Kirk - Place Names

Place Names

Like words meaning "church" in other languages, kirk is found as an element in many place names in Scotland and northern England, and in countries with large Scottish expatriate communities. Examples include Falkirk, Kirkwall or numerous Kirkhills in Scotland, Kirkstall in England and Newkirk, Oklahoma in the United States. What may be slightly surprising is that this element is found not only in place names of Anglo-Saxon origin, but also in some Southern Scottish names of Gaelic origin such as Kirkcudbright (where the second element is the Gaelic form of "Cuthbert"). Here, the Gaelic element cil- (church, monk's cell) might be expected. The reason appears to be that kirk was borrowed into Galwegian Gaelic, though it was never part of standard Scottish Gaelic.

When the element appears in placenames in the former British empire, a distinction can be made between those where the element is productive (the place is named because of the presence of a church) and those where it is merely transferred (the place is named after a place in Scotland). Kirkland, Washington is an exception, being named after a person.

The element kirk is also used in anglicisations of continental European place names originally formed from one of the continental Germanic cognates. Thus Dunkirk (France) is a rendering of an original Dutch form, Duinkerke (West Flemish Duunkerke, French Dunkerque).

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