoys, Upper Sound, c 1930 (J Peterson, Shetland Museum and Archives)

Looking at Sound on the outskirts of Lerwick you could be forgiven for thinking it is all very modern. Without studying old photographs and maps it is hard to picture the thriving township of 100 years ago, with its thatched roofs and patchwork of rigs. Modern street names give us clues to the past and the tradition of reusing local place-names, e.g. Akrigarth, Baela and Bakland, has continued with the choice of name for the newest housing estate. Quoys takes its name from the former croft on the site, inhabited until the 1950s. Nearby were similar names: Da Hwais (pastureland enclosed with a stone wall), Da Hwinigirse (cattle grassland near the burn), Hwirul (a knowe) and Da Hwirul Rig.

These all stem from the Old Norse kví: an enclosure for cattle. It frequently features in both Shetland and Orkney place-names, with a wide range of pronunciations and spellings including quoy, quey, qui, quee, kwi, whee, hwi and hwai. Shetland examples include Quinquaquoy, Stoutsquey, Queyfirth, Colloquey, Queyness, Sneusquoy, Grutquoy, Quiens and Da Quees. In Shetland dialect a quoy is a piece of common land enclosed and cultivated, and in some areas the word hwais is used to describe pasture for cattle.

Alex o da Quee outside da Quee Boat in Cunningsburgh.
The restored lifeboat is now next to Cunningsburgh Hall. (courtesy Cunningsburgh History Group)


Ocraquoy means corn field


Da Quoys or Briggy’s Yard, Cunningsburgh


Queyon and Da Hwaes, Otterswick, East Yell

Some quoy names describe locations or nearby natural features, e.g. Nordaquoy, Midkay, Sundraquoy, Vesquoy and Quinaness. Others like Ocraquoy, from akr meaning cornfield, tell us how the land was cultivated. As in Sound, quoy place names can appear in clusters. At Aith in Cunningsburgh there is Bersequoys, Quoys and Quoys Yard, also called Briggy’s Yard after the owner who lived at Da Brig. At the shore lies Da Stack o da Quoys, also called Da Auld Man o Aid or more recently Da Initial Stane, from the letters carved in the rock face. In Unst, Da Quoys, Queyhouse, and Watquoy (from vatn: lake) are in close proximity, with a range of spellings recorded on the Ordnance Survey maps, whilst in East Yell Da Hwaes is a piece of land on the Queyon croft. Finniquoy in Fair Isle was described by the late Jerry Eunson “as the place of fairies, guidfiks, bokkies and eerie noises”.  If you’ve had any strange encounters here, or can help locate any further quoy, quee, hwi or hwai place names, please email placenames@shetlandamenity.org

Eileen Brooke-Freeman, Shetland Place Names expert

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