Vol. 47 No. 3 (1999)
Research Article

The Trumpeters of Bemersyde: at Scottish Placename Reconsidered

Published 1999-09-01



The placename Bemersyde in the Scottish county of Berwickshire is usually explained as “hillside or seat of the trumpeter,” from the Old English words b?mere “trumpeter” and s?de “hillside” or “seat.” This would represent an unusual type of formation, and the absence of references to trumpeters in historical or documentary sources casts further doubt on the interpretation. Linguistic evidence indicates that b?mere may have developed a transferred use to refer to a bird with a trumpet-like call, possibly the bittern. Such a meaning is much more plausible in the placename context. Many Old English bird names are attested only in placenames, frequently combining with topographical elements like s?de. Occurrences of b?mere in placenames south of the present border with England are consistent with an interpretation as a bird name, while other Berwickshire placenames provide some support for the indigenous presence of bitterns in the medieval period. I therefore propose a new interpretation of Bemersyde as “hillside frequented by the bittern.”


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