Gathering Mosses

In his blog post Gatherings about Moss, Thomas Clancy follows up John MacQueen’s (1956, p. 141) suggestion that Old English mos or Old Norse mosi – cognate with Scots MOSS ‘(peat) bog’ – were borrowed into Gaelic. There are names in the Place-Names of the Galloway Glens database which appear to use this borrowed element *mos: Moss Roddock Loch & Moss Raploch. Names of the type elsewhere in Galloway include Moss Nae, Mossmaul and Mossfeather.

I’ve found three Moss- names which weren’t recorded on the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey six-inch to the mile maps and which have therefore flown under the radar: Mossbowie, Kirkmaiden WIG; Moss Glairn, Lochrutton, KCB; and Mossband, Kirkgunzeon KCB.

Mossbowie, Kirkmaiden WIG

Mossbowie is recorded on John Ainslie’s (1782) A Map of the County of Wigton. This is the most securely Gaelic of the three Moss-names gathered here. It is hard to analyse it as anything other than Gaelic mos + buidhe ‘yellow’.

John Ainslie (1782) ‘A Map of the County of Wigton’
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Moss Glairn, Lochrutton KCB

I think Moss Glairn, only recorded on William Mounsey’s (1815) A Plan of the Lochrutton Estate, is fairly likely to be another Gaelic Moss- name too. Here is what I wrote about it in my Estate Map Gleanings 3 post:

“The second element of Moss Glairn looks like it could be Gaelic gleadhran ‘wood sorrel; yellow rattle; cockscomb’. (Alan James has suggested that cockscomb here could be Pedicularis palustris.) If not named from a flower, Thomas Clancy suggests a possible derivation from gleadhar ‘noise, rattle’.

Another possibility is that Moss Glairn is a Scots name in inverted element order (see Drumcushat Park below). Moss is fine, but what would Glairn be? Bobby Clark suggests a derivation from GLAUR ‘soft, sticky mud; ooze, slime’. Alan James suggests glairn could be ‘an analogical adjectival form’ of GLAUR. ‘Slimy bog’ would be something of a tautology, but tautologous names are not uncommon. However, I think the balance is probably in favour of this being a Gaelic name.”

William Mounsey (1815) ‘A Plan of the Loch Rutton Estate comprending the property in Loch Rutton and Urr parishes in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright belonging to Marmaduke Constable Maxwell’
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Mossband, Kirkgunzeon KCB

Mossband appears on the map as Mossband Cottages in 1957 on OS sheet NX86NE. This site subsequently became Mossband Caravan Park and is now Mossband Residential Park. I imagine Mossband Cottages took their name from the field on which they were built, which sits beside a moss. Mossband could represent Gaelic mos + bàn ‘white’. Band would be an unremarkable reanalysis of bàn. A parallel can be found at Castle Ban (Gaelic caiseal bàn) in Kirkcolm, WIG which was recorded in the OS Name Books as Castle Band OS1/35/15/8.

Another option is that Mossband is Scots moss + band. There are hundreds of Scots/Scottish Standard English names where moss appears in first position, followed (in order of frequency) by elements such as side, end, head, plantation, wood, house, bank etc. Mossband feels like a natural Scots/Scottish Standard English name. However, it’s not clear what the element band would be doing here. In northern England, band is used in relatively young names in the sense ‘the ridge of a small hill’. [See this tweet for the reference; thanks to Paul Carbuncle for providing it.] This seems to be the meaning in The Band, Closeburn: “A name given to a rocky Brow [on] the farm of Townhead & South slope of Auchenleck Hill” OS1/10/6/50 (also described at OS1/10/6/53).

However, beyond The Band in Closeburn, band only appears as the final element in Mossband/Moss Band. In addition to the Kirkgunzeon Mossband, there are a handful of other names of this type across Scotland and northern England:

  • Mossband, Dumfries, DMF NX 996 752
  • Mossband, Kirkandrews Nether CMB NY 350 654
    • The Survey of English Place-Names records the following forms: Mosband, 1590; the Mosbande, 1602; Mosse Band near Carlisle 1677; two names (Mossband and Mosband) are marked on the south-west and south sides of Solway Flow, now Rosetrees Moss, on Roy’s Military Map (1752-55).
  • Mossband, Bothwell LAN NS 795 606.
    • Moss Band on Roy’s Military Map (1752-55).
  • Moss Bands, Mossband, Mid Moss Band, Airth STL are marked on Roy’s Military Map (1752-55) on the east side of what is now Leatham Moss. They aren’t recorded on the OS.

Paul Carbuncle notes that the 1602 form of the Mosbande (Kirkandrews Nether), which includes the definite article might pose a hurdle to a Gaelic etymology here. If *mosbàn had been reanalysed as Mossband by this time, I don’t think this is to much of an issue. It may be that a name interpreted as English would ‘invite’ the definite article (though I think this probably depends on the type of name as well as the grammatical context of the record.) However, it’s worth bearing in mind that not all these names need be Gaelic; they might represent a mix of Gaelic, Scots and (Scottish Standard) English names.

If (some of) these names are Scots/(Scottish Standard) English, the fact that band appears only to collocate with Moss- implies that they weren’t being coined as moss + band but that *mossband was a ready-made compound. What would that be? Band ‘the ridge of a small hill’ is unlikely to be relevant, as Mossbands appear to be located at low-lying, moss-side sites. Perhaps band here referred to a ‘strip of land’ or ‘land bounding/bordering something’.

It’s not easy to settle the matter, but I think the weight of probability lies with a Gaelic etymology: ‘white moss’ would be a perfectly ordinary name, and one with a parallel in Mossbowie ‘yellow moss’. A Scots/(Scottish Standard) English etymology would require either a formation with band in an otherwise unrecorded toponymic sense or the use of an equally unrecorded pre-existing compound *mossband. Not impossible, but the path of least resistance appears to be Gaelic.

NX86NE – A Surveyed / Revised: Pre-1930 to 1956, Published: 1957
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland


  • MacQueen, John, 1956, ‘Kirk- and Kil- in Galloway Place-Names’, Archivum Linguisticum 8, pp. 135-149

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