[From Johnson's Guide, 1850]
A NEW GUIDE, &c.
SKETCHES OF THE CIVIL AND ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY, CONSTITUTION, GENERAL TOPOGRAPHY, LANGUAGE, AND COMMERCE OF THE ISLE OF MANN.
ETYMOLOGY OF THE NAME.
" 'Tis Mona the lone! where the silver mist gathers
Pale shroud, whence our wizard-chief watches unseen
O'er the breezy, the bright, the loved home of my fathers ;
Oh Mannin, my graih my cree ! Mannin veg veen."
Much learned labour has been expended in attempts to ascertain the true Etymology of the name of this Island. Succeeding writers have either adopted, and pertinaciously maintained a theory of their own, to the uncourteous exclusion of all others, or have contented themselves with enumerating the various conjectures of their predecessors, and leaving the point of difficulty undecided.
Questions of nominal Etymology are at all times involved in much uncertainty, arising from the discrepancies of ancient documents, from the absence of any written evidence, or from the vagueness of vulgar and Mainly fabulous tradition. The present case is so far from being an exception to the general rule, that it is only after much deliberation that the following remarks are submitted, not in the presumptuous expectation that the spirit of controversy will be finally set at rest, but with the humble aim of removing some portion of the obscurity which has hitherto enveloped the subject.
The slightest acquaintance with history is sufficient to prove that almost every country has two, or more, names ; the one given to it by the aboriginal inhabitants, the others by subsequent discoverers or occupiers. Thus the wandering tribes of Huns, Seythians, and Sarmatians, who settled in the east of Europe, gave the name of Muscovy to that vast tract of country, which the Sclavonic tribe of Russi afterwards denominated Russia. Similarly, the name "Erin" was attached by early settlers to that Island which is now universally called Ireland. It would be superfluous to multiply instances in evidence of this fact.* Suffice it to remark, that in most cases, where the genial nature of the climate and fertility of the soil were considered sufficient to repay the trouble and expense of a conquest, the invading nation gave a name to the territory, which entirely superseded the old one. If the natives, remained and mingled with the strangers, they were compelled publicly at least, to acquiesce in the new name; if they retreated, or vvere exterminated, they either carried their old designation with them,or their name and memory perished for ever. But if a nation or tribe became memory perished to the rest of the world otherwise than by conquest, they retained their own designation, though this was often confounded with others given to them by their neighbours, who in all probability were ignorant of the true name.
The Isle of Mann is an illustration of the latter case. Its existence and locality must have been well known to the inhabitants of the surrounding coasts, long before it was invaded ; and the original families who landed on its shores were allowed to enjoy their seclusion and their name without molestation. That name, cherished by uninterrupted tradition to the present day,'was " ELLAN VANNIN;" which literally signifies "The Island of Mannin ;" the letter M being changed into V, according to the idiom of the Manks language, which thus forms the possessive case. The same authority informs us that the original founder and legislator of the Island was MANNANAN MAC LER, and that his name was given to the Island, being contracted into MANNIN, and in later years into MANN.
This seems the most rational way of accounting for the present appellation of the Island. It is true that much obscurity is associated with the history of Mannanan Mac Ler, which is to be attributed to the mass of preposterous fable with which his character is surrounded. But traditions, however absurd in themselves, have generally, if not always, some foundation, and though this may be difficult, perhaps impossible to be reached, is by no means to be. considered as non-existent. We may admit the existence of such persons as Fo-Hi and Romulus, without acknowledging the ante-mundane government of the former, or the divine paternity and subsequent apotheosis of the latter. National vanity invariably attaches a variety of wild and incredible fictions to founders and legislators, which frequently retain a strong hold on the popular mind, long after the truth is irrecoverably forgotten.
The circumstance, therefore, of the existence of traditions respecting Mannanan Mac Ler, if it does not prove the authenticity of Manks superstitions, certainly does prove that such a man at one time possessed great influence and authority in the Island ; and hence there is no more difficulty in supposing that the seat ofhis power received his name, than there is in believing that the city of Romulus was called Rome, or the city of Athena, (Minerva) Athens.
To the barrenness and apparently intractable nature of the soil, the Manks are indebted for the preservation of the original designation of their Island ; for though its shores were frequently visited by strangers, it was not until its name was, too universally known to admit of being superseded, that it was considered of sufficient importance to merit an invasion ; a blessing, which it seems at length to have chiefly owed to its geographical position.
Having thus shown the most obvious origin of the common name, the principal difficulty is removed; for the name Mona, with which Mann is often confounded, does not belong exclusively to this Island. There can be no doubt that "Mona" was used by Taeitus in refërence to the Island of Anglesea ; for it is absurd to suppose that part of Suetonius' cavalry, and the whole army of Agricola, could have crossed from the main land without the assistance of vessels, if the Isle of Mann had been intended; and independently of this, no traces of a Roman army are to be found in the Island, while they abound in Anglesea. It is equally certain that " Mona" was used by Coesar in reference to the Isle of Mann. The following is the passage in which that illustrious Roman alludes to the Island. " The other side (of Britain) extends towards Spain, and the setting sun. On which side lies Ireland, less by one half, as is computed, than Britain ; but may be reached by a passage equal to that from Gaul to Britain. In the middle of this Channel is an Island which is called Mona. There are supposed to be many other Islands scattered about, of which Islandssome have written that in winter they have thirty days' continuous darkness."
Cæsar never penetrated by land so far as the Menai Straits ; and it is not likely that his ships of discovery would have ventured so near an unknown and rockbound coast, as to discover that Anglesea wis an Island ; which in fact, could not have been ascertained without actually passing the straits ; whereas they could have circumnavigated the Isle of Mann without any difficulty. The allusion contained in the passage just quoted to the long nights of the Hebridean or Oreadian winter, proves that then, as afterwards, this Island was considered to belong to that class, which could never have been imagined of Anglesea. In the enumeration of Irish islands by the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy, (A.D. 140), the name Monawda occurs ; and in the writings of the elder Pliny we find mention of Mona and. Monobia, as lying between Hibernia and Britannia. By the former, Anglesea, by the latter, the Isle of Mann, were probably intended. By Orosius and the venerable Bede, in the seventh and eighth centuries, Anglesea and this Island are respectively styled Menavia Prima and Menavia Secunda.+
What then is the origin of these various designations, adopted by so many creditable authors ; and a especially of " Mona," which, on account of its euphony, has been, peculiarly cherished? They seem merely to be latinizations ofthe British word Mon, which signifies isolated, or lonely, and which was doubtless applied both to the Isle of Mann and Anglesea, by the inhabitants of the surrounding countries. Ignorance of the ancient languages of these Islands has caused much confusion. The words Ay, E,y, Y or I; Ynys or Innis, Inch, Mon, &c., which all signify "Island," have been mistaken for, or incorporated with, the actual designations of places. Thus we hear of the Island of I, or Iona, or Icolmkill, the Island of Innis,* and the Island of Inchkeith,t as well as the Island of 1Ylona ; in all which cases, the use of the word Island is a redundancy. " I-ona" signifies " the Island of Ona ;" "I-colmkill,"* " The Isle of the dwelling-place of Saint Columba," and so forth. From these considerations it will appear that " Mona" is rather a description of the Island than a name, and that the true and proper designation of this " isolated" spot is "Ellan Vannin' =" the Isle of Mann."
' Vid, Numbers, chi 32., v. 38, and the account of the invasion of Canaan generally.'
" Alterum vergit ad Hispaniam, atque occidentem Solem. Qua ex parte est Hibernia, dimidio minor, ut existimatur, quam Britannia ; sed pari spatio transmissus, atque ex Gallia est in Britanniam. In hoc medio curso est insula, quæ appellator Mona.
Complures præterea minoris objectae insulæ existimantur; de quibus insulis nonnulli scripserunt, dies continuos triginta sub bruroa esse noctem." De Bello Gallico Lib. IV. cap. 10.
t The name Eubonaa, which has also been applied to the Island, is more imaginary, but may serve well enough to eke out the metrical feet of a labouring rhymester,
' Prefixed to the names of many islands in the British seas, especially on the west of Ireland, where it is corrupted into Inish, and this again has been corrupted into Inch and Ince. In the Welch language the original orthography Ynys is retained.
r A small island in the Frith of Forth, were is another called YMona, signifying" The lonely isle."
Kil, or Kiel, a cell, or habitation. Prefixed to many names of towns in Scotland and Ireland built near the ancient residenee of some saint or hermit ; as Kilmarnock, Kilbride, Kilfenora, &c.