Over 3,000 place names have been recorded on Tiree. There are five historical ‘layers’. The oldest layer may come from the Iron Age people living on the island before 500 AD. There are several names which do not seem obviously Gaelic or Norse, names such as Cadruim (in Balemartine), or *Taelk (an old name for the Iron Age fort in Balephetrish), and these may belong to this period. See the paper ‘An Island in 180 Names‘ for more detail.

The next oldest group comes from the Gaelic used by the Dál Riata, the earliest Gaelic settlers from Ireland, who arrived on Tiree around 500 AD. Cnoc na h-Anaid (hillock of the church, in Milton) and place names using the word cill – (church), like Cill Moluag (Kilmoluaig), possibly date from this time.

When the Norse Vikings came to Tiree after 800 AD they settled much, if not all, of the island.  Around 180 Norse place names survive on Tiree, including those ending in -ay (island), -aig (a bay), -nish (a headland) and -bol (a farm). The Viking name for the island was Tyrvist,, from which the modern Gaelic name for an islander, a Tirisdeach, is thought to be derived.

Sometime between 1200 and 1300 Gaelic again became the dominant language on Tiree. Most names on Tiree come from this period. Cnoc an Lìn, Cnoc a’ Mhurain and Cnoc nan Eisg remind us today of hillocks where flax, marram grass and fish were dried. Tobar an Dèididh ‘the well of toothache’ is where water reputed to be a cure for toothache could be collected. Pàirc nan Each ‘the field of the horse’ was where horses were grazed and A’ Chroit Dhubh was the black, or peaty, croft.

Gradually, in the middle of the nineteenth century English crept in. Milton (Mill-town, in Caolas), The Green (Kilmoluaig) and The Land in Barrapol were probably the first three. Sometimes English was combined with Gaelic, as at Port na Mistress in Caolas. It has now started to replace older names, as at Happy Valley (Lag na Clèite, Hynish), The Maze (Tràigh Thorosdail, Hough) and The Camp (part of Crossapol).