Academic journal article Scottish Language

Telleyr, Anguen, Gulath, and the Life of St Kentigern

Academic journal article Scottish Language

Telleyr, Anguen, Gulath, and the Life of St Kentigern

Article excerpt

Amongst early sources for language in Scotland is a Latin Life of St Kentigern (whose death is dated in the Annales Cambriae to 612), written about 1180 by Jocelyn of Furness. His sources contain much information on Cumbric names in Strathclyde and Lothian, and were the subject of penetrating analysis by Kenneth Jackson, who said this on the religious community that Kentigern set up at Glasgow 'with two brothers Telleyr and Anguen'. Jackson stated that the name Telleyr 'is not recognisable, but Anguen with its gu must be a Brittonic name, and probably comes from a Brittonic written document, since if the source was oral Anuen would probably appear. The use of gu as a graphic device for the sound [w] is characteristic of Old Welsh, Cornish, and Breton, and the evidence of this and other passages in the Life of Kentigern suggests that the same practice was followed in written Cumbric; which is what would be expected' (Jackson 1958: 311).

This paper discusses the names Telleyr and Anguen, as also Gulath, referring to a hill somewhere near Glasgow. First, Telleyr. It is obviously Celtic and (on the analogy of Welsh telediw 'handsome' or telyn 'harp') almost as obviously Brittonic, or Cumbric, so that a little thought may make it intelligible. Where is there a name resembling it in Welsh? The answer seems provided by Abertillery or Abertyleti (with stress on the penult), near Ebbw Vale in industrial Blaenau Gwent. Here aber- is 'confluence', though elsewhere 'estuary' (as with Aberdeen, on the Don). As for Tyleri, this is a personal name applied to the river Tillery, which is attested as Teleri in 1332. The form contains the elements t' 'your' plus the personal name Eleri (itself also used as a hydronym with the river Eleri of north Ceredigion). We know the name is old, since a beautiful woman called Teleri figures in the Mabinogion, in the eleventh-century tale of Culhwch and Olwen. She was the daughter of Peul and one of the 'gentle, golden-torqued ladies of this island', but is otherwise unknown (see Davies 207: 189).

Teleri, a good name for a heroine and a river, is also suitable for a British monk. Celtic saints were often known by hypocoristic forms with 'my' or 'your', including Kentigern 'hound-like lord' himself. He is sometimes called Mungo, where the first element is Cumbric 'my' and the second is from the first element of his full name (Jackson 1958: 300-1). But in Welsh it is rare to have 'my', and the prefixes dy and t' 'your' are normal, as with St Eliud or Teilo, St Twrog, St Tyfaelog, St Tyfrydog, St Tysilio, and so on. As for the meaning of Eleri, this is related to alar 'surfeit, excess' and presumably means 'abundance' (Thomas 1938: 142, 171).

Yet how do Teleri in the Mabinogion and the hydronym Teleri in 1332 explain Telleyr? The answer appears simple. A scribe has surely reversed two letters, so that Tellery (its spelling showing Anglo-Norman influence) has given 'Telleyr'. Jackson (1958: 310) noted the identical mistake in Jocelyn's previous chapters, where Kentigern buried the body of an old man called 'Fregus', which is clearly Gaelic Fergus 'manly vigour'. If Jocelyn or his scribes could make 'Fregus' out of Fergus, they could make 'Telleyr' out of Tellery or Teleri. So we here apparently identify one of Glasgow's earliest inhabitants. His name has all the signs of authenticity. It is Brittonic or Cumbric and not Gaelic; it has the t' prefix associated with the pet-names of many Welsh saints; and it has parallels in Welsh literature and toponymy.

This linguistic evidence bears upon Glasgow's early history and what Jocelyn's Life says of it. Charles Thomas (1968: 109-10; 1971: 218-9) has noted early features in his text, even though it was written in the late twelfth century. Kentigern's journey from Fife to Clydeside, his burial of Fergus, and his decision (following the entreaties of the local king) to make his see there, have been seen as traditions going back to the seventh century. …

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