Originally published in the Scotsman on 4 June 2016
The English name of this remote island sounds as if it is named after a holy person; it is however a misnomer. The Gaelic, and original, form is Hiort (Hirt in 1202). The difference between the two forms came about from a well on the island called Tobar Chiolda. Tobar means ‘well’ in Gaelic, and the other element derives from the Norse kelda, also meaning a ‘well’. This name was mistakenly taken to be a saint’s name, and then this was taken to be the name of the whole island. This newer form is first on record from around the seventeenth century, and was likely coined by seamen.
In Gaelic, Saint Kilda has a similar role to ‘Timbuktoo’ in English, meaning a remote place. A common saying to denote the extent of the traditional Gaelic speaking area in Scotland is bho Pheairt gu Hiort, ‘from Perth to Saint Kilda’.
Pictures by Kate Duffus
For further research see our database: Saint Kilda