Kennedy place-names

Iain Kennedy

19th November 2006; 2nd update 3.12.06 with comments from Scottish Place-name Society; 3rd update following Pitkennedy visit 14.4.07

Copyright © 2007 Iain Kennedy


There are a number of places in Ireland and Scotland based around the Kennedy name. In Scotland we have Castle Kennedy outside Stranraer, Kennedy's Cairn on the Mull of Galloway, Kennedy's Corner NE of Middlebie, Kennedy's Pass on the A77 coast road coming in to Girvan and Pitkennedy in Angus. The former, in the heartlands of the lowland Kennedys, hardly need further comment. However Pitkennedy is more interesting. Firstly, as my readers may be aware, the Pit- prefix is said to be indicative of the Picts, despite us having no record of them using writing. (There has been debate about this in the past and some have claimed that the stem is Gaelic). The prefix pit- or pett- is translated as 'share' or 'portion' (ie of land). Does this mean, then, that Kennedy is actually Pictish and thus far older than previously thought? Alas no. It was common practise to combine the Pictish Pit- prefix with Gaelic words. Pitkennedy is too small to appear in most gazeteers of Scottish place-names.

How old is the place-name Pitkennedy?

Nicolaisen gives the twelth century as the earliest we can hope to find written place-name evidence in Scotland, far later than England. The Map Library at the National Library of Scotland have an excellent digitised map section on the NLS website; around the mid-sixteenth century is about the earliest we can look for cartographic evidence and this is hampered by the smallness of the place. It does feature, twice, on the 1794 map by John Ainslie, first as Pitkennedy and again as Cotton of Pitkennedy. The author of this map had the annoying habit of 'crossing' many of his consonants making it hard to distinguish the lower case 'l' and 't'; I would venture that he was trying to write Pilkennedy, by comparison with other names nearby (qv the lower case 't's in Cotton, for example). At first glance Cotton of Pitkennedy seems to correspond with modern day 'Bog of Pitkennedy' but on reading this refused 2005 planning application the council make reference to both Bog of P. and Cotton of P. Around the time of Ainslie's map the First Statistical Account of Aberlemno parish fails to mention Pitkennedy but it does get a mention (1) in the New Statistical Account of 1845 when it was owned by one of the main landowners of the parish, Patrick Chalmers. Meanwhile the 1820 Thomson map names the locations Pilkennedy and 'Coteton of Pilkennedy'. Unfortunately the next online map of the area doesn't mention it and the 1898 county parish map sheet for Forfar is missing from the collection.

I consulted the Scottish Place-Name Society and their editor offered the opinion that Nicolaisen's original comments should stand, it being most likely that Pilkennedy was a spelling mistake that got copied. They also explained the meaning of 'Cotton of': 'Cotton' in Scottish place-names is usually a small hamlet of cots for cottars - farm workers who have a cottage (without land) as part of their contract.

Having visited the area recently, I can report that there are 3 separate farms; Pitkennedy, Cotton of Pitkennedy and Bog of Pitkennedy; a primary school that is now merging with its neighbour; and a homestead at Lower Pitkennedy which has split off from the main Pitkennedy farm.

Why was Angus a source for a Kennedy-named place?

This is an interesting question as Angus is far from being typical Kennedy country compared with the South-west and Highlands. One might almost think that it would indeed make more sense if Kenneth, the Pictish king who died at Forteviot, was the source although Pitkennedy is a fair distance even from the latter.

Angus city council are claiming on their website that Pitkennedy means Kenneth's farm. This is reminiscent of the old story that Kennedy is linked to the name Kenneth, which I do not find convincing. Of course both names were Gaelic, the latter derived from the name Cainnech*. However Nicolaisen gives Pitkennedy as meaning 'Cenneteigh's share'.


(1) The online images of the pages of the First and Second statistical accounts are a fantastic treasure. It would be churlish to complain that having encouraged its users to provide url references, they don't actually work as you have to login first! Then you get a message thus:

External link

The link or bookmark you used to access The Statistical Accounts of Scotland refers to: ...



Black, George F. , The Surnames of Scotland, 1946 (Birlinn edition published 1999)

Fraser, Ian, Perthshire Place-names, chapter in The Perthshire Book, Birlinn, 1999

Nicolaisen, W.F.H., Scottish place-names, John Donald (Birlinn), 1976, 2001

* according to Black, the name which appears in English as Kenneth is of different origin, the old Scots Gaelic King's name Cinead. This to me makes this entry confusing as the latter is considerably more well-known and it is unclear how we are supposed to know which is which, especially if they are both Gaelic.