Afton Water

Place-name:Afton Water
Suggested Meaning: ‘water course’
 1. Welsh afon ‘water course’
 2. Gaelic abhainn ‘water course
Blaeu Coila (1654):Afton R.
OS Names (1855-1857):Afton Water
Location:OS Map Six-inch Scotland 1888-1960
Other Early Forms
Achtoun flu. (Blaeu Atlas, Nithia 1654))
aftonwater
Afton Water, New Cumnock (Robert Guthrie)

Immortalised by Robert Burns as ‘Sweet Afton’, the Afton Water flows gently down the picturesque Glen Afton and on through the centre of the village of New Cumnock before joining with the River Nith. The name afton simply means ‘water-course, river’ and derives from one of the common Celtic forms as summarised by W.F.H Nicolaisen [1].

  • afon (Welsh, Cumbric)
  • abhainn (Gaelic)
  • abann (Old Irish);
  • auon (Cornish, Breton)
  • abona (Gaulish)

The name Afton appears to be of Welsh, Cumbric origin as opposed to Gaelic that tends to yield the harder sounding ‘v’ containing names such as Avon in Avondale, now Strathaven (i.e. an equivalent of Glen Afton) .

The element water when applied to a water-course, as in Afton Water, is in Scotland indicative of a water-course that is smaller than a river but grander than a burn or ‘pol-‘.  However, the element is little used locally and the river is simply known as ‘the Afton’ and Glen Afton is simply ‘up Afton’.

The Rev. James Johnston [2] suggests Afton Water, New Cumnock is probably Gaelic abh don ‘brown stream‘, far removed from Burns ‘crystal stream’.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

References
[1] W.F.H. Nicolaisen |Scottish Place-names (1976)
[2] James B. Johnston |Place-names of Scotland 3rd Edition (1934)
Maps
By Permission of National Library of Scotland
https://maps.nls.uk/
Map 1 | Blaeu Atlas of Scotland (1654), Coila Provincia
Map 2 | Blaeu Atlas of Scotland (1654), Nithia Vicecomitatus
Ordnance Survey Names Book
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
scotlandsplaces.gov.uk
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) | Afton Water