Wednesday, 23 September 2015


Our peedie home in Orkney was given its name by the chap who built it.

The plot of land upon which the house stands, along with another five properties, used to be a field. Whether it was all set to pasture, I'm not sure, but whenever we cut the grass this is what happens...

Photo courtesy of Our Lass
The local Starling flock arrive and proceed to carefully and systematically quarter the ground looking for invertebrates to eat. You wouldn't want to be a leatherjacket, eh?

I was minded of this yesterday (though sadly I didn't capture an image of the event) when I was stood at the bedroom window, listening to the sparrows in the dock patch and watching the Starlings at the bottom of the lawn. Said Starlings then moved, in a block, up the lawn and beneath the window where I was standing, leaving no blade of grass unturned in their pursuit of prey. Close up and in the bright sunlight, the patterns and colours of their feathers were a textured melding of metallic sheen and sparkling jewels. Their constant sounds, a mixture of whickering and burbling (possibly to each other or just talking to themselves), ebbed and flowed as they wandered under the window. A few of the birds paused to drink at a shallow puddle in the paving, totally unconcerned at, or oblivious to, my presence.

I imagine that this scene has played out many times over the years, including whilst the house was being built, so may well have contributed to the naming of the property.

Well, I like to think so, anyway.

Researching the etymology of the name, I discovered a thesis by Berit Sandnes, From Starafjall to Starling Hill, An investigation of the formation and development of Old Norse place-names in Orkney.

It is published online here.

The eponymous hills of the title are interesting in their own right, as shown in this extract:

"Starling Hill    Sc
Evie. HY 34 22.
Stirling Hill 1846 ComE.
A summit in the hills on the border between Evie, Harray and Birsay. This is a transparent Sc formation, but interestingly it seems to be a translation of Starra Fiold, see below.

Starra Fiold    ON
Evie. HY 35 22.
Starra Fiold 1897 OSNB.
A summit close to Starling Hill above. The origin is probably ON starafjall n ‘starling hill’, though the specific could even be starra gen pl. of störr f ‘rushes’. If the specific is the bird’s term – or the speakers have imagined it to be so – this name and Starling Hill appear to be a rare example of an ON name and its Sc translation.      

The reason why both live on would seem to be that they have come to denote two different summits."

Sc = Scottish

ON = Orkney Norn

Obviously, Starafea is not an ancient Norn, Norse or Scottish term, coming simply from a recent naming event, and I'm not 100% sure that '-fea' is 'hill', as it could be 'fen' or 'marsh'. However, we're on very free-draining ground, so I'll happily side with the 'hill' derivation!

To be fair, I don't mind what the house is called, as long as it comes with a flock of garrulous Starlings.

I extend my grateful thanks to Berit Sandnes, as well as to the staff at the Centre for Nordic Studies in Kirkwall, for their help during the writing of this blogpost.

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