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History & Archaeology

Scillonian Etymology

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The confused and confusing history of these islands is reflected in the supposed origins of the archipelago's name. The etymology of Scilly, pronounced to non-islanders' eternal delight 'silly', is a conundrum. Several potential solutions present themselves, of which the following seem the most reasonable:

  • Scilly could come from Sulis (Roman Sun God)
  • Scilly could be derived from Sillina a Roman word meaning 'place-of' or 'island-of'. Roman Scilly appears to have been a pilgrimage centre, dominated by a marine goddess.
  • On old maps the islands were called Sorlingus, this could be a corruption of salt ling (fish). The islands are Les Sorlingues in French, Las Sorlingas in Spanish.

Silumnus, Silimnus, Silura , Sillinas, Syllorga, Silli, Islettes of Scylley, Silley or Sulley: history provides a wealth of variations on this theme! The adjective Scillonian (the 'c' is silent) is of much more recent ancestry. Until the 18th century, the residents of the Isles of Scilly were called 'islanders' or 'people of the islands'. The author of the first book about Scilly, Robert Heath, wrote the following lines in a poem in 1750:

O blest SCILLONIANS! Favourites of Heav'n! To whom so wise a Governor is given.

Around the outer rim of the islands there are many place names of Celtic derivation, although the Cornish language has never been recorded here, but within the residential areas English place-names dominate.

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