LOCHMABEN, where does the name come from? There appear to be many and varied opinions as to its origin and source, the following are some possibilities for consideration.

LOCHmaben – Firstly, and perhaps the easiest part to understand, and the least contentious, is the word “Loch”. It existed in the Scots word louch1 (derived from Middle English between 1150-14502), and from Scottish and Irish Gaelic Loch which is akin to Latin lacus meaning Lake

Lochmaben and District has a substantial number of Lochs. Below is a list of the Lochs from largest to smallest;

  1. Castle Loch – about 200 acres
  2. Brummel Loch – Sometimes called Broomhill Loch and Halleaths Lochabout 80 acres
  3. Mill Loch about 70 acres
  4. Kirk Lochabout 60 acres
  5. Hightae Loch – sometimes called Hi-Tae Loch or Hightae Mill Lochabout 52 acres

    The smaller lochs
  6. Upper Loch – sometimes called Upper Mill Loch
  7. Blind Lochs – two close together, the northern is larger than the southern
  8. Grummel Loch – now Grummel Park
  9. Grassyard Loch – at Hightae

LochMABEN – Secondly, and the most challenging, and contentious, to define is the “Maben”.

Roman Influence
The first possibility is that this part of the name derives from the Roman name Locus Maponi3 (lit. the Place of Maponus) and the iron-age god Maponus. It is also possible that the first part of the name could be explained as an element derived from the Latin word “locus”, meaning a place, ergo the “Place of Mapon” or “Locus Mapon” to “Loch Maben”.

This name is noted in the Ravenna Cosmography4, a list of place names covering the known world compiled by an anonymous cleric in Ravenna around 700 AD. Textual evidence indicates that the author frequently used maps as his source, in this case, he used Ptolemys Geographia5 written about 150 AD and compiled all knowledge about the world’s geography in the Roman Empire of the 2nd century. It is also suggested that Locus Maponi means the ‘Loch’ or ‘Pool’ of Mabon, which would support Lochmaben as the intended named site.

The Scottish Parliament archive of Gaelic names records Lochmaben as “Maban’s or Maponos’s loch“, referring to the Gaelic equivalent of Apollo6 in Greek and Roman mythology.

There was significant Roman influence in the area, particularly from about 79AD when the Roman General Gnaeus Julius Agricola7 (40-93AD), appointed to command the Legio XX Valeria Victrix in Britain, advanced into Scotland and established camps at Eaglesfield, Birrenswark and Torwood Muir8 between Lockerbie and Lochmaben. A Roman road once existed in Lochmaben through what is now Marjoriebanks and followed part of the old railway line past Mill Loch. On Torwood Muir he entered battle with Corbredus Galdus, King of the Scots9.

Celtic Influence
Another possibility is that Maben (pronounced Maebahn) is a name, possibly of Celtic origin. The Welsh suggest it may be derived from the hills and moors where the ancient Britons (Bretons in French) thrived. In Welsh literature and mythology, “Mabon ap Modron (lit. The son of Modron)” is a member of King Arthur’s10

However in Scotland, it is believed to derive from the medieval given name “Maban“, similar to the Welsh “Mabon“, and represents the British “Maponos” or “great son. The surname may also be a diminutive of the medieval female given name “Mab(be)“, a short form of the Old French, “Amabel“, the Latin “amabilis (loveable)”. Amabel was a common Christian name after the mid 12th Century, but became contracted more popularly to “Mabel” which, in turn, became more popular than “Amabel“.

It has been suggested that it may derive from the Gaelic Maighdean, however this is a comparatively modern word, possibly Irish Gaelic, believed to be borrowed from Gothic, and signifies a maiden. It does not in any way describe the place, as Celtic names usually do.

There is a charter granted by King Robert I. to Thomas de Carruthers, about the year 1320, of the lands of “Muffald“(Moffat,) in which the reddendum11 is to be delivered to the king “at our manor of LOCHMALBAN“. Here the orthography corresponds with the ancient Gaelic “loch-maol-ben” signifying the lake of the “Bald” or “smooth eminence.” This possibly refers to the hill on which the original castle of Lochmaben stood at the top of Mounseys Wynd on Lochmaben Golf Course12.

The late Bell Macdonald of Rammerscales, an authority on language stated “Malbeu” or “Maben“is simply a contraction for Magdalen, the patron saint of the burgh. Hence Loch of St Magdalen, contracted Loch-Malben, or Maben.

It is said that the Scoto-Irish13 settlers called it Loch-ma-ban, “the Lake in the White Plain” in allusion, it is supposed, to the white mists that hang over the district in the morning before sunrise in autumn weather12. The Reverend Thomas Marjoriebanks also held that view14 as did the Reverend Andrew Jaffray15.

Recorded in the Ordnance Survey Names Book16 compiled between 1848 and 1858 is that “tradition reports that a Nunnery existed at an early age on an Island in one of the largest lochs from which circumstance Gaelic Maigdenn is supposed to be the derivation – thus to signify the Loch of Maidens“. The only one of our Lochs that would have an island is Castle Loch. However this ‘island’ is unlikely to be the one shown on maps as “Henderland Island”. It was most likely a part of the current prominence from the castle headland. The Loch level now is much lower than it once was having been partially drained, prior to this the “island” would have been accessed via short causeway. The now dry moats at the castle support this theory17 18 19.

Maps in time
An examination of old maps of Scotland allows the tracking of the use language and place names in relatively modern times. Listed below are a few examples from the archives held by the National Library of Scotland20;

  • 1527 map21 cartographer Abraham Ortelius records the name as “Mabel
  • 1552 map22 cartographer John Speed records the name as “L(och) Maba
  • 1571 map23 cartographer Pieter van den Keere records the name as “L(och) Mabel
  • 1580 map24 cartographer Johann Natalius Metellus Sequanus records the name as “L(och) Mabess
  • 1595 map25 cartographer Gerhard Mercator records the name as “L(och) Maben Ca(stle)
  • 1607 & 1624 maps26 cartographer William Hole records the name as “Maben
  • 1613 map27 cartographer Gerhard Mercator records the name as “Maban Ca(stle)
  • 1722 map28 cartographer Andrew Johnstone records the name as “Lochmaby
  • 1731 map29 cartographer Thomas Bowles records the name as “Lockmaben
  • 1744 map30 cartographer James Dorret records the name as “Lochmaben

In conclusion, the name of Lochmaben and its origin remains shrouded in the mists of time, there have been many influences on name, spelling and language over the centuries and it may originate directly from one point of origin or, as is suspected, most likely an evolution from Roman, Celtic, French, Latin, Gaelic and English influences. Lochmaben is the name of a small place today with a proud, long and intriguing history. Today its name is Lochmaben, tomorrow – who knows?

An ode to Lochmaben ...

In Lochmaben's embrace, history unfolds, A town of legends, tales untold. 
With "Loch" in its name, a water's gleam, Reflects the past, a timeless dream. 

In ancient days of yore, a royal seat, A castle grand, where monarchs meet. 
Brave Bruce was born, a noble birth, His legacy, an indelible worth.

The loch's calm waters gently flow, A haven for wildlife, a tranquil show. 
Birds take flight with graceful ease, Amongst the reeds, they find their peace. 

The town, a charm, its streets in grace, Welcoming all with warm embrace. 
A friend for you, the custom true, In Lochmaben's heart, a tale for you.31
Footnotes
  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/loch#h1[]
  2. ‘Middle English’ developed from Old English, changing its grammar, pronunciation and spelling and borrowing words from French and Latin. – a period of roughly 300 years from around 1150 CE to around 1450 https://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/middle-english#:~:text=’Middle%20English’%20%E2%80%93%20a%20period,Old%20English%20and%20Modern%20English.[]
  3. https://www.roman-britain.co.uk/places/maponi/[]
  4. https://oxfordre.com/classics/classics/abstract/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.001.0001/acrefore-9780199381135-e-8009?rskey=89e82r&result=5[]
  5. https://www.geographyrealm.com/ptolemys-geographia/[]
  6. https://archive2021.parliament.scot/Gaelic/placenamesK-O.pdf[]
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnaeus_Julius_Agricola[]
  8. The Scottish Historical Review Volume XIX, No. 76 (1922) https://www.electricscotland.com/history/review/106aVol19No76July1922.pdf[]
  9. https://www.transceltic.com/blog/galdus-scottish-king-whose-legend-honored-ancient-monuments[]
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur[]
  11. something given periodically by a vassal to his superior in acknowledgment of feudal dependence[]
  12. Lochmaben 500 Years Ago: Reverend William Graham 1865[][]
  13. https://www.libraryireland.com/Druids/Scoto-Irish-Druids.php[]
  14. Presbytery of Lochmaben, Synod of Dumfries by the Rev. Thomas Marjoribanks, Minister Page 377 / 378[]
  15. Sinclair, Sir John. The Statistical Account of Scotland, Lochmaben, Dumfries, Vol. 7, Edinburgh: William Creech, 1793, p. 234 to 244. University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow. (1999) The Statistical Accounts of Scotland online service: https://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk:443/link/osa-vol7-p244-parish-dumfries-lochmaben[]
  16. https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/dumfriesshire-os-name-books-1848-1858/dumfriesshire-volume-36/1[]
  17. https://canmore.org.uk/site/66315/lochmaben-castle?display=collection&GROUPCATEGORY=4[]
  18. https://www.thecastlesofscotland.co.uk/the-best-castles/scenic-castles/lochmaben-castle/[]
  19. https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/SM90205[]
  20. Please note that many of these early maps are wildly inaccurate in their geolocation – https://maps.nls.uk/[]
  21. https://maps.nls.uk/view/216548041[]
  22. https://maps.nls.uk/view/00000201[]
  23. 1https://maps.nls.uk/view/216442346[]
  24. https://maps.nls.uk/view/216442244[]
  25. https://maps.nls.uk/view/00000207[]
  26. https://maps.nls.uk/view/216441398[]
  27. https://maps.nls.uk/view/216441227[]
  28. https://maps.nls.uk/view/102191679[]
  29. https://maps.nls.uk/view/216441773[]
  30. https://maps.nls.uk/view/216442385[]
  31. Ode to Lochmaben: Robert Togneri August 2023[]