Jenny’s Thorn

Place-name:Jenny’s Thorn
Suggested Meaning:Jenny’s hawthorn
First elementPersonal name: Jenny
Second elementScots thorn ‘hawthorn’
Blaeu Coila (1654):No Entry
OS Name Books (1855-57):Jenny’s Thorn
Location:Ordnance Survey (1892-1960)
Other Early Forms:
No other forms
Brockloch (Photo Robert Guthrie)

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (1855-57) entry for Jenny’s Thorn reads –

A Small thorn bush on Brockloch farm N.E. [North East] of the house

Map 1 | Jenny’s Thorn (OS 1894) | Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland

1st element : Personal Name Jenny

Here the name Jenny is not associated with any specific local girl or woman of that name. A search through the Ordnance Survey Name Books for the neighbouring counties of Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire reveal the following ‘Jenny names’

  • Jenny’s Dyke
  • Jenny’s Wood
  • Jenny’s Pool
  • Jenny’s Burn
  • Jenny’s Hill
  • Jenny’s Cairn

It appears that all of these ‘Jenny’ names, and others like them, are based on the generic name for a country girl [1] where the male equivalent is the generic name ‘Jock’ [2].

2nd element : Scots thorn ‘hawthorn’

Perhaps ‘Jenny’s Thorn’ was a ‘trysting thorn‘, i.e. a favourite meeting place for courting couples, like the one in the parish of Coylton, immortalised by Robert Burns –

“At length I reached the bonnie glen,
Where early life I sported;
I passed the mill and trysting-thorn
Where Nancy aft I courted.”

When wild War’s deadly Blast was blawn‘, Robert Burns [3]

In the parish of New Cumnock a ‘trysting thorn’ once stood at Laight farm in Glen Afton under which, one local tradition suggests Burns composed ‘Afton Water’ while visiting his friend John Logan of Laight. The tree was blown down in later years and wood recovered from the ‘trysting thorn’ was fashioned into a gavel which in 1926 was presented to the President of the New Cumnock Burns Club [4].

‘Jenny’s Thorn’ in the middle of the field, below Brockloch farm does not conjure up the same romantic setting of Glen Afton and is not as easily accessible for courting couples!

In which case an alternative explanation may be found in the Celtic Mythology associated with the hawthorn. It holds a special place as the “Queen of May”, the source of the magical may-flower which gives rise to the well used weather warning “ne’er cast a cloot, till may be oot“. It is also known as the “Faery Tree” inhabited and protected by the faery-folk, to be feared by anyone that should damage the tree in any way. Consequently while clearing land for agricultural use any thorn tree would be left untouched ‘for they could not be cut down for fear or repercussions from the underworld‘. Such thorn trees were known as “Lone Trees” a name that readily matches the setting of ‘Jenny’s Thorn’.

See also New Cumnock Place-Name: Gowktorn Well [6].


[1] The Dictionaries of the Scots Languages | Jennie
[2] The Dictionaries of the Scots Languages | Jock
[3] Robert Burns Federation | When wild War’s deadly Blast was blawn
[4] Chris Rollie, ‘New Cumnock and Robert Burns’
[5] Trees for Life | Mythology and folklore of the Hawthorn
[6] New Cumnock Place-Names |Gowkthorn Well
By Permission of National Library of Scotland
Map 1: Ordnance Survey (1894) | Jenny’s Thorn
Ordnance Survey Name Books
By Permission of Scotland’s Places
Ayrshire OS Name Books (1855-57) Vol. 49| Jenny’s Thorn