Historical Context

The origins of the name “Edney” are unclear. The name Edney was recorded in England as far back as the 6th Century. By the time the name shows up in Scottish official records—a Euphame Ednie, who married a Walter Lumsden in 1662 in Cupar, Fyfe—the name was in fairly common use through England (particularly in the Somerset and Cornwall areas), Wales and Ireland. The name is included in the Welsh genealogy of King George II (as Edneyfed, a male personal name used in the 13th century), and one Edney was a member of the MacDuff Clan (a Pictish clan that ruled Fife prior to the 14th century). A Francis Edney was left a sum of money (£200) in the will of Sir Francis Bacon in 1626, with this same Edney referenced in a poem by John Hoskyns.

There are a number of different claims for the etymology of the name—

  1. It is of Celtic origin, meaning ‘the son of Idonia’1 (which is itself derived from Old German meaning ‘industrious’)2
  2. It is related to the French-origin ‘Sidonie’,3 being a female name meaning “follower of Saint Denys”4
  3. It is possibly based on Idney and possibly Iddon, Idden, and Idonea as being related to the Old Norse Idhuna (or Indunnr) – the name of a goddess of spring (literally ‘again love’), or derived from the Old Norse ‘idh’ (meaning ‘work’ or ‘labour’)5
  4. It is associated with the Latin ‘Idoneus’, meaning ‘suitable’6,7
  5. It is derived from the Roman name for a Saxon tribe called the Aedenii, which settled in Norfolk, East Anglia around 80AD8
  6. It is an Anglicized form of the Scottish and Irish name "Eithne" - St Ethenia (Ethna, Edana), the daughter of King Laoghaire of Ireland, was one of St Patrick's first converts9
  7. It is possibly to be derived from a name such as 'Hedony' or 'Adony' and just got lost in pronunciation
  8. One source notes that the name "Nevett" derives from the Welsh personal name Ednyfed. The English form is derived from Old English "cniht" (knight), and is also abbreviated to Eden, which is the source of names such as Bennet, Bennett, Eden, Knevett, and Nevet.10

In any event, it is not certain that the name had a singular origin, or whether there were various forms that evolved from numerous origins. It is clear that even in Scottish records (which only begin around 1550), the name takes several forms including Ednie, Edny and Eding. Part of the difficulty relates to the low level of literacy among the population, so the ‘correct’ spelling of a name was often unknown to those using it.

The other part of the difficulty relates to the use of the name in Scotland. The history of Scotland, its blending of peoples and cultures, means that the true origin of the name will likely be lost forever.

Starting sometime around the 5th century, Gaelic language and culture spread from Ireland to the southwest coast of Scotland where it may have already existed since Roman times. Uncertainty over this comes as a result of the fact that there is disputed archaeological evidence to support the generally accepted tale of migration while there is some to suggest that there was none — the evidence also points to the population of the area being constant during the time of the alleged Scottish invasion. This area was known as Dál Riata. The Gaels soon spread out to most of the rest of the country. Culturo-linguistic dominance in the area eventually led to the Latin name for Gaelic speaking peoples, "Scoti", being applied to the state founded by the Gaels, Scotland (Alba in Latin).


There is a recorded Edney Coat of Arms (see right) attributed to Dublin, Ireland.11 It is possible that the Scottish Edneys were Gaels that spread from Ireland.

However, this is generally inconclusive. The area of Scotland where the first recorded Ednie is found is in the east, and is an area that has throughout history come into significant cultural contact with other people. It has been the occupied by the Picts, Scoti, Britons, and Scandinavian Vikings. There was also substantial trade and interaction with France and, in the south and east, with the Baltic countries.

Although, in fact, the Picts were a loose grouping of many diverse tribes. The Kingdom of the Picts (based in Fortriu by the 6th century) was the state which eventually became known as "Alba" or "Scotland". The development of "Pictland” was a natural response to Roman imperialism. Another view places emphasis on the Battle of Dunnichen, and the reign of Bridei m. Beli (671–693), with another period of consolidation in the reign of Óengus mac Fergusa (732–761). The Kingdom of the Picts as it was in the early 8th century, when Bede was writing, was largely the same as the kingdom of the Scots in the reign of Alexander (1107–1124). However, by the tenth century, the Pictish kingdom was dominated by what we can recognise as Gaelic culture, and had developed an Irish conquest myth around the ancestor of the contemporary royal dynasty, Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin).


Map of Early Scottish Kingdoms

The Pictish confederation occupied central and northern Scotland from Roman times until the 10th century. They lived to the north of the Forth and Clyde. They are often assumed to have been the descendants of the Caledonii and other tribes named by Roman historians or found on the world map of Ptolemy, though the evidence for this connection is circumstantial and the issue of "Pict" origins remains controversial among historians. Pictland, also known as Pictavia, became the Kingdom of Alba during the 10th century and the Picts became the Fir Alban, the men of Scotland.

From a base of territory in eastern Scotland north of the River Forth and south of the River Oykel, the kingdom acquired control of the lands lying to the north and south. By the 12th century, the kings of Alba had added to their territories the English-speaking land in south-east and attained overlordship of Galloway and Norse-speaking Caithness; by the end of the 13th century, the kingdom had assumed approximately its modern borders. However, processes of cultural and economic change beginning in the 12th century ensured Scotland looked very different in the later Middle Ages. The stimulus for this was the reign of King David I and the so-called Davidian Revolution. Feudalism, government reorganisation and the first legally defined towns, called burghs, began in this period. These institutions and the immigration of French and Anglo-French knights and churchmen facilitated a process of cultural osmosis, whereby the culture and language of the low-lying and coastal parts of the kingdom's original territory in the east became, like the newly-acquired south-east, English-speaking, while the rest of the country retained the Gaelic language, apart from the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland, which remained under Norse rule until 1468.

The Caledonians (Latin: Caledonii), or Caledonian Confederacy, is a name given by historians to a group of the indigenous peoples of Scotland during the Iron Age which the Romans initially included as Britons, but later distinguished as the Picts. They were enemies of the Roman Empire, which was then occupying and administering most of Great Britain as the Roman province called Britannia. We do not know by what name the Caledonians referred to themselves.

The Caledonians, like many Brythonic tribes, were hillfort builders and farmers who defeated and were defeated by the Romans on several occasions. The Romans never fully occupied the territory they called Caledonia (broadly corresponding to modern Scotland) and resistance by the Caledonians was one of the factors that led to the Romans' abandonment of plans to occupy the area.

Nearly all of the information that we have about the Caledonians comes from their enemy; therefore it is necessary to be aware of the possibility of bias in the historical record. Tacitus mentions that they had red hair and large limbs (Agricola, 11).

Against this, it should be remembered of the influence that the Angles had in language and culture. “Angles” is a modern English word for a Germanic-speaking people who took their name from the cultural ancestral region of Angeln, a modern district located in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

The origin of the name Edinburgh in English is understood to come from the Brythonic Din Eidyn (Fort of Eidyn) from the time when it was a Gododdin hillfort. In the 1st century the Romans recorded the Votadini as a Brythonic tribe in the area, and about 600 A.D. the poem Y Gododdin, using the Brythonic form of that name, describes warriors feasting "in Eidin's great hall".

It came to be known to the Bernician Angles (Bernicia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom established by Anglian settlers of the 6th century in what is now the South-East of Scotland, and the North-East of England) as Edin-burh, which some people once believed derived from the Old English for "Edwin's fort", with a reference to the 7th century king Edwin of Northumbria. However, since the name apparently predates King Edwin, this is highly unlikely. The burgh element means "fortress" or "walled group of buildings", i.e. a town or city and is akin to the German burg, Latin parcus, Greek pyrgos etc. Burh is simply a translation of Brythonic Din; Edin is untranslated.

Documents from the 14th century show the name to have settled into its current form, with spelling variants including "Edynburgh" and "Edynburghe".

The charter refers to the recipients (in Latin) as "Ecclisie Sancte Crucis Edwinesburgensi". But this was soon to change; by the 1170s King William the Lion was using the name "Edenesburch" in a charter (again in Latin) confirming the 1124 grant of David I.

The name Edney may have a similar etymology with Edinburgh.

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