Sunday, 3 May 2009

Which islands do we live in?

What's in a name? After I posted on the health service in these islands, a discussion blew up on the comment thread about the formal name for the island chain, stretching from Lewis to Barra Head. I quote IB head honcho Les:

The islands are referred to as The Outer Hebrides by the Ordnance Survey (and you would be right in thinking that’s where you live)

As a UK Parliamentary constituency it is referred to as Na h-Eileanan an Iar - however as a Scottish Parliamentary constituency it is The Western Isles - however for Local Government purposes it is referred to as Na h-Eileanan Siar.

This I find ridiculous. Why, in the name of the wee man, can't this muddle be brought into line. Gaelic, English, and even in the Gaelic there is disagreement. So, I am going to be bold here by asking our MP, MSP and Council Leader to join forces and push for a change in the law that will give our beautiful islands one name for all occasions. Which one, I don't care.


  1. I did put a caveat that I stand to be corrected but from lots of Googling that's how I understand it. I have to say that I have always known the islands as The Outer Hebrides but I started calling them The Western Isles a few years ago when that name seemed to be in wider use. I assumed that I had been miseducated but if, indeed, The Western Isles is only a recent introduction to indicate a parliamentary constituency then I see no reason to use it.

    As for the Gaelic names I can understand Gaelic speakers using these if that's what they have been known by historically but if they, too, are modern inventions to satisfy parliamentary niceties then there seems no reason to use them. Gaelic speakers may well know the islands by other names (The Long Isle?). There is also a tendency for those outside the islands to use the Gaelic names mentioned because it is deemed 'polite' but then we don't call France Le République française do we?

    I am going back to what I learned in school and using The Outer Hebrides - unless someone can show me I'm wrong :smile:

  2. Not sure what the problem here is. I currently live in Glasgow who's area is referred to as both Lanarkshire and Strathclyde.

    As a UK Parliamentary constituency I live in Glasgow Central, as a Scottish Parliament Constituency I am Glasgow Kelvin and for local government I live in Glasgow City.

    If anyone asks where I live I'd simply say Glasgow. Easy. I wouldn't bother referring to it's constituency names.

    To this end you can simply say you live on Lewis which is in the Outer Hebrides also known as the Western Isles.

    If you wish to refer to the area by it's Gaelic name then the An Iar / Siar is not a major issue either, both simply mean these are the Western Isles, The Westerly Islands, The Islands to the West etc. Gaelic kind of works in that non definitive way, both names meaning exactly the same thing.

    I've a feeling your MP / MSPs might have chuckle if you do put pen to paper.

  3. It is good practice to let up a trial balloon to gauge reaction before taking definitive action. Take TheCroft's comments on board, also that this is in fact a minor issue. Naturally, there tends to be more than one name to a larger area - look at mainland Scotland north of the Great Glen. It is all Highland Council, but with subsets like Invernessshire, Rossshire (Easter Ross and Wester Ross), Sutherland, Caithness etcetera thrown in for good measure. Think I'll leave it to the politicians to generate their own chuckles.

  4. I thought that the Western Isles were all the islands on the West coast of Scotland - correct me please if I'm wrong, a Captain ought to be good at geography.
    Bjärred is also spelt Bjerred or Bjered. It is corrupt Danish for "bjerg" = hill. The hill in question is about 5 meters high (which is a mountain to a Dane but a molehill to a Swede). The suprsing thing is that this pimple is a rather prominent landmark seen from the sea. Why corrupt Danish? Because until about 1750 the S. of Sweden was part of the Danish realm. Then a Swedish king did a dirty trick and crossed the ice of the Sound with his arm and suprised the Danes when they were in winter quarters at Roskilde. Obviously not a cricketer.

  5. What does your Imray's Yachtsman's Pilot to The Western Isles say? I thought it covered The Outer Hebrides and St. Kilda. Or are you such an old sea dog that a lick of the finger and a general sense of 'west' is all you need?

  6. Seem to remember 'Western Isles' only started being used / promoted 'officially' about 20 to 30 years ago. - Something to do with 'Western Isles' supposedly sounding softer, friendlier and less remote than the 'Outer' Hebrides.

  7. Good point, Les. I checked out the Sea Dog library and found no pilot for the Outer Hebrides and points West. The CCC Ardnamurchan to Cape Wrath sailing directions doesn't cover the OH. But the Imray C chart series shows the area as "Outer Hebrides or Western Isles". So there we have it....
    and now for a commercial -

    "........ Come, my friends,
    T'is not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order, smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the Western stars, until I die.
    It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
    It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
    And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
    Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seeek, to find and not to yield".

    I couldn't have put it better myself.

  8. I did mean to add to my comment that with Outer Hebrides there is also the potential for confusion with the New Hebrides.

    I can almost imagine a man going into a travel agent and telling the clerk that he wishes to go on a trip of a lifetime to the New Hebrides and the clerk says 'Leave it with me Mr Smith, I'll see you right'. The man gets to the airport, checks in, is a bit confused when he doesn't go through passport control but thinks the system must have changed since he last travelled. Imagine his disappointment to find himself at Stornoway Airport!

    Actually 'New' is now officially Vanuatu, but many people still refer to the island group by its old name.

  9. I've never heard of that confusion before, Mr 4x - I have heard the story of the honeymooners who booked their flights on line to go to Sydney. They were surprised to find themselves at Toronto, and even more surprised to board a turboprop plane to land in a remote corner of Nova Scotia. Fortunately, the locals worked to make the best of a bad situation and made it a honeymoon to remember!

  10. Minor quibble four x. As a former resident of the New Hebrides/ Les Nouvelles Hébrides (dual titles as they were a condominium jointly ruled by Britain and France) I can think of very few people who use the former name. Vanuatu was adopted as the name on independence in 1980 and is the only name used by the citizens. Incidentally the official languages of Vanuatu are :- Bislama ( a variety of pidgin with a fair content of words of French origin), English and French. When I lived there there were 75 acknowledged native languages although the count varied as the philologists could not always agree which were languages in their own right and which were merely dialects. Many of the individual Islands had English, French and Ni Vanuatu names but I think this is being resolved as Ni Vanuatu names are being generally adopted.

  11. Minor or major quibbles always helpful Hyper! Thank you for correcting me.

    I managed to get by in 'Tok Pisin' when I was in Papua New Guinea, well sprinkled with more English than Pidgin I must admit.

  12. Appinoon Wantok, PNG leaves the rest of melanesia in the shade in the language stakes. I read somewhere that there are over 900 languages although the anthropologists think there may be more to be discovered and some are dying out. I seem to recall reports of 1 language with only 3 speakers left. There was a period when pc reared its ugly head and Pidgin, before Tok Pisin became its popular name, was going to be called Neo-Melanesian.

  13. When i was young i had never heard of Vanuatu-----The New Hebrides,yes and being ignorant it was only recently when i booked to go to "Vanuatu " i realised it was the "new hebrides" they got independence from britain and france in 1980--its bad i didn't know this before,me born and bred in scotland and living in france since 1976: ouch!!
    p.s; i wonder which has the most islands--outer hebrides or vanuatu!(vanuatu has over eighty)if anyone would like to see photos of vanuatu they can look at my set i put on flickr or for a professional glimpse look