First published in the Scotsman on 26 November 2016
Kirkcudbright (Kyrkecuthbert 1200-06) is a name of Gaelic origin, although the first part Kirk- appears to be borrowing into Gaelic from either Scots kirk or Norse kirkja both meaning ‘church’. The second part, written confusingly as -cudbright, reflects (Saint) Cuthbert, a Northumbrian saint. The form Kirk- is thought to be Gaelic because of the word order; in Gaelic the generic element normally comes first. If this name were Scots in origin it might be something like *Cuthbertskirk. (In fact this name is first on record as Cuthbrictis Khirche in 1164.)
A poem in Manx Gaelic from the sixteenth century refers to this place as Keel Choobragh; this is Manx spelling for Cille Chubragh. In this form of the name, the obscure Gaelic term represented as Kirk- has been replaced by the more common cill(e) ‘church’ seen often in Scottish names, for instance in Kilmartin or Cille Mhàrtainn.
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