A Glimpse through a Dirty Window into an Unlit House: Names of Some North-West European Islands
It is well known that many of the major island-names of the archipelago consisting politically of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Crown dependencies are etymologically obscure. In this paper, I present and analyse a corpus of those which remain unexplained or uncertainly explained, for instance 'Man' and 'Ynys Môn', 'Ar(r)an', 'Uist', 'Seil', 'Islay', 'Mull', 'Scilly', 'Thanet', 'Sark', among others. It is timely to do this, since in the disciplines of archaeology and genetics there is an emerging consensus that after the last Ice Age the islands were repopulated mainly by people from a refuge on the Iberian peninsula. This opinion is at least superficially compatible with Theo Vennemann’s Semitic and Vasconic hypotheses, i.e., that languages (a) of the Afroasiatic family, and (b) ancestral to Basque, are important contributors to the lexical and onomastic stock of certain European languages. The unexplained or ill-explained island names form a sufficiently large set to make it worthwhile to hope for the emergence of some hard evidence bearing on their collective linguistic heritage, and therefore to give – or fail to give – preliminary support to Vennemann’s hypotheses.