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Angus - What's In A Name

Angus is an ancient administrative unit, although it has seen a few name changes this century. Before the name change to Angus County in 1928, it was known as Forfarshire.

Forfar has been the seat of a sheriff from the 12th century and several of the Scottish Kings of the house of Canmore stayed in the royal castle of Forfar.

Prior to the sons of Malcolm Canmore and the saintly Queen Margaret ruling Scotland, the area was known as Angus and was usually linked with the Mearns (Kincardine) or Gowrie. During this period it was clearly an administrative unit, ruled by a Mormaer. Mormaer was a celtic term meaning ’great steward’ and gave way to the term ’Earl’ by the late 12th century. The earliest recorded was Earl Gilchrist, Mormaer of Angus, who gave Kirriemuir to the Abbey of Arbroath in 1178.

The Pictish name for the area is known, however, and Circhenn or Circenn as the Picts knew it seems to embrace Angus and Mearns in the 9th century. The name may well be a gaelic translation, for it is readily translated as the ’crested head,’ meaning the premier province of the Picts.

Why did the name for the province change from Circhenn to Angus? The migration east of the Scots from Dalriada (Argyll) in 843 saw Kenneth Macalpin become King of Picts to add to his title King of Scots which he had gained in 840. In 848 Drosten, King of Picts was killed at Forteviot, the Pictish capital, and Kenneth became undisputed King of both peoples. The two Scottish houses which came east into Southern Pictland were Angus and Gowrie, with the house of Lorne going north through the Great Glen to settle in the Moray Firth.

It is very likely that the house names of Angus and Gowrie were given to the lands in which the Scots settled and we find a great many Pictish placenames which have Scottish surnames attached, for example Pitkennedy = Kenneth’s farm and Pitalpin = Alpin’s farm. The ancient boundary of Circhen (Angus) and Fortrenn (Strathearn) on the north side of the Tay was at Invergowrie but this is a gaelic name which has come in since the arrival of the Scots and the renaming of the provinces as Angus and Gowrie. The old Pictish name of Dargie still survives in the name of the Invergowrie Church glebe, suggesting that the Pictish place name has been Aberdargie.

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