Δουμνα

Attested:  Ptolemy 2,3,31 Δουμνα νησος;  Pliny 4,104 Dumna

Where:  Stroma island, between the Scottish mainland and Orkney, around ND351775, is a better fit to Ptolemy's coordinates (between those of the Ναβαρου river mouth and of the Ορκαδες islands) than previous guesses at Lewis-and-Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

Name Origin:  ‘Foggy island’.  The many descendants of PIE *dheu- ‘to rise in a cloud’ include a range of words meaning smoke (such as Russian дым), dusk, smell (such as Greek θυμος ‘soul’ or θυμον ‘thyme’), etc.  The closest parallels are in Old High German toum ‘vapor, haze, mist’, Old Saxon domian ‘steam’, Middle Dutch doom ‘vapor, mist, exhalation of animals’ (which survives in modern opdoemen ‘to loom out of the mist’), and Irish dumach ‘sand-bank, cloud-bank’.  English has no cognate closer than damp, because it has shifted to the Latin equivalent fume, with initial F.  The waters around Stroma can be very dangerous in bad weather; hence its lighthouse and powerful foghorn.  The -na ending may just mean ‘flowing’, as on many river names.

Notes:  Much energy has been devoted to discussing an ancient word *dumno- as a variant of *dubno- ‘deep’, which possibly enters into proper names with a mystic-religious sense of ‘the world down below’.  Watson (1926:40-41) drew attention to a possible parallel in Domon in the north of Alba mention in Irish folklore from about AD 1150; not convincing.  Almost none of the earliest names of Scottish islands is readily interpretable with medieval Celtic, and they are usually described as ‘pre-Celtic’.  Despite the advanced megalithic culture of Neolithic peoples on Orkney, there is no evidence for more than a modest population on the Roman-era Outer Hebrides, as shown for example by the Time Team TV programme about a site on the island of Barra of about AD 100.

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Last edited 29 September 2022     To main Menu.