Originally published in the Scotsman on 9 July 2016
Our earliest recorded mention of Iona comes from the Latin Vita Columbae, a book about the Life of St Columba, written round 700 AD. In that book it is referred to as Ioua Insula (Insula being Latin for ‘island’). At some point however the u of Ioua was confused with n to make ‘Iona’. This was not likely a scribal error, however, since the Hebrew word for ‘dove’ is yonah (also spelt ionah). TheGaelic man’s name Colum, now Calum, is a loan-word from Latin columba meaning ‘dove’. Columba’s name in Gaelic was Calum Cille ‘the dove of the church’. It is likely therefore that the correct spelling Ioua was changed knowingly to Iona in order to strengthen links between St Columba and Iona.
Pottie on Mull is in Gaelic Poit Ì, ‘the pot of Iona’, probably denoting a place from where Iona is visible.
For further research see our database: Iona