LINKLATER - the name


Possible meanings of the place name and its use as a surname.

Regarding the surname, here is the entry for Linklater from the standard reference work on the subject, ‘The Surnames of Scotland’ by George F. Black. LINKLATER. The true form of this surname is Linklet, derived from one or other of the places of the name in Orkney. Linklater in South Ronaldsay was in 1500 Linclet, in 1596 Linklet; Linklater in North Sandwick was Lynkclet in 1500, and there is a Linklet in North Ronaldsay. The terminal -er stems from the nominative ending (-r) of the Old Norse place name (Lyngklettr), and the Æ at the beginning of the earliest spelling of the name = English ‘at’ and was joined to the name by mistake. Criste Ælingeklæt is referred to in the complaint by the Commons of Orkney in 1424 as a ‘goodman’ (i.e. a gentleman, man of good position) (REO., p. 37). Andro Lynclater (Lincletter, or Linclet) appears as a roithman (councillor) in 1504 and 1514 (ibid., p. 76, 78, 87). Helen Linklet is recorded in Under Failze, Fetlar, in 1613 (Shetland), Thomas Linkletter in Laxfuird in 1634 (ibid.) and William Linckletter was heir of John Linckletter of Housbie in 1649 (Inquis., 3423). Andrew Linklater of that Ilk was lawrikman (delegate of the people) in North Sandwick in 1678 (SHR., xiv. p. 59), Clinkclatter appears as a skipper in Kirkcaldy in 1687 (RPC., 3. ser. xiii, p. 131), and Peter Linkletter was one of the quartermasters of the ‘Bounty’ in 1789, and stood by Captain Bligh during the mutiny (Voyage, London 1792, p. 159). Some persons of this name have migrated south to Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh.
And, I might add, to Somerset. Black's assertion that “the true form of this surname is Linklet...” seems perverse. Here are some other surname variants found in historic documents; AELINGEKLAET, CLINKLATTER, ELLINGEKLAT, LINCKLETTER, LINCLET, LINCLETTER, LINKLATER, LINKLET, LINKLETTER, LINKLITTAR, LYNCLATER - and there are others [see below!] The ‘true’ form of the name would be that which most closely approximates to the Norse original - see above!

Other uncommon examples of the surname include two early variants which I take to refer to the same individual; Criste Ælingeklæt noted as a “goodman” in 1424 and Christian de Ellingeklat named two years later in a Complaint - the latter apparently adding a genitive to the former's ablative sense, and neither being, it seems to me, a “mistake” as suggested by Black, but rather represent in grammatically correct form that Criste was from ling klaet. There is no doubt that many territorial surnames replaced patronymic surnames under Scots influence but some of these early territorial surnames show a most interesting Norse element. In 1567 John Abrek lived at Breck in Deemess. The initial 'A' in John's surname is a relic of Old Norse 'a' meaning 'at'. The name 'John Abrek' really means 'John in Breck'. In 1424 the name Criste Aelingklaet is recorded; there is no doubt that he came from Linklater in Sandwick. [Lamb 2003]
To round out the list, there is an Andro Linclett named as one of the Council of Lawmen in 1515; John Linkleter is mentioned in 1595; in 1621 Andro Linklatter is “of that Ilk”; and in 1640 the appointment of three bailies is recorded - James for Harra, Henrie for Rendell, and Alexander Linkletter of Linklatter for Sandwick. Hereafter, my use of Linklater should be taken to encompass all the above variants!

Human error might also produce variants of Linklater. In the census returns for Stromness 1821 INKSTER, a not uncommon name in Orkney, was recorded; come 1841 there were also INKESTER and INKSETTER. I am not suggesting that Inkster and Linklater are one and the same, merely that there is scope for confusion, especially in oral transmission to a census enumerator or compiler of a rental, even more especially if he was of the callibre of John Gardine whose own name appears in at least three different spellings in Peterkin; two others being Johne Gairdine and Johne Gairdin. And how else to account for the five women and two men living together in one household in Main Street, Stromness in 1841 who gave their surnames as Ballanden [F 60], Bannandan [F 40] and Bannantyn [F 20, 15, 13, and M 11 and 9]? The 1690s Poll Tax returns for Sandwick includes one Sclatter or Skleatter, and one Inksetter, as well as twenty-two Linkletter.

My own great-great-grandmother appears initially in the Sandwick 1841 census aged 15 as Janet IRVING, living with Sibella IRVING, aged 75 and another Sibella IRVING aged 35 at East Aith. (The Sibellas were Janet's aunt and grandmother.) Only five other IRVINGs are listed in the 1841 census, and all living at Chamber of Aith, but fifty-one IRVINEs. As it turns out all the IRVINGs were closely related, had all been previously recorded as IRVINE in the 1821 census and, with the departure of some of the IRVINGs from Aith to Ontario in 1842, the G was dropped by all the remaining 'IRVINGs' in favour of an E in all subsequent censuses. Indeed, from 1821 to 1911 there is no IRVING recorded in Sandwick other than those noted above in 1841. Having said that, in Orkney IRVING was the more popular spelling in the 18th C., and IRVINE in the 19th C. Both occur throughout Peterkin. Although Irvine is a Scottish name they feature in Orkney in the earliest historical records, indeed before the earliest Linklater. As early as 1369 a William Irvine was sufficiently important to witness an agreement which put an end to the quarrels between Bishop William of Orkney and Hakon Jonson, the Norwegian Governor of Orkney and Shetland. [Lamb 2004] Given the plethora of possible alternative spellings for Linklater it is surprising how consistently it has been spelled since around 1800. In the ‘Commissariot Record Of Orkney and Shetland Register of Testaments’ (Scottish Record Society, 1904) Part 1: Orkney 1611-1684 contains 52 LINKLETTERs and no Linklater. Part 2 Shetland 1611-1649 has ONE LINKLET and just two LINKLETTERs. The ‘Caithness 1661-1664’, and ‘Moray 1684-1800’ Registers contain no Linklaters in any spelling. My own forbears all forbore spelling it any other way than Linklater as far back as I am able to trace - to Hugh Linklater, who spelled his name the same as his mother, Asa Linklater, and was born in c. 1746. I don't have dates for Asa.

There were people called Linklater well before the seventeenth century, but little is known of family names before the islands fell under Scottish administration early in the 15th century. The early Norse taxation rolls are all lost, presumed destroyed by Scottish incomers, notably Robert, Earl of Orkney, bastard son of James V and his even worse son, Black Patie. The earliest taxation rolls, the so-called Rentals, date from the end of the 15th century by which time Orkney was already under the Scottish domain and these are our primary sources for the study of early names. [Lamb 2003]

The Commissariot of Orkney and Shetland comprised the counties of the same name. The Record, of which the greater part is now missing, probably in the hands of private individuals, commences in 1661 and ends, in so far as Shetland is concerned, in 1649, and as regards Orkney in 1684. The lists show in a marked manner how, by the seventeenth century, names in Orkney had departed from the Norwegian system of patronymics in favour of those of places, while in Shetland the practice, which can hardly even yet be said to be extinct, of calling the son from his father's christian name, was in full force, thus the son of William Magnusson of Buness becomes Henry Williamson of Buness, and in his turn his son is Magnus Henryson or Henderson. [Failed to make a note of the source!]

Use of fixed family names in Orkney rather than the Norse system of patronymics was implemented much later than in most of the rest of Britain, Shetland being the only place lagging behind Orkney in this respect. By the end of the 17th century, most Orcadians probably had a surname, although from Poll Tax records in the 1690s, there is evidence that hereditary surnames were not yet fully established. [Irvine, 2003]. Some Norse surnames, such as Linklater, are very old, in fact as old as the place-names from which they usually originated, and it seems that the place-names were more-or-less fixed by the 12th century; the assumption being that were they not, one would expect the name of Orkney's principal ‘saint’, Earl Magnus, murdered ca. 1115, to occur frequently in place-names, whereas it does not occur at all. Nowhere in Orkney is Magnus to be found in any farm name, a clear indication that the bulk of Norse place-names were fixed before the middle of the 12th century. [Lamb 2003] But undoubtedly, the true surname came into Orkney as a result of Scottish influences in the latter part of the 14th century. And naturally the most fashionable and earliest adopted type of surname was the territorial, taken from the bearer's estate, since in Western Europe generally, it was the characteristic of a landed aristocracy. The first recorded Orkney surnames (apart from early Scottish names) which subsequently became permanent, found in the 14th and 15th century are: - Paplay, Ireland, Kirkness, Clouston, Flett, Linklater, Heddle, Rendall, Magnuson, and Haraldson. It will be seen that seven out of the ten were township names...derived from odal land owned by their bearers. [Clouston 1924] Linklater was one of the seven.

Many of the older Norse surnames such as Linklater, Foubister, Clouston, Hourston and Flett are unique to Orkney, occurring nowhere else until, that is, one of their bearers left the islands to spread the good word. Only those who owned land could add a territorial name to their own first name. “There is little doubt that many territorial names were specifically adopted by high-ranking families of the time such as the Kirknesses or the Linklaters.” [Lamb 2003] For the majority, the choice of name depended on the occupation in which an individual was engaged, such names being rare in Orkney [Lamb 1981], use of a fixed patronymic, or the adoption of someone else's surname. When use of surnames in Orkney was first adopted, the then Earls' surname was Sinclair, and it became fashionable, or a sign of allegience or outright toadying among those in need of a name to take it for themselves, and it is this that accounts for Sinclair being the commonest surname in Orkney rather than the fecundity of Sinclairs. A similar habit persisted well into the 19th century when a laird's surname was often bestowed by tenants on their off-spring as a middle name, e.g. Barbara Watt Linklater, who must have been named after Willie G. Watt [1810-1866] the 7th Laird o Breckness. [For more about Barbara see Barbara Watt Linklater.] But, “Despite its closeness to the Highlands, family names associated with Highland clans made little impact on Orkney.” [Lamb 2003] Similarly however, incoming Scots did not take old Norse names for themselves [Clouston].

Do these Orkney place-surnames denote native descent? Of course, it is impossible to say, in this, as in any other general question, what romantic or exceptional incident may not have happened in some isolated case. But, as regards the general question, the answer is clear, that since in every single known case of a Scotch name being hidden under a local land name (and I have noted and investigated all I could find), the land name was eventually dropped and the original surname remained, the chances therefore of the reverse happening in any unknown case are infinitesimally small...That a native surname denotes a native family cannot be reasonably questioned. [Clouston 1924]

It must therefore be a pretty safe assertion that all descendants of those with Norse surnames are probably genetically related, however distantly, but it is probably not the case that all those initially given Norse names were genetically related to eachother at the outset. A person associated with the place known as Linklater in Sandwick on the Mainland might be surnamed Linklater just as another individual connected with Linklater on South Ronaldsay* might also be given the same surname, [RESEARCH: did this ever happen?] and so might an individual at the other extremity of the islands connected with Linklet in North Ronaldsay. Yet it is very unlikely that these individuals would have been genetically related. Similarly all of the people associated with Linklater in Sandwick and first surnamed Linklater might not have been related. E.g., take Tom, a direct descendant of Picts, Dick a lowborn incomer from Norway and Harry the merry-bygotten son of an Irish monk from Papa Westray; while they might all have found themselves thralls of Thorfinn Moneybags on his 'bu' or farmstead at Linklater, they would certainly have been genetically unrelated and may well have mutually detested one another. In spite of that, when the compilers of early rent rolls were grappling with who owned and owed what, Tom, Dick and Harry might all have been surnamed Linklater in the rentals simply because that's where they came from. It did not matter at that stage what a person was called so long as they were identifiable.

* According to Picken [1972] there were no Linklaters recorded in ‘Ane Roll of the Persons Names of the haill yleand of Southronaldshay both North and South Parochines thereof, according as the samen wes taken in ane Stewart Court holden be James Baikie of Tankerness Stewart Dep. of Orkney the 24th June 1696.’ By the same token Hugh Marwick mentioned no Linklaters in his “summary of householders” taken “from the 1733 rental” given in the introduction to his ‘Place-Names of North Ronaldsay’.

Until the ‘recent’ migrations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, distribution of people called Linklater was centred in Orkney, and even there was concentrated on a few islands and entirely absent from some. [RESEARCH: citation/evidence parish by parish and compare with Shetland]. The population of Orkney reached its peak in 1861 and thereafter followed an unbroken downward trend for the next hundred and ten years. This downward trend was the result of emigration rather than loss of libido. The last of my native Orcadian ancestors, my great-grandfather James Stevens Linklater [1850-99] was among those who headed for the exit. Prior to James' leaving I have no record of any of my ancestors quitting the islands other than Jacob Linklater (1817-1858) who, apart from being somewhat tangential to my own descent, left Orkney to set up in business as a provisions merchant in Edinburgh. He had no issue, but his nephew, the above James Stevens Linklater, followed in his footsteps and the rot set in. Consequently, my grandfather Arthur David Linklater [1879-1955] was born in Leith where James had his business, my father, Nelson Valdemar Linklater [1918-1997] was born in Bombay where Arthur had his business, and I was born in York where no-one had any business - although my brother is about to flit there.

Many men from Orkney left the islands seasonally. While later seasonal migrant workers from Orkney were not exactly following in his footsteps, a fine precedent was set by the ‘Ultimate Viking’, Sweyn Asleifsson. Sweyn had in the spring hard work, and made them lay down very much seed, and looked much after it himself. But when that toil was ended, he fared away every spring on a viking-voyage, and harried about among the Southern Isles [Hebrides] and Ireland, and came home after midsummer. That he called spring-viking. Then he was at home until the corn-fields were reaped down, and the grain seen to and stored. Then he fared away on a viking-voyage, and then he did not come home till the winter was one month spent and that he called his autumn-viking. [Ch. 114 Orkneyinga Saga 1887 trans by Sir G.W.Dasent] Or, as Sveinn Asleifarson would have understood it - Sveinn hafði á várum starfa mikinn, ok lèt færa niðr ofa-mikit sáð, ok gekk þar mjök sjálfr at. En er lokit var þeim starfa, fór hann hvert vár í víkíng, ok herjaði um Suðreyjar ok Írland; ok kom heim eptir mitt sumar. Þat kallaði hann vár-víkíng. Þá var hann heima til þess er akrar vóru upp-skornir, ok sèt var fyrir kornum. Þá for hann í víkíng, ok kom þá ekki fyrr heim en mánuðr var af vetri, ok kallaði hann þat haust-víkíng.

Later Orkney men went slaughtering whales in the Davis Straights or, from the beginning of the 18th C., were employed by the Hudson's Bay Company [H.B.C.], who preferred to recruit the majority of their men from Orkney, perceiving them to be hard-working, sober, used to vile weather, willing to accept the low wages, and indifferent to the Jacobite cause. At one time three-quarters of the H.B.C. men were from Orkney. Their ships were victualled in Stromness until the early 1900s and Login's Well, which supplied their water, can still be seen there. This well also supplied Captain Cook's Discovery and the two ships H.M.S. Erebus and H.M.S. Terror, in which Sir John Franklin embarked on his fatal arctic voyage in 1845 to search for the elsuive north-west passage. Neither he nor any of the 134 men with him ever returned, but his fate - starvation and cannibalism - was revealed by another Orcadian and one-time employee of H.B.C., John Rae. The Royal Navy also pressed large numbers of men from Orkney. All told, so many men took seasonal work outwith the islands that proprietors and landlords complained at the lack of labour available to exploit for their own ends. I do not know if any of my ancestors was a seasonal migrant, but a Peter Linkleter was one of the quartermasters on the H.M.S. Bounty in 1789, remaining loyal to the odious Captain Bligh during the Mutiny.

Linklater, as a surname, makes researching family history much easier than many other names. An even greater boon is conferred by originating from a relatively small, isolated place like Orkney. While you don't need to look far in Orkney to find Linklaters, the name is not common. It does not figure among the ten commonest surnames in the 1901 census for example. These were, in descending order; SINCLAIR, SPENCE, RENDALL, MUIR, FLETT, TULLOCH, THOMSON, SUTHERLAND, ROBERTSON and DREVER. The ten commonest surnames in the Shetland 1901 census were; SMITH, WILLIAMSON, JAMIESON, ANDERSON, ROBERTSON, JOHNSON, SINCLAIR, IRVINE, NICOLSON and LAURENSON. While the names change somewhat in earlier censuses, Linklater never makes it into the top ten. Based on data from the 1921 census, a piece in the Orcadian in 1922 stated that Linklater was in joint 15th place with Harcus, whereas Smith, a very common name elsewhere including Shetland, was only slightly commoner than Linklater and in 12th place. Irvine is commoner in Shetland than Orkney; whether my great-great-grandmother's family originated or had connections there I don't know, but Irvine is Scottish not Norse, whereas Linklater is Norse not Scottish.

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* Thomson wrote two separate histories of Orkney published some fifteen years apart.

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© 2018 Duncan Linklater Sennachie.