Map, Place Names and Lore

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Like many islands in Orkney, Swona has a rich tapestry of place names. Roughly 200 features that lie on the island and around its waters are named. This was useful to the islanders as it allowed them to accurately convey locations when organising work related to fishing and farming. Fortunately, most of these names were recorded by Ordnance Survey cartographers who received first-hand instruction by James in 1965.

These have been transferred from the original markup and are shown in the map below. There are around 200 names that have been recorded over the small island, many deriving from from Orkney Norn. Such a high concentration of place names is very useful to let people know exactly where something is when working with the coast or sea; the locations of creels for example. The geography of the island, its coast, and the tides significantly influenced the residents. Their experiences and interactions with these elements and their relationship with the island are reflected in the place names, imprinting their personality, history, and language into them. 

Approval Signatures

1965 Map Sample

1965 Map Sample


James Rosie on the place names and lore of Swona 1966

This audio recording features James Rosie, Ernest Marwick and Alexander Annal detailing some of  the place names and lore of Swona whilst touring the island. It allows us to hear how the place names are pronounced and it is the only known recording of James Rosie’s voice, although it is understood that the recording features a clearer form of his accent, which he would call his “radio voice”.  

The recording is part of the Ernest Marwick Collection. The original recording is stored in the Orkney Sound Archive ID D31-TR-49 (Side B).

Credits: BBC Radio Orkney

Full Swona Names List

The full list of Swona names is presented below. It comes with a health warning as it is a work in progress. Most of the names come directly from the 1966 OS markup so come with abbreviations.

Pronunciation Help

Name Phonetic

Geo - Gyo, as in "go"

Nev - "Nave"

Hall - "haa"

Ganges - As in "ranges"

Twinly Kirk - "twine" "lee"