Attested: Ptolemy 2,3,31 Δουμνα νησος; Pliny 4,104 Dumna
Where: Stroma island, between the Scottish mainland and Orkney, around ND351775, is a better fit to Ptolemy's coordinates than previous guesses at Lewis-and-Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
Name Origin: ‘Foggy island’. The many descendants of PIE *dheu- ‘to rise in a cloud’ include a range of words meaning smoke (such as Russian дым), dusk, smell (such as Greek θυμος ‘soul’ or θυμον ‘thyme’), etc. The closest parallels are in Old High German toum ‘vapor, haze, mist’, Old Saxon domian ‘steam’, Middle Dutch doom ‘vapor, mist, exhalation of animals’ (which survives in modern opdoemen ‘to loom out of the mist’), and Irish dumach ‘sand-bank, cloud-bank’. English has lost the word, because it has shifted to the Latin equivalent fume, with initial F. The waters around Stroma can be very dangerous in bad weather; hence its lighthouse and powerful foghorn.
Notes: Much energy has been devoted to discussing an ancient word *dumno- as a variant of *dubno- ‘deep’, which possibly enters into proper names with a mystic-religious sense of ‘the world down below’. However, none of the earliest names of Scottish islands appears to be Celtic, and they are usually described as ‘pre-Celtic’. Despite the advanced megalithic culture of Neolithic peoples on Orkney, there is no evidence for more than a modest population on the Roman-era Outer Hebrides, as shown for example by the Time Team TV programme about a site on the island of Barra of about AD 100.
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Last edited: 13 April 2019
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