“Islanders like to have their family trees as broad as they were high, and solving problems of relationship, known as ‘reddin ap kin’ was a popular pastime.” [Ernest W. Marwick: The Folklore Of Orkney and Shetland]

sandwick_stromness_thomson.jpg The surname LINKLATER is generally stated to be of ‘Scottish locational origin.’ More specifically, it originated not in ‘Scotland’ but in Orkney and nowhere else. The assertion by Elsdon C. Smith in ‘New Dictionary of American Family Names’ that Linklater, Flaws and Clouston are “common American surnames” is as fatuous as it is erroneous. All three are Orkney names, along with about another 288 according to Lamb. [Lamb 1981] My Orkney ancestors came from what is now the parish of Sandwick on the western Atlantic side of Mainland*. [See image at left. For more on Sandwick see here.] Sandwick in early documents was divided into North and South Sandwick and in what was North Sandwick there are several places with various Linklater names. The name poses two problems; variant spellings of the place-name, and variant spellings of the surname. At first glance the meaning looks simple; ‘link’ and ‘later’. As so often, looks deceive; the etymological divide comes before the k, because Linklater comprises two Old Norse words; ‘lyng’ meaning heather and ‘klett’ meaning a rock. Old Norse being an inflected language, the addition of -r is the nominative suffix. Thus lyng + klettr = Linklater. Voilà - almost. It is pronounced, according to Gregor Lamb [1981] Linkilter. Linklater was originally written Lingklet but a ‘k’ came to be substituted in the written form because the ‘g’ was pronounced as a ‘k’...The pronunciation of Linklater as Linkilter is an example of metathesis - a reversal of letters to facilitate pronunciation. This was common in Scotland and Orkney at one time, for example grass was pronounced ‘girse’ and burnt was pronounced ‘brunt’

[Mouseover image to magnify. NB = Nether Benzieclett; K = Kierfold; EH = East House referred to elsewhere in these Orkney pages.] *Mainland throughout refers to the principal island in Orkney and not to ‘mainland Britain’ or ‘mainland Scotland’. Mainland, an Anglicization of the Old Norse Meginland, was originally called Hrossey (Horse Isle). It is still occasionally called ‘Pomona’ by the ignorant, the English, or those unfortunate enough to be both, although credit for the original error goes to George Buchanan (1506-1582), a Scottish historian, humanist scholar and reputedly the most profound intellectual sixteenth century Scotland produced. Buchanan, apart from being a miserable Calvinist pedant was tutor to both Mary Queen of Scots and her son, the future James VI. As Pomona merits a separate page, see POMONA for a full description of Buchanan's maxie.

The Norse influence in Orkney and Shetland was political, cultural and linguistic and emanated from western Norway with the westward Viking expansion and colonisation of the Northern Isles, north Britain, Hebrides, Isle of Man, Ireland and Iceland beginning in earnest by the 8th century but which had probably begun as much as a century earlier. Danish Vikings saw to southern Britain while Swedish Vikings headed eastwards to the Baltic and Russia. This influence in Orkney and Shetland waned when the line of Norse earls petered out in 1231 and the earldom passed to Scots, although sovereignty remained with Norway. Old Norse in Orkney and Shetland evolved into a dialect known as Norn, whose remnants are still to be found in many ‘Orkney’ words specific to farming, seafaring and other trades. “The dialect of an Orcadian from the more northerly isles is more readily intelligible to a Norwegian than to a Scottish mainlander.” [Laing 1974] In the early 20th century Hugh Marwick listed over 3,000 Norn words still in current use in Orkney. The meaning and use of lyng meaning heather is straight forward, but the precise meaning of klett less so. Here, from ‘The Orkney Norn’, is Hugh Marwick on klett. klett (klet): s., a solitary or isolated rock, a rock separated in some way from adjoining rocks; applied frequently to rocks in the sea, but sometimes also to solitary blocks on the land. To be distinguished from a rock jutting out of the face of a hill, which is known as a ‘hammer’, and from a pinnacle-rock (in the sea or at the shore) which is called a ‘stack’ or ‘castle’. Many farm names derive from klett, but these are now spelt Cleat. [Gen.] In Rousay there is a flat-topped rock detached from the neighbouring rocks on the beach known as Klett-ber. O.N. klettr, m., id. [Marwick 1929]

There are plenty of cletts in Orkney; e.g. the Clett of Crura off the east coast of South Ronaldshay, or Couba Clett in the Bay of Isbister - in fact innumerable similarly named coastal features but that begs the question why an inland place or farm would be named using a word that most commonly specifically referred to “a solitary or isolated rock, a rock separated in some way from adjoining rocks; applied frequently to rocks in the sea.” Gregor Lamb in ‘Orcadiana’ points out that “in those instances where clett place-names are found inland, no rocks are ever found in the vicinity!” I can vouch for that being the case when I visited Linklater in 2015 there was not a clett to be see - nor any lyng come to that. See the panoramic image below taken near West Linklater [HY261 218], admittedly, more than a thousand years after the place was named. “Where the few isolated lumps of bedrock are found inland, the Norse word hammar is generally used.” Lamb contends that klettr “in the Norse colonies also assumed the meaning ‘stone building’. Stone buildings would have been extremely rare in the Norse homeland and would have been seen as something really special.” Continuing the same train of thought, the plural form klettar meant ‘stone buildings’, noteworthy in themselves but possibly also signifying a tunship, a taxable entity important to the Norse exchequer. Thus Linklater might have been ‘the stone building in the heather’, ‘the stone buildings in the heather’ or ‘the tunship in the heather.’ When the BBC called the film they made about Eric Linklater ‘A Stone in the Heather’, (broadcast ca. 1978) they postulated only one of several possible meanings.

There are a large number of Orkney place-names employing variations of clett, klett or klaet in their formation e.g. several Cleats, Clestran, Noltclett, Hunclet, Faraclett, Whitecleat as well as Linklater and Linklet. Where they occur in historical documents, all are noticeable as yielding a generally high level of skat or land tax on a par with other place-name elements such as bae, bister, bu, stath, garth etc all of which indicate significant holdings. If ‘clett’ type suffixes indicated the presence of buildings rather than mere rocks that would account logically for their higher skat values. Lamb notes a further possible relationship between klaet or cleat names with sites of ancient worship. “It is quite clear...that in many cases a klaet could be a chapel” in support of which he states “the old house name Benzieclett in baena-klaet prayer klaet. The Orkney Benzieclett name shows quite clearly that this type of building was a chapel or at least an oratory.” There is a whole section on Nether Benzieclett in Sandwick here, a property occupied for a thousand years by Linklaters according to some [e.g. Thomson, 1980], although none of them so far as I know were my immediate forebears. When I visited Nether Benzieclett in 2015 the buildings were very ruinous and did not to my eye suggest any religous connection. But judge for yourself: see images on Nether Benzieclett.

Norn was spoken as late as the 18th C. in Orkney and persisted somewhat longer in Shetland where Patrick Neill, as late as 1805, “At Lerwick, and indeed throughout Shetland, Dutch and Danish coins are more common than British.”. [Neill, 1806] Long before that the ‘official’ language had become Scots. Mooney, in an article published in ‘Orkney Heritage’, writing of two cash books found in a cathedral strong-room, asserted that while they “provide a good deal of information about the activities of the Kirk Session of Kirkwall” between 1631 and 1653, found “no Norn words in these records.” The last official Orcadian document in Norse was issued in 1443 [Thomson, 2008]; the earliest in Scots just ten years earlier [ib.]. The ensuing eclipse of Norn by Scots was as rapid and total as the earlier extinction of ‘Pictish’ by the arrival of Norse, and the later dilution of Scots by standard English from around the Reformation in 1560, with the introduction of the King James' Bible in 1611 and subsequent forced useage of the Book of Common Prayer. It is now generally accepted that the Picts, in spite of the best efforts of the Romans to dislodge them, occupied Orkney as well as much of Scotland till the arrival of the first Norse settlers. They spoke P-Celtic [as distinct from Q-Celtic]. While many placenames in Scotland are testimony to the dominance of the Picts, in Orkney it is argued by some that none of their placenames survive having all been replaced by Norse. This gave rise at one time to the theory that the Viking incursion into Orkney was so sudden and complete as to suggest the violent extinction of the Picts, but as there is no archeological evidence supporting this [e.g. mass graves] the current view is that the Picts in Orkney were simply absorbed, enslaved or overwhelmed by the incoming Viking culture. If nothing else, Pictish women may have seemed useful breeding stock. For more on the subject see The Orkney Picts. A notable exception to the lack of Pictish placenames is the name of Orkney itself. “The first element of Orkney Celtic.” [Lynch, 2001] There is more controversy over its meaning, but the prevailing view favours the porcine; “...Orkney, the Orcades (‘islands of the “young boars” ’)” [Lynch, 2001 - his punctuation.] Perhaps the islands should really be called the Porkney Isles.

Adamnan, in around 695 AD, wrote that Columba, a native Gaelic speaker, needed interpreters to converse with Picts. Part of a missionary's function is presumably talking to the natives. I don't imagine the Vikings were motivated by any such urge to chat, their reputation suggesting that when they saw something they wanted they took it rather than asked for it nicely first. Nor it seems were they curious as to Pictish or other Orkney toponymy. As a result they set about “the naming of parts” afresh which they did with zeal to the exclusion of any pre-existing names.

Clues as to Pictish language continue to be sought in Orkney place-names which some [e.g. Hugh Marwick 1923] claim do contain elements of Pictish or Celtic. Those that are not Norse are later Scots names. Jakob Jakobsen could find only 40 Shetland names which he claimed contained Celtic elements [‘Shetlandsøerne Stednavne’ 1901. Of Shetland he wrote “Every small hill, point, rock, dale, cleft, brook, piece of field or meadow, etc., bears its own name, and these names, with comparatively few exceptions, have been handed down in Norn dialect.”] and Hugh Marwick identified 30 in Orkney. [‘Celtic Place-names in Orkney’ 1923] Since then however, F.T. Wainwright, after scrutinising Marwick's list, concluded in ‘The Northern Isles’ [1962] that apart from one or two possible Brittonic names, not a single name can with certainty be attributed to the Picts. Depending on your viewpoint, just why so few or no ‘Pictish’ Orkney place-names survive is also a matter of continuing debate. The Picts were under pressure on all fronts and not just from Viking incursions in Orkney. Across the Pentland Firth, in 843 AD, the Picts united with the Dalriada Scots under Kenneth MacAlpin for reasons that remain obscure and promptly disappear from history. The Vikings, for whatever reasons of their own, set about renaming everything and their names endure to the present. Clearly the Norse enjoyed coining new place-names, yet their names were noticeably unimaginative. [Thomson 1987] Somewhat unfair, and certainly no truer of the Norse than of people in the 20th and 21st C. bestowing modern names to old settlements that lack even ‘unimaginative’ Norse names, e.g. ‘Structure 8’, ‘Brodgar New Hoose’, ‘Lochview’, ‘The Temple’ etc. Norse names are descriptive, which is practical even if today their names seem ambiguous as in the examples of Linklater or Benzieclett.

Notwithstanding the many subsequent centuries of Scottish and Anglophone influence, Orkney place-names remain stubbornly redolent of their Norse origins. The Norse, whatever their relationship to the previous population, indelibly stamped the islands with many thousands of their own place-names - the whole vocabulary of today's landscape is unmistakably Norse. [Thomson 2008] It is interesting to note also how tenacious Norse names are in the Hebrides where, in spite of more than a millenium of Scottish sovereignty and Gaeilc culture, some 40% of place-names are Norse.

Orkney abounds in both heather and rock. Geographical features to which lyng + klettr could reasonably be applied are not hard to find. There are several places called Linklater in Sandwick, West Mainland, as well on as South Ronaldsay and North Ronaldsay. (Another complication! These islands are not really related although their names might suggest otherwise. The North and South are descriptive in that N. Ronaldsay is the northernmost island in the archipelago and S. Ronaldsay almost the most southerly, but N. Ronaldsay was originally ‘Rinansey’ or St Ringan's isle, whereas S. Ronaldsay was Rognvald's Isle.) Recent research suggests that about half of Orkney's ‘primary’ farms have topographical names incorporating natural features such as -vik and -vagr (sea inlets), -nes (headland), -eid (isthmus) and klettr (rock outcrop). [Thomson 1987]

Some ammunition supporting the ‘unimaginative’ thesis can be found in the proliferation of names qualified by adjectives, such as Upper, Middle, South, etc or their Norse equivalents, rather than coining new names; an extreme example being Upper Nisthouse i.e. 'Upper Lowest House'. However, such names indicate pressure from an expanding population requiring the creation of new settlements from old and bear testimony to the antiquity of the root settlement and its name. In the case of Linklater in Sandwick, there are currently Upper, Nether, and West. [See O.S. Explorer sheet 463.] Long before either Vikings or Picts arrived in Orkney the islands were not only inhabited but had been actively farmed for several thousand years by people or peoples who left tangible memorials made, as in the case of the Picts, of stone. Settlements evolved and remained in use over many hundreds of years and in many cases their boundaries, pre-dating the Vikings' arrival, can still be seen, having been either adopted or established by the Picts.    [Mouse-over to zoom.]


Linklater as a place-name was variously spelled but, as with the surname, is now usually Linklater; e.g. O.S. HY 266 218 [sheet 6 of the old one inch series] and HY 264 213 in the parish of Sandwick in West Mainland and ND 450 870 South Ronaldsay [sheet 7] all use Linklater. West Linklater on Mainland appears on older (pre 1880) maps. However, John Thomson's 1832 map shows no Linklater on Mainland, but there is a Linclater above Windwisk to indicate a bay. There remain today a Linklet Bay to the east of North Ronaldsay HY 78 54 [sheet 5], and a ‘Linklet House’ and Linklet are shown south of Ancum Loch on modern OS maps of N. Ronaldsay, but not on the 1879 OS map. An interesting variant occurs in connection with sheep pundin on North Ronaldsay where for most of the year, sheep are banished to graze on the foreshore. In the past, there were nine sheep punds [‘pounds’] into which the sheep would be driven for killing, shearing or scoring. For scoring [‘tallying’], two sheep men were appointed by each of the six township districts which Fenton names as “Busta, Nesstun, Hollandstun, Linklettun, Ancumstun (locally always called Eboy) and Eastin' or East-North Yards.” [Fenton 1978] Other variants on older maps include Lynkclet in 1505 named as threepenny land in North Sandwick and in South Ronaldsay. However, there are far more variant spellings of the surname than the toponym either in documents or on maps.

Used as a surname, LINKLATER appears to be a ‘modern’ spelling in the sense that that is how it has been consistently spelled since the early 19th C. In the census records for Sandwick and Stromness 1821-1911 LINKLATER is the only spelling recorded. (There was no census in 1831.) By contrast, that spelling occurs only once in Peterkin's ‘Rentals’ and was moreover the earliest, recorded in 1595; “the ane half of WARTH fallen in escheat to my Lord for theft, by William Linklater in Sanday, payis in land mail 3 lisp. butter.”) [Peterkin 1820] Thereafter the surname is LINKLETTER [once in 1613] then LINKLATTER at nine properties in 1739; Alexr. at Instabillie, George at Scorwall and Brakos, Thomas at Sowie Land, William and Thos. at Boys, Hugh and George at Northunniger, George at Housegair, John at Linklatter, and John at Scabrae Neather Town. Finally a Thomas LINKLATTER of Housegairth is listed as a tax-paying heritor in 1820. It seems that places rather than individuals were named until the 1739 rental. Again, from Peterkin's ‘Rentals’ the recorded place-names are variously spelled as LYNKCLET [1497-1503], LINKLETER and LINKLETTER [1595, those two spellings occurring on two facing pages while the surname is given as LINKLATER], LINKLITTER [1614], LINKLETTER [1642 and 1754], then LINKLATTER [1739] tallying with the same contemporary spelling of the surname in the ‘Rentals’. For more on Peterkin see PETERKIN’S RENTALS. The foregoing applies mostly to Peterkin, but in the poll tax records of the 1690s, the name is always spelled Linkletter apart from a smattering of Linklatters. The 1690s Poll Tax returns for Sandwick have Linkletter without exception.[Irvine 2003]

Linklater crops up once or twice in Sir Walter Scott's rather poor novel ‘The Pirate‘ which while set predominantly in Shetland is based partly on historical facts surrounding the pirate John Gow and his capture in Orkney. For some utterly bizarre reason, Sir Wattie refers to a fictional character, whose name is clearly intended to evoke Linklater, as Laurence Linklutter [p. 117 Edinburgh Edition, 2001]. This is the only ocurrance of such insanity I know of. He appears to have recovered some thirteen pages later when he refers to “the Linklater glen”.

Regarding the surname, here is the entry for Linklater from the standard reference work on the subject, ‘The Surnames of Scotland’ by George F. Black. LINKLATER. The true form of this surname is Linklet, derived from one or other of the places of the name in Orkney. Linklater in South Ronaldsay was in 1500 Linclet, in 1596 Linklet; Linklater in North Sandwick was Lynkclet in 1500, and there is a Linklet in North Ronaldsay. The terminal -er stems from the nominative ending (-r) of the Old Norse place name (Lyngklettr), and the Æ at the beginning of the earliest spelling of the name = English ‘at’ and was joined to the name by mistake. Criste Ælingeklæt is referred to in the complaint by the Commons of Orkney in 1424 as a ‘goodman’ (i.e. a gentleman, man of good position) (REO., p. 37). Andro Lynclater (Lincletter, or Linclet) appears as a roithman (councillor) in 1504 and 1514 (ibid., p. 76, 78, 87). Helen Linklet is recorded in Under Failze, Fetlar, in 1613 (Shetland), Thomas Linkletter in Laxfuird in 1634 (ibid.) and William Linckletter was heir of John Linckletter of Housbie in 1649 (Inquis., 3423). Andrew Linklater of that Ilk was lawrikman (delegate of the people) in North Sandwick in 1678 (SHR., xiv. p. 59), Clinkclatter appears as a skipper in Kirkcaldy in 1687 (RPC., 3. ser. xiii, p. 131), and Peter Linkletter was one of the quartermasters of the ‘Bounty’ in 1789, and stood by Captain Bligh during the mutiny (Voyage, London 1792, p. 159). Some persons of this name have migrated south to Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh.
And, I might add, to Somerset. Black's assertion that “the true form of this surname is Linklet...” seems perverse. Here are some other surname variants found in historic documents; AELINGEKLAET, CLINKLATTER, ELLINGEKLAT, LINCKLETTER, LINCLET, LINCLETTER, LINKLATER, LINKLET, LINKLETTER, LINKLITTAR, LYNCLATER - and there are others [see below!] The ‘true’ form of the name would be that which most closely approximates to the Norse original - see above!

Other uncommon examples of the surname include two early variants which I take to refer to the same individual; Criste Ælingeklæt noted as a “goodman” in 1424 and Christian de Ellingeklat named two years later in a Complaint - the latter apparently adding a genitive to the former's ablative sense, and neither being, it seems to me, a “mistake” as suggested by Black, but rather represent in grammatically correct form that Criste was from ling klaet. There is no doubt that many territorial surnames replaced patronymic surnames under Scots influence but some of these early territorial surnames show a most interesting Norse element. In 1567 John Abrek lived at Breck in Deemess. The initial 'A' in John's surname is a relic of Old Norse 'a' meaning 'at'. The name 'John Abrek' really means 'John in Breck'. In 1424 the name Criste Aelingklaet is recorded; there is no doubt that he came from Linklater in Sandwick. [Lamb 2003]
To round out the list, there is an Andro Linclett named as one of the Council of Lawmen in 1515; John Linkleter is mentioned in 1595; in 1621 Andro Linklatter is “of that Ilk”; and in 1640 the appointment of three bailies is recorded - James for Harra, Henrie for Rendell, and Alexander Linkletter of Linklatter for Sandwick. Hereafter, my use of Linklater should be taken to encompass all the above variants!

Human error might also produce variants of Linklater. In the census returns for Stromness 1821 INKSTER, a not uncommon name in Orkney, was recorded; come 1841 there were also INKESTER and INKSETTER. I am not suggesting that Inkster and Linklater are one and the same, merely that there is scope for confusion, especially in oral transmission to a census enumerator or compiler of a rental, even more especially if he was of the callibre of John Gardine whose own name appears in at least three different spellings in Peterkin; two others being Johne Gairdine and Johne Gairdin. And how else to account for the five women and two men living together in one household in Main Street, Stromness in 1841 who gave their surnames as Ballanden [F 60], Bannandan [F 40] and Bannantyn [F 20, 15, 13, and M 11 and 9]? The 1690s Poll Tax returns for Sandwick includes one Sclatter or Skleatter, and one Inksetter, as well as twenty-two Linkletter.

My own great-great-grandmother appears initially in the Sandwick 1841 census aged 15 as Janet IRVING, living with Sibella IRVING, aged 75 and another Sibella IRVING aged 35 at East Aith. (The Sibellas were Janet's aunt and grandmother.) Only five other IRVINGs are listed in the 1841 census, and all living at Chamber of Aith, but fifty-one IRVINEs. As it turns out all the IRVINGs were closely related, had all been previously recorded as IRVINE in the 1821 census and, with the departure of some of the IRVINGs from Aith to Ontario in 1842, the G was dropped by all the remaining 'IRVINGs' in favour of an E in all subsequent censuses. Indeed, from 1821 to 1911 there is no IRVING recorded in Sandwick other than those noted above in 1841. Having said that, in Orkney IRVING was the more popular spelling in the 18th C., and IRVINE in the 19th C. Both occur throughout Peterkin. Although Irvine is a Scottish name they feature in Orkney in the earliest historical records, indeed before the earliest Linklater. As early as 1369 a William Irvine was sufficiently important to witness an agreement which put an end to the quarrels between Bishop William of Orkney and Hakon Jonson, the Norwegian Governor of Orkney and Shetland. [Lamb 2004] Given the plethora of possible alternative spellings for Linklater it is surprising how consistently it has been spelled since around 1800. In the ‘Commissariot Record Of Orkney and Shetland Register of Testaments’ (Scottish Record Society, 1904) Part 1: Orkney 1611-1684 contains 52 LINKLETTERs and no Linklater. Part 2 Shetland 1611-1649 has ONE LINKLET and just two LINKLETTERs. The ‘Caithness 1661-1664’, and ‘Moray 1684-1800’ Registers contain no Linklaters in any spelling. My own forbears all forbore spelling it any other way than Linklater as far back as I am able to trace - to Hugh Linklater, who spelled his name the same as his mother, Asa Linklater, and was born in c. 1746. I don't have dates for Asa.

There were people called Linklater well before the seventeenth century, but little is known of family names before the islands fell under Scottish administration early in the 15th century. The early Norse taxation rolls are all lost, presumed destroyed by Scottish incomers, notably Robert, Earl of Orkney, bastard son of James V and his even worse son, Black Patie. The earliest taxation rolls, the so-called Rentals, date from the end of the 15th century by which time Orkney was already under the Scottish domain and these are our primary sources for the study of early names. [Lamb 2003]

The Commissariot of Orkney and Shetland comprised the counties of the same name. The Record, of which the greater part is now missing, probably in the hands of private individuals, commences in 1661 and ends, in so far as Shetland is concerned, in 1649, and as regards Orkney in 1684. The lists show in a marked manner how, by the seventeenth century, names in Orkney had departed from the Norwegian system of patronymics in favour of those of places, while in Shetland the practice, which can hardly even yet be said to be extinct, of calling the son from his father's christian name, was in full force, thus the son of William Magnusson of Buness becomes Henry Williamson of Buness, and in his turn his son is Magnus Henryson or Henderson. [Failed to make a note of the source!]

Use of fixed family names in Orkney rather than the Norse system of patronymics was implemented much later than in most of the rest of Britain, Shetland being the only place lagging behind Orkney in this respect. By the end of the 17th century, most Orcadians probably had a surname, although from Poll Tax records in the 1690s, there is evidence that hereditary surnames were not yet fully established. [Irvine, 2003]. Some Norse surnames, such as Linklater, are very old, in fact as old as the place-names from which they usually originated, and it seems that the place-names were more-or-less fixed by the 12th century; the assumption being that were they not, one would expect the name of Orkney's principal ‘saint’, Earl Magnus, murdered ca. 1115, to occur frequently in place-names, whereas it does not occur at all. Nowhere in Orkney is Magnus to be found in any farm name, a clear indication that the bulk of Norse place-names were fixed before the middle of the 12th century. [Lamb 2003] But undoubtedly, the true surname came into Orkney as a result of Scottish influences in the latter part of the 14th century. And naturally the most fashionable and earliest adopted type of surname was the territorial, taken from the bearer's estate, since in Western Europe generally, it was the characteristic of a landed aristocracy. The first recorded Orkney surnames (apart from early Scottish names) which subsequently became permanent, found in the 14th and 15th century are: - Paplay, Ireland, Kirkness, Clouston, Flett, Linklater, Heddle, Rendall, Magnuson, and Haraldson. It will be seen that seven out of the ten were township names...derived from odal land owned by their bearers. [Clouston 1924] Linklater was one of the seven.

Many of the older Norse surnames such as Linklater, Foubister, Clouston, Hourston and Flett are unique to Orkney, occurring nowhere else until, that is, one of their bearers left the islands to spread the good word. Only those who owned land could add a territorial name to their own first name. “There is little doubt that many territorial names were specifically adopted by high-ranking families of the time such as the Kirknesses or the Linklaters.” [Lamb 2003] For the majority, the choice of name depended on the occupation in which an individual was engaged, such names being rare in Orkney [Lamb 1981], use of a fixed patronymic, or the adoption of someone else's surname. When use of surnames in Orkney was first adopted, the then Earls' surname was Sinclair, and it became fashionable, or a sign of allegience or outright toadying among those in need of a name to take it for themselves, and it is this that accounts for Sinclair being the commonest surname in Orkney rather than the fecundity of Sinclairs. A similar habit persisted well into the 19th century when a laird's surname was often bestowed by tenants on their off-spring as a middle name, e.g. Barbara Watt Linklater, who must have been named after Willie G. Watt [1810-1866] the 7th Laird o Breckness. [For more about Barbara see Barbara Watt Linklater.] But, “Despite its closeness to the Highlands, family names associated with Highland clans made little impact on Orkney.” [Lamb 2003] Similarly however, incoming Scots did not take old Norse names for themselves [Clouston].

Do these Orkney place-surnames denote native descent? Of course, it is impossible to say, in this, as in any other general question, what romantic or exceptional incident may not have happened in some isolated case. But, as regards the general question, the answer is clear, that since in every single known case of a Scotch name being hidden under a local land name (and I have noted and investigated all I could find), the land name was eventually dropped and the original surname remained, the chances therefore of the reverse happening in any unknown case are infinitesimally small...That a native surname denotes a native family cannot be reasonably questioned. [Clouston 1924]

It must therefore be a pretty safe assertion that all descendants of those with Norse surnames are probably genetically related, however distantly, but it is probably not the case that all those initially given Norse names were genetically related to eachother at the outset. A person associated with the place known as Linklater in Sandwick on the Mainland might be surnamed Linklater just as another individual connected with Linklater on South Ronaldsay* might also be given the same surname, [RESEARCH: did this ever happen?] and so might an individual at the other extremity of the islands connected with Linklet in North Ronaldsay. Yet it is very unlikely that these individuals would have been genetically related. Similarly all of the people associated with Linklater in Sandwick and first surnamed Linklater might not have been related. E.g., take Tom, a direct descendant of Picts, Dick a lowborn incomer from Norway and Harry the merry-bygotten son of an Irish monk from Papa Westray; while they might all have found themselves thralls of Thorfinn Moneybags on his 'bu' or farmstead at Linklater, they would certainly have been genetically unrelated and may well have mutually detested one another. In spite of that, when the compilers of early rent rolls were grappling with who owned and owed what, Tom, Dick and Harry might all have been surnamed Linklater in the rentals simply because that's where they came from. It did not matter at that stage what a person was called so long as they were identifiable.

* According to Picken [1972] there were no Linklaters recorded in ‘Ane Roll of the Persons Names of the haill yleand of Southronaldshay both North and South Parochines thereof, according as the samen wes taken in ane Stewart Court holden be James Baikie of Tankerness Stewart Dep. of Orkney the 24th June 1696.’ By the same token Hugh Marwick mentioned no Linklaters in his “summary of householders” taken “from the 1733 rental” given in the introduction to his ‘Place-Names of North Ronaldsay’.

Until the ‘recent’ migrations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, distribution of people called Linklater was centred in Orkney, and even there was concentrated on a few islands and entirely absent from some. [RESEARCH: citation/evidence parish by parish and compare with Shetland]. The population of Orkney reached its peak in 1861 and thereafter followed an unbroken downward trend for the next hundred and ten years. This downward trend was the result of emigration rather than loss of libido. The last of my native Orcadian ancestors, my great-grandfather James Stevens Linklater [1850-99] was among those who headed for the exit. Prior to James' leaving I have no record of any of my ancestors quitting the islands other than Jacob Linklater (1817-1858) who, apart from being somewhat tangential to my own descent, left Orkney to set up in business as a provisions merchant in Edinburgh. He had no issue, but his nephew, the above James Stevens Linklater, followed in his footsteps and the rot set in. Consequently, my grandfather Arthur David Linklater [1879-1955] was born in Leith where James had his business, my father, Nelson Valdemar Linklater [1918-1997] was born in Bombay where Arthur had his business, and I was born in York where no-one had any business - although my brother is about to flit there.

Many men from Orkney left the islands seasonally. While later seasonal migrant workers from Orkney were not exactly following in his footsteps, a fine precedent was set by the ‘Ultimate Viking’, Sweyn Asleifsson. Sweyn had in the spring hard work, and made them lay down very much seed, and looked much after it himself. But when that toil was ended, he fared away every spring on a viking-voyage, and harried about among the Southern Isles [Hebrides] and Ireland, and came home after midsummer. That he called spring-viking. Then he was at home until the corn-fields were reaped down, and the grain seen to and stored. Then he fared away on a viking-voyage, and then he did not come home till the winter was one month spent and that he called his autumn-viking. [Ch. 114 Orkneyinga Saga 1887 trans by Sir G.W.Dasent] Or, as Sveinn Asleifarson would have understood it - Sveinn hafði á várum starfa mikinn, ok lèt færa niðr ofa-mikit sáð, ok gekk þar mjök sjálfr at. En er lokit var þeim starfa, fór hann hvert vár í víkíng, ok herjaði um Suðreyjar ok Írland; ok kom heim eptir mitt sumar. Þat kallaði hann vár-víkíng. Þá var hann heima til þess er akrar vóru upp-skornir, ok sèt var fyrir kornum. Þá for hann í víkíng, ok kom þá ekki fyrr heim en mánuðr var af vetri, ok kallaði hann þat haust-víkíng.
Later Orkney men went slaughtering whales in the Davis Straights or, from the beginning of the 18th C., were employed by the Hudson's Bay Company [H.B.C.], who preferred to recruit the majority of their men from Orkney, perceiving them to be hard-working, sober, used to vile weather, willing to accept the low wages, and indifferent to the Jacobite cause. At one time three-quarters of the H.B.C. men were from Orkney. Their ships were victualled in Stromness until the early 1900s and Login's Well, which supplied their water, can still be seen there. This well also supplied Captain Cook's Discovery and the two ships H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror, in which Sir John Franklin embarked on his fatal arctic voyage in 1845 to search for the elsuive north-west passage. Neither he nor any of the 134 men with him ever returned, but his fate - starvation and cannibalism - was revealed by another Orcadian and one-time employee of H.B.C., John Rae. The Royal Navy also pressed large numbers of men from Orkney. All told, so many men took seasonal work outwith the islands that proprietors and landlords complained at the lack of labour available to exploit for their own ends. I do not know if any of my ancestors was a seasonal migrant, but a Peter Linkleter was one of the quartermasters on the H.M.S. Bounty in 1789, remaining loyal to the odious Captain Bligh during the Mutiny.

Linklater, as a surname, makes researching family history much easier than many other names. An even greater boon is conferred by originating from a relatively small, isolated place like Orkney. While you don't need to look far in Orkney to find Linklaters, the name is not common. It does not figure among the ten commonest surnames in the 1901 census for example. These were, in descending order; SINCLAIR, SPENCE, RENDALL, MUIR, FLETT, TULLOCH, THOMSON, SUTHERLAND, ROBERTSON and DREVER. The ten commonest surnames in the Shetland 1901 census were; SMITH, WILLIAMSON, JAMIESON, ANDERSON, ROBERTSON, JOHNSON, SINCLAIR, IRVINE, NICOLSON and LAURENSON. While the names change somewhat in earlier censuses, Linklater never makes it into the top ten. Based on data from the 1921 census, a piece in the Orcadian in 1922 stated that Linklater was in joint 15th place with Harcus, whereas Smith, a very common name elsewhere including Shetland, was only slightly commoner than Linklater and in 12th place. Irvine is commoner in Shetland than Orkney; whether my great-great-grandmother's family originated or had connections there I don't know, but Irvine is Scottish not Norse, whereas Linklater is Norse not Scottish.

  • Barclay, Robert S.: Orkney Testaments and Inventories 1573-1615
  • Black, George F.: The Surnames of Scotland [Birlinn, Edinburgh 1996]
  • Clouston, J. Storer: A Historty of Orkney [Kirkwall 1932]
  • Clouston, J. Storer: The People and Surnames of Orkney. [P.O.A.S. vol 2 Kirkwall 1924]
  • Fenton, Alexander: The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. [John Donald, Edinburgh, 1978]
  • Irvine, James M.: The Orkney Poll Taxes of the 1690s [Kirkwall 2003]
  • Laing, Lloyd: Orkney and Shetland. An archeological guide. [David & Charles 1974]
  • Lamb, Gregor: Orkney Family Names [Kirkwall 2003]
  • Lamb, Gregor: Orkney Surnames [Edinburgh 1981]
  • Lamb, Gregor: Orcadiana: pen portraits of the past. [Kirkwall 2004]
  • Lynch, Michael: The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. [O.U.P. 2001]
  • Marwick, Ernest Walker: An Orkney Anthology. Selected works... [The Orcadian, Kirkwall 2012]
  • Marwick, Hugh: Celtic Place-Names in Orkney [Procs. of Soc. Antiquaries of Scotland vol LVII, 1923]
  • Marwick, Hugh: The Orkney Norn [O.U.P. 1st ed. privately in 1929]
  • Mooney, Harald L.: Some 17th Century Records of St Magnus Cathedral Orkney Heritage vol 1 [1981]
  • Neill, Patrick: A Tour Through Some of the Islands of Orkney and Shetland... [Edinburgh, 1806]
  • Orkneyinga Saga: ed. by Gudbrand Vigfusson trans. by Sir G. W. Dasent [H.M.S.O. Rolls series, 1887 and 1894]
  • Peterkin, Alexander: Rentals of the Ancient Earldom and Bishoprick of Orkney [Edinburgh 1820]
  • Picken, Stuart D.B.: The Soul of an Orkney Parish [Kirkwall Press, 1972]
  • Thomson, Gordon: The Other Orkney Book [Northabout Publishing, Edinburgh 1980]
  • Thomson, William: The History of Orkney [Mercat Press, Edinburgh 1987]
  • Thomson, William: The New History of Orkney [Birlinn, Edinburgh 2008]
  • Wainwright, F.T.: The Northern Isles [1962]
  • Wainwright, F.T.: The Problem of the Picts [1955]
  • Census Returns for Stromness 1841 10/57
Thomson wrote two separate histories of Orkney published some fifteen years apart.

© 2016 Quivis

× Linklater Genealogy Index of SURNAMES LINKLATER Surname Linklater in Sandwick LINKLATERs in Peterkin Aith, Sandwick Flitting Orkney Ergo GEDCOMs The ORKNEY Isles Captain Arthur David Linklater HERM under James Stevens Linklater