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Place Names - Women Immortalised in Place Names

Published: 08 March 2021

Madge and Agatha, Charlotte, Baabie, Beenie, Belle Yorston, Jannie, Ola and Ellen Slater are all women I would like to learn more about - who were they, when did they live and why were places named after them? Studying maps can throw up so many questions about the places and the past occupants and activities. To celebrate International Women’s Day, I have been thinking about a few of the characters whose names appear Shetland's place-names.

Most place-names use just the first name, but full names include Jenny Cogle, Maggie Halcrow and Mary Green. Burn, loch and beach names include the Burn o Willameenie in Waas and Maggie Kettles Loch and Ayre in Sullom. According to folklore, a woman called Maggie crossed Sullom Voe from Delting to Northmavine in a kettle. Other coastal names include Katies’ Geo, Leezie Bain’s Skerry and Maggie Clark Sitting at the Table, a stack in the shape of a woman, just north of the Cleber Geos at Fedaland. Annie Elspeth’s Resting Place is the stone where a Skerries woman stopped on her way to deliver refreshments to the men hiding from the press gang in the Paet’s Hoose.

Maggie Clark Sitting at the Table at Fedaland


Some women gave their names to parts of the croft or scattald - Kirstie's Stack, Igga’s Grey Stane, Joan’s Well and Daisy's Crub. Others feature in house names, including small houses beyond the hill daeks for outcasts - unmarried mothers, reputed witches or sufferers of diseases like leprosy. Most folk will know the story of Betty Mouat, now commemorated in the name of the camping böd at Scatness, but have you heard of Merran Moad? Marion Mouat or Merran (1765-1843) lived in a house where the Clydesdale Bank is, which bordered Merran Moad's Beach. The origins of the name are a little unclear, but may stem from an incident involving Merran. She had special spinning wheel for spinning hemp twine used for making nets, but one day, on descending the steps to the beach, an un-named local worthy carelessly knocked it over trampling on her work. Merran loudly told him what she thought of him in front of several onlookers, and stung by her words the man carried Merran and ducked her in the sea. Merran Moad's Beach disappeared with the construction of the Esplanade, but the steps leading to it and bearing her name survive.

These steps used to lead to Merran Moad's beach, photo Frank Bradford


Igga’s Grey Stane at Fladdabister


This road sign in Baltasound conjures up the image of an actress but it is two separate place-names (photo Andrea Laurenson)


Some names relate to difficult times or sorrow - Ola Tumlin's grave and Maggie Reid’s Geo, site of a tragic death. Burra lass Maggie was engaged to William Goodlad who did not return when expected from his time serving in the Merchant Navy; news came that he had left one ship, then came a story that he had died or been killed. Eventually, Maggie gave up hope of his return and married his widowed father, Taamie, so she could continue to help bring up his four young children who she had been helping with since William left for sea. However, one winter night about a year after marrying, Willie appeared at the door very much alive and ready to marry his sweetheart. The next day, Maggie's clogs and wedding ring were found on the edge of the cliff behind the house and her body at the bottom of, what has ever since been called, Maggie Reid's Geo. Willie Goodlad left Burra, never to return. but Taamie married for a third time and had another seven children. Ending on a much lighter note, some place-names just sound amusing – the narrow hollow called Ellen Gray's Bottom in Waas conjures up all the wrong images!

Ellen Gray’s Bottom was recorded by the Ordnance Survey in the 1870s (OS1/31/21/251)


Do you know who any of the women in place-names were? We would love to hear more stories, so please email placenames@shetlandamenity.org

Shetland Place Names expert - Eileen Brooke-Freeman


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