A primer on Scottish names

I hadn’t planned to cover Scottish names in this ongoing, intermittent series, but then I remembered my brave Lazarus von Hinderburg is adopted by a family who fled to Scotland from Germany. He joins them in the spring of 1946, when he’s fifteen, and means more to them than a baby or small child. A very young orphan has a much greater chance of getting adopted quickly and easily, whereas a teenage boy is often out of luck. With his addition to the Traugott household in Glasgow, they have six children, three of each.

Lazarus and the Traugotts usually attend the Garnethill Synagogue of Glasgow, located in a beautiful Victorian building, but sometimes they stay by friends in Edinburgh and attend the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation. Since he’s already missed years of school, he feels like it’d be an absolute waste and pointless if he up and resumed his education after so many years. Only his gradual progress in English, taught to him by the Traugotts, cheers him up and makes him feel like he’s not such a moron after all.

Lazarus doesn’t stay with the Traugotts or even in Scotland very long, but he never forgets them. Particularly priceless is the tallit his adoptive father gave him, to replace the one he would’ve gotten from his blood father.


The vast majority of Scottish surnames are patronymical, with the familiar Mac prefix. Sometimes the suffix -ach is used. In the case of a matronymical surname, Nic is used, derived from nighean mhic (“the daughter of the son of”). However, some surnames have origins in geography, profession, and appearance.

In comparison to many other cultures, there are relatively fewer Scottish forenames and surnames. It seems only logical, given how small their country is. As a result of this onomastic dearth, and the resulting frequency of identical names, official names are rarely used. Instead, people are known by their first names followed by epithet (e.g., Caitrìona na h-Aonar [Catriona on her own], Ailean Còcaire [Allan the cook]). It’s also common to refer to men by a forename followed by the genitive form of the father’s name (e.g., Seumas Nèill), and to passively identify women with the title Bean (Wife), followed by the above form of address. The whole Mrs. Husband’s Full Name thing has always been like nails on a chalkboard to me!

Sources of names:

Scottish names are of five major origins—Goidelic, Latin, Anglo–Norman, Scots, and Norse. This is what happens when a nation not only has extended contact with other peoples, but is subjugated by said peoples. Goidelic refers to the insular Celtic languages, which arose in the British Isles as opposed to the extinct Continental Celtic languages.

Alphabet and pronunciation:

Scottish Gaelic is very similar to the Irish and Manx languages, and more distantly related to Welsh, Breton, and Cornish. It uses the Roman alphabet, minus the letters J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y, and Z. These letters only appear in foreign loanwords and names. Accent grave (à, è, ì, ò, ù) indicates a longer version of the vowel. C is always pronounced like a K, and CH is the guttural sound found in words like loch and Chanukah.

Like Irish, they have some letter combinations which can look rather confusing at first—BH (V), GH (guttural, not rolled R), TH (H), DH (usually like GH), MH (usually like BH), SH (usually like TH), FH (only pronounced in three words, as H), and a whole slew of vowel clusters.

Some common Scottish names and their nickname forms:


Aifric (Pleasant)
Aileas (Alice)
Aileen (possible form of Helen)
Beathag (Life)
Beitris (Beatrice)
Cairistìona (Christina)
Caitrìona, Catriona (Katherine)
Caoimhe (KEE-va) (Beautiful, kind, gentle)
Deòiridh (Pilgrim)
Ealasaid, Elspeth, Elspet (Elizabeth)
Eilionoir (Eilidh) (Eleanor)
Eimhir (Swift)
Eithne (Kernel)
Fionnghuala, Fionola, Finola, Finella (White shoulder)
Frangag (Frances)
Gormlaith (Blue/illustrious princes)
Griselda, Grizel
Iseabail, Ishbel, Isobel (Beileag)
Lileas, Lilias, Lillias
Liùsaidh (Lucia)
Maighread, Mairead (Maisie, Peigi) (Margaret)
Màiri, Mhairi (Mary)
Marsaili (Marjorie, Marcella)
Maura, Moira, Moyra
Mór (Morag) (Great)
Morven (Big gap)
Oighrig (New speckled one)
Raghnaid (Battle advice)
Rhona (Rough island)
Senga (Slender)
Seonag, Seona, Shona, Sheona (Seònaid) (Joan)
Sìleas (Cecilia)
Sìne (Teasag) (Jeanne)
Sìneag (Jeannette)
Slàine (Health)
Sorcha (Radiant)
Teàrlag (Instigator)


Ailpein, Alpin (White)
Aindrea (Dand) (Andrew)
Alasdair, Alastair, Alister (Ally) (Alexander)
Allan, Allen, Alan
Amhlaidh, Aulay (Olaf)
Aodh (Aodhagán, Iagan) (Fire)
Aodhán, Edan, Aidan (a name I like a lot less since its sudden explosion in popularity!)
Aonghas, Aonghus, Angus, Innes (Gus)
Archibald (Archie)
Artair (Arthur)
Beathan (Life)
Bhaltair (Walter)
Cailean, Colin (Young dog)
Cairbre, Carbrey, Carbry (Charioteer)
Calum, Callum
Cameron (Crooked nose)
Campbell (Crooked mouth)
Cináed (Born of fire)
Coinneach, Kenneth (Kenny) (Handsome)
Conall (Strong wolf)
Cormag (Son of a raven or Son of a wheel)
Dàibhidh, David (Davie)
Deòrsa, Seòras (George)
Diarmad, Dermid (Without envy)
Domhnall, Domnall, Donald
Donnchad, Donnchadh, Duncan (Brown warrior)
Dubhghall, Dougal, Dugald (Dark stranger)
Dubhghlas, Douglas (Dark river)
Duff (Dark)
Eachann (Brown horse)
Ealair, Ellar (Hilary)
Eanraig, Hendry (Henry)
Eideard (Edward)
Eoghan, Euan, Ewan, Ewen (Either means “Born by the yew tree” or is a form of Eugene)
Eoin, Iain, Ian (John)
Erskine (Projecting height)
Fearchar, Farquhar (Dear man)
Fearghas, Fergus (Man of vigor)
Fife, Fyfe (The name of a kingdom in Scotland)
Filib (Philip)
Fionnghall, Fingal, Fingall (White stranger)
Fionnlaagh, Findlay, Finlay, Finley (White warrior)
Fionntan (White fire or White bull)
Frang (Francis)
Fraser, Frazier
Gilchrist (Servant of Christ)
Gillespie (Servant of the bishop)
Gilroy (Son of the redhaired servant or Son of the king’s servant)
Glenn, Glen (Valley)
Goraidh (Godfrey)
Graham, Grahame, Graeme (properly pronounced with two syllables, contrary to the “Gram” pronunciation most Americans use)
Griogair, Gregor (Greig)
Hector (Heckie, Heck)
Iomhar (Ivor)
Irving, Irvine
Jock, Seoc (Jockie, Jocky) (Jack)
Kentigern (Chief lord)
Kerr (Rough wet ground)
Kester (Christopher)
Labhrainn (Laurence)
Lachlan, Lauchlan (Lachie, Lockie)
Lennon (Lover)
Lennox, Lenox (Place of elms)
Lindsey, Lindsay
Máel Coluim, Malcolm (Disciple of St. Columba)
Maoilios (Servant of Jesus)
Mìcheal, Micheil
Monroe, Munro
Muir (Sea, Moor)
Muireadhach, Murchadh, Murdo (Lord)
Mungo (Gentle, kind)
Murray, Moray
Naoise (NEE-sha)
Naomhán, Niven (NEE-van) (Little saint)
Neacel (Nicholas)
Neil, Niall
Pàdraig (Patrick)
Pàl, Pòl
Peadar (Peter)
Raghnall, Ranald (Ruler’s advice)
Raibeart (Rab, Rabbie) (Robert)
Ramsay (Wild garlic island)
Ranulf, Ranulph
Roderick (Famous power)
Ruadh (Red)
Ruairidh, Ruaraidh, Ruaridh, Ruairi, Rory (Red king)
Sachairi (Zachary)
Sawney (Sandy)
Scott (Scottie, Scotty)
Seaghdh, Shaw (Admirable or hawk-like)
Seòsaidh (Joseph)
Seumas, Hamish (James)
Sìoltach, Sholto (Sower)
Somhairle, Somerled, Sorley (Summer traveller)
Steafan, Steaphan (Steenie)
Stewart, Stuart
Suibhne (Well-going)
Tadg, Teague
Tàmhas, Tòmas, Tavish (Tam)
Tasgall, Taskill (God’s helmet)
Teàrlach (Charles)
Torcuil, Torquil (Thor’s cauldron)
Ualan (Valentine)
Uilleam (William)
Ùisdean (Stone of good fortune)

Why I’ve gone indie, Part III

I was rather dismayed and surprised to discover how common it is these days for writers to be compelled to rewrite and revise a book at an agent or editor’s pressure, often for no other reason than to fit more neatly into one age-based category or come across as more commercial, trendy, marketable. Some books certainly need intense revising, rewriting, restructuring, and editing, while others need more of a light polish, but that should depend upon the writer’s talent and the book itself. Not just because someone else said so.

Since I always thought of my books as being more about young people than specifically YA or mature MG, I’ve ended up with a number of characters who, by modern market standards, are awkwardly-aged for the types of stories they’re in. Most of them also age dramatically over the entire book. For example, Lazarus of my hiatused WIP Lazarus Lost and Found starts out as 13, in mid-February 1944, and goes to age 17 in late 1947. The things he goes through are extremely mature, complex, and dark, far above the typical upper MG book.

Lazarus’s little sister Malchen (Amalia) is even younger in the first book featuring her. My hiatused WIP The Natural Splash of a Living Being starts in late September 1944, when she’s not quite 12, and will go to probably her 16th birthday in November 1948. (She has the same birthday as Harpo Marx.) Again, the content is extremely dark and adult in spite of her age. It even starts with these lines:

In another lifetime, or another place at least, Amalia von Hinderburg would’ve been starting sixth grade, dreading menarche, developing a bustline, doing the things normal girls her age did.

But instead of graduating elementary school, she now held diplomas from the Warsaw Ghetto, Majdanek, and Janowska, and was in the process of earning her degree from Gross-Rosen, specializing in Christianstadt.


I deliberately made my Atlantic City characters’ age ambiguous when I did my radical rewrite and restructuring of The Very First. At most, it’s said they’re under 12. I thought about it, and I just don’t feel right aging them up even two years. By the time their true age will be revealed, the reader will be used to how they’re deliberately written as a fair bit older than their chronological age.

I did, however, tone down a lot of the inappropriate situations and language in TVF, and will continue scaling it back in the other books. As an indie, I can make my own judgment calls on how to rewrite, what to leave in, what to delete, what to change. I won’t be told to either age them up to perhaps 12 or 13 from the start, or to take out all the mature situations.

I have to shake my head at the “advice” to combine or delete characters just to make a book shorter, or to remove subplots and scenes. Why would you do this if there’s no compelling reason beyond you were made to feel it’s wrong to write anything over a certain length? I decided on my own to axe the majority of my Atlantic City characters’ new friends. Beyond five notable exceptions, none of them really do anything important, aren’t real major characters, never carry storylines.

If I were being traditionally published, I’m sure I’d be told to remove the orphanage girls from my Russian novels, even though they’re there for a very important reason. When reading the first draft of my first Russian historical in April 2011, for the first time in almost 10 years, I was blown away by how I was able to weave so many different characters and story threads together, so that they all ultimately link up. I honestly don’t know if I would’ve been able to write that book so well had I been older.

I tend towards ensemble casts, which isn’t so popular anymore in mainstream fiction.

Little Ragdoll and You Cannot Kill a Swan are superlong, and a traditional editor or agent would no doubt argue they start in the “wrong” place. Probably I’d be told LR “really” starts by Chapter 10, “The Sacrifice of Gemma,” and the reader “doesn’t need” to see the development of the relationship between the Troy siblings, their black-hearted mother, and their generational poverty. But without that base, nothing that happens after the late-start inciting incident makes much sense. There has to be grounding background and context.

Likewise, I’d probably be told Swan “really should start” possibly around the time Lyuba gets pregnant with Tatyana, or when she and Ivan get their signals badly crossed and end up in unwanted charade relationships with other people. But again, the buildup to the greater drama is important. Starting by Chapter 3 or 4 would strip away all the context of the history between Lyuba, Ivan, and Boris.

Sometimes a song doesn’t have any vocals till over a minute in, and that doesn’t make the lead-in instrumentation annoying or “too long.” It just means it’s building towards something awesome. Without the long lead-in, the song isn’t nearly the same.

Pirna, Germany


Pirna Town Hall, image by Norbert Kaiser.

Town Hall towers, the Church of Our Lady, and the Schloss Sonnenstein, image by Norbert Kaiser.

Coats of arms of the Electorate of Saxony and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on a postal milestone, 1722, image by Norbert Kaiser.

Pirna is a town of about 40,000 people, very close to the border with the Czech Republic and on the Elbe River. Evidence of settlement has been found as far back as 12,000 BCE. One of the town’s landmarks is the Schloss Sonnenstein, which was built in the 15th century on the site of an older, Medieval castle. In 1811, the castle was converted into an insane asylum. Unlike many other asylums of the era, the Schloss Sonnenstein was praised worldwide for its sensitive, modern methods of treating the mentally ill.

The Nazis took over the castle in 1940 and cruelly used it to murder the residents. From June 1940-September 1942, about 15,000 mentally ill people were gassed there, residents as well as people bussed in from nearby institutions. About a third of the hundred staff were forced to go to the camps in Poland, due to their experience with mass murder and deception. After the gas chambers and Kremchies were destroyed to hide the evidence, the castle was converted into a military hospital in October 1942.

Stadtbrücke, image by ProfessorX.

Part of my hiatused WIP Lazarus Lost and Found is set in Pirna. After 13-year-old Lazarus escapes from Oswiecim in February 1944, he slowly makes his way back to Amsterdam, mostly on foot, but sometimes from sneaking onto trains. In April 1944, after he crosses into Germany from Góra, Poland by hiding under a train, he’s observed by a woman who realises who he is and invites him to her home.

Frau Magdalena Müller is involved in the resistance, and has a Jewish husband and two teenage sons who were taken away in 1943. Her house is a safe house, and she frequently hides people. A few days later, Frau Müller smuggles him over to a hidden family to celebrate Pesach, but when they come home, the house is in complete disarray. Lazarus goes on the road again, and Frau Müller joins the partisans in the woods.

After the liberation, Lazarus returns to Pirna to find her, and stays with her again. Her husband and sons have survived and returned as well. When he’s living in Jerusalem in 1947, he finds the Müllers and is lovingly taken in. Later on, in 1952, he names his firstborn daughter, his second child, Magdalena in her honour. (I created Magdalena in 1995 and Frau Müller in 2006, and felt it would be a really nice touch to create a deeper meaning behind the name.)

View of Pirna from the Sonnenstein Castle, painted circa 1750 by Bernardo Bellotto.

Other town landmarks include the Löwen-Apotheke (a pharmacy built in 1578), the Church of Our Lady (aka Stadtkirche St. Marien), the old Town Hall, a building used as a girls’ school between 1551-1824, a Renaissance-style public library, many old houses, and the city museum, which is housed in the yard of a former Dominican monastery.

Altar of the Church of Our Lady, image by Norbert Kaiser.

More information:

http://en.stsg.de/cms/node/789/ (Schloss Sonnenstein Memorial)

http://www.pirna-altstadt.de/ (historical maps)


Six Sentence Sunday

This week’s excerpt for Six Sentence Sunday features two of the numerous bombing raids that struck Kassel, Germany during WWII. Lazarus has settled in to his hiding place in St. Jerome’s Church under the protection of Father Rudi, but his sense of peace and security are broken when a bombing raid hits.


On the night of the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth, a light diversionary bombing raid struck the city.  Lazarus was dragged out of his sleep and down into the basement, where the few people in the church spent a terrified night.  Father Rudi reassured him that it wasn’t as bad as the heavy raid that had taken place in August 1942, nor the two awful raids last October, but it was still a very frightening sensation, to be in a pitch-black basement as bombs thundered away outside.

On the night of October third and fourth, another light raid rained down upon the city.  In an ironic twist of fate, he was now fearing the bombs that by all rights he should have welcomed and heartily cheered on.  He was an enemy of the Reich taking shelter among Germans, even though the people in this church weren’t the bad type of Germans who seemed to be everywhere else he turned.

Six Sentence Sunday

This week in Six Sentence Sunday, Father Rudi invites Lazarus to view some of the films in his secret stash. By this point, Lazarus has become more warmed-up to him, and discovered that he’s a world traveler, speaks 14 languages fluently, and has some extremely radical views that would’ve caused excommunication in the pre-Vatican II era. Father Rudi also has, at risk to his own life, a secret library of books that were banned long ago.

Dick und Doof are what Laurel and Hardy are called in Germany, and Die Drei Verrückten are the Three Stooges.


“After everyone has left the church tonight, maybe you’d like to join me in the basement.  I have a lot of films I like to run on my projector, to make me smile and remember happier times—Popeye, Dick und Doof, Felix the Cat, Die Drei Verrückten, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Charlie Chaplin. Those are the kinds of things a boy your age should be watching, not people getting beaten to death, shot, or tortured.”

“I’m not a boy. I’ll be fourteen in November.” He felt a pang in his heart when he remembered how his last birthday had been spent in Hell instead of celebrated with a bar mitzvah.