On Place-names


‘After Watson and Nicolaisen we used to say…’

in the beginning was the name place

place-names are composed of words for what a place once was

a name means nothing to a place

this is not that: place-name

place-names colour the horizon

place-names are necessary relations

names are needs

hill names hold a resting truth

a hill name always speaks to its best side

names can change and so can places

place-names are social signs for natural forms

a place-names is dyad – this and that – and sometimes dryad – the mysterious spirit of this or that

names determine a course

walks happen between place-names

in place-names a shoulder can be a nose

the map lies latent in the place-name

names make us all travelers

I travel in order to know names

an abundance of place-names is a response to the demands life poses

a name is always ‘authentic’, no matter if it evolves beyond the memory of its original meaning 


a name recovered returns the claims of human affection for a place

place-names identify a field of biotic relationships

a name describes a patch of phenomena

place-names are distributed intelligence

in order to keep the names of farms and fields they must be maintained

our experience of a landscape grows from the place-names we know

to understand a place-name it helps to approach by the right path

a names is an intensification of awareness

names hide as much as they show

we can look into a name, but never look out from a name

a total landscape complete with missing names (after Beckett) 

listen to a place-name, hear the dead speak

a name may be a world of selves asleep

life is a stream of forgetting; names are stepping-stones

need a place-name be faithful to a language ? – not so long as speech evolves

place-names prove words are always losing their meaning

a place-name is a sound-designating reality

only when something has been left behind do we name it (after Bougainville)

some place-names follow speech, but run counter to meaning

phonetic names are a made in the mouth, some in the ear, and some with the eye


how names distinguish places depends on a lexicon

names and maps are composed of differences – this-is-not-that

places are fixed, names aren’t

place-names are viewpoints

the process of place-making does not end with a name; that is its beginning

as place-name journey away from their original cause they do not lose their identity – rather, it changes

some place-names are all that remain of lost languages

place-names dissolve places into meaning

place-names have importance for their resonance within us – whether we know the places they refer to well or not

Mam’s name the mountains with a capital M

take care what use you make of a name

our place-names un-name older names

the meaning of a place-name tends to go underground over time

names can lose their context, woods can be cut, castles fall, housing schemes be built

with place-names meaning can exist without sense

a name may offer counsel: take care here, plant here, walk here, cross here

place-names, being charged with historical meanings, decline towards a state of ‘nature’

names are constellations

there are place-names that record a fleeting moment – say, an avalanche – and names that seem to refer to something ever=present – the mountain upon which the snows rest

fondness alone will not prevent a name sliding into oblivion

a gift for a guest: our place-names

they died from a lack of place-names

names frame

place-names are patterns and paths are intentions

place-names are companions, they offer comfort in the flux

most people lives in places, a few dwell in names

a culture that is considering the reintroduction of the wolf, lynx and boar may also wish to consider renewing their place-names

a place-name may rise or recede

place-names state laws, break laws, and change laws

some names are wild words

place-names are allied to habitat restoration

close behind, and partially obscured by, a name, there stands a place

names never amount to a unitary whole; places extend one to another within the horizon

names may lose what their meaning was, but they never lose their meaning to people

it’s been such a long time since we went a walk to see that nice name

that moment when, having walked for some time, you finally arrive at a name, sink down to the earth and sit – until a new name calls you on

a name can hold on to a ruin, or patch of hillside, but a name cannot hold on to nothing

a name can be a shelter or a wall staving off entry

names are portmanteau: begin by choosing what to unpack

although the pagan aspect of a name is covered in a decorated cloth, its outline may still be made out


a names meaning is not what a name meant, but what we now think it means

a name will endure as long as it has meaning for people

names change when the guard of speech alters

speech liberates names from one meaning and invents another one

the meaning of a name may go into oblivion long before the name itself

a place may go to ruin and its name survive

I flew off like a name – my other foot was already on the next mountain (after Mayakovsky)

after I found names I found beauty

something yet remains: a name

language is history, history language; names the luggage carried in their hold

most names are composed of a this-and-a-that

if we could begin walking from the horizon we would have no need of place-names

a name calls us on to some other corner

a name starts me up again


W.F.N. Nicolaisen: In the Beginning was the Name
Adam Watson: The Place Names of Upper Deeside

Gairnside: : Hannah Devereux, 2015
Bessie's Cairn: Hannah Devereux, 2015
Snow pole on Gairnside: Hannah Devereux, 2015
Rineten: Hannah Devereux, 2015
Creag Ghiubhais: Alec Finlay, 2015

Gathering was commissioned by Hauser & Wirth, for the Fife Arms Hotel, Braemar; the project was launched in 2015 and will conclude in 2018.

The artist residency at University of Aberdeen is funded by The Leverhulme Trust; the project was launched in July 2016 and will conclude May 2017.