Καρνονακαι

Attested:  Ptolemy 2,3,11  Καρνονακαι or  Καρνονες

Where:  The fourth of six tribes that Ptolemy listed as living in northern Scotland, along with the similarly named Κερωνες, Κρεωνες and Καρινοι.

Name origin:  It seems reasonable to follow R&S and Watson (1926:19) in pointing to the hundreds of modern place names where Carn means something like ‘mountain top’.  However, the distribution of Carn- names is essentially a map of where Gaelic speakers penetrated (mainly the north of Scotland but also where Irish priests preached) which are both thought to have occurred after Roman times.  So if Καρνονακαι did indeed mean ‘hill people, highlanders’ in Ptolemy’s time it must have been created in a pre-Gaelic language, for which common Celtic is a poor candidate since in both modern Welsh and Irish carn means something quite low, ‘heap of stones, tumulus’, like English cairn.  Greek καρηνον ‘-head, mostly in plural, metaphorically of mountain peaks’ might be closer to the early source of Καρνονακαι.

Notes:  Several other possible etymologies exist for ancient names beginning with Carn-.  Many of them arise from PIE *ker- ‘horn, head’.  Carnyx ‘trumpet’ was generally north-European as a physical object and Greek as a word : Hesychius defined καρνυξ in about 450 BC as ‘Galatian trumpet’.  Nicolaisen (2001:241-2) declared several rivers with names like Carron to be “pre-Celtic”, traceable back to PIE *kar- ‘hard’, the likely root of cairn.  And Ekwall (1928) invoked a root related to care and cherish for some river names such as Carant.

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Last Edited: 29 June 2016