Attested:  RC Saponis

Where:  Probably Little Cumbrae and/or Great Cumbrae in the mouth of the Firth of Clyde (more likely than Bute).  See here about the order of listing of names in RC.

Name origin:  Graeco-Latin σαπων/sapo ‘soap’ probably descends from PIE *seib- ‘to pour, to seep’, with the reference here to the tidal flows in the outer Clyde estuary, which early sailors needed to watch carefully.  Many words beginng with S refer to flowing liquids (think of sap, savoury, sieve, soup, etc in English), and rivers whose names begin with Sav-, Sap-, Sau-, etc have had various etymologies proposed, with PIE *sab-/*sap ‘juice, to perceive’ often cited.  The -on- part of the name refers to water, and the -is declensional ending appears on other island names.  Sabrina Severn is related.

Notes:  This analysis rejects the idea of R&C that the name refers to sap, and therefore meant ‘pine-tree island’, even though the use of pine-tree resin as glue is a very ancient technology.

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Last edited: 22 September 2018