Attested: Ptolemy 2,3,1 Ταρουεδουμ η και Ορκας ακρα
Ptolemy 2,3,5 ... Ταρουεδουμ ακρον η Ορκας
Ptolemy 2,3,31 ... μεν την Ορκαδα ακραν
Where: Being paired with Ταρουεδουμ, Ορκας probably referred to Cape Wrath but Dunnet Head and/or Duncansby Head are also possible. It is conceivable that Ορκαδα referred to the Orkney islands, rather than only to the capes.
Name origin: Latin orca ‘killer whale’. (A mention in Pliny's Natural History makes it clear that this animal was a fearsome predator, not a gentle plankton-sieving whale.)
Notes: Greek ορκυς ‘large kind of tunny’ may be related to orca but their deeper etymology is uncertain. The Indo-European heartland was far from oceans, so the word may originate elsewhere. It has been suggested (unconvincingly) that Old Irish orc ‘piglet’ derived (by loss of initial P from PIE *porko-) might make an orca a sea-pig. This is no better than drawing attention to Old Norse orka ‘work’ (which evolved by loss of initial W) or örkn ‘seal’. Maybe Greek αρχω ‘to be first’, hence ορχαμος. ‘leader, chief’ might suit the king of the sea, or might acknowledge early civilisation in the Orkneys.
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Last edited: 16 September 2018