Big How

Place-name:Big How
Suggested Meaning:big hollow
SSE big ‘big, long’
Scots how ‘hollow’
Blaeu Coila (1654):N/A
OS Name Books (1855-57):Big Hollow
Location:Ordnance Survey (1857)

Big How

The entry in the Ayrshire Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) for Big How reads-

A large Hollow, 7 chains E [East] of Meikle Garclaugh farm house.

How – a hollow – Jamieson

The ‘Authorities for Spelling’ were James Houston, senior and his son James Houston, junior both tenant farmers of Meikle Garclaugh and William Brown, factor (presumably of the Mansfield Estate), residing at the neighbouring property of Nether Linn. All three agreed on ‘The Big How’ as the spelling which was shortened to ‘Big How’.

The OS Name Book also gives the definitions of how from Jamieson ( John Jamieson’s ‘Dictionary of the Scottish Language’), namely how ‘hollow’ [1].

Map 1: Big How (OS Map 1857) | Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Scots how ‘hollow’

The entry for howe, how in the Dictionary of the Scots language reads [2] –

HOWE, n., adj.1 Also how; hoowe; hough, howch, houh. n. 1. A hollow or low-lying piece of ground, one of the hollows of an indented or undulating surface or outline. Freq. found in phr. heicht(s) and howe(s), heights and howes, hill(s) and dale(s), ups and downs,

Dictionaries of the Scots Language, Dictionars o the Scots Leid

Standard Scottish English big ‘big, long’

Big How is an impressive hollow which is relatively deep with steep banks and it is these attributes that account for the first element big.

However, equally impressive is the length of the hollow which stretches for some 400 yards and perhaps it is the length rather than the depth of the hollow that account for the element big.

Big How is heavily wooded and an un-named burn flows through it and joins the Garclaugh Burn which then makes it way to join the River Nith.

Map 2 : Big How (OS Map 1857)| Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The burn perhaps was worthy of the name Big How Burn but sadly the hollow itself is not named in the later editions of the Ordnance Survey and indeed the name Big How is not used / known locally.

Bring back the Big How!


[1] John Jamieson, Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1805,1832)
Dr. Jeffrey Triggs, Online Edition; Vol. I, p. 657
[2] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. | howe, how
Reproduced with the Permission of National Library of Scotland
Map 1: Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1855-1882 (1857) |Big How
Map 2: Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1843-1882 (1857)|Big How
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49| Big How