Scotch Whisky Naming Conventions

Look at enough bottles of Scotch whisky and you’ll start seeing the same words over and over again. How many distilleries have “glen” in their name? Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glengoyne, Glenfarclas, Glen Grant… you get the idea. Many of the distillers have names that describe where they’re located, which is why glen (which means valley in Gaelic) is so prevalent in so many names.

I started looking for common syllables in distillery names and come up with this short list.

  • Ben: It’s Scottish for mountain.
  • Burn: It’s Gaelic for fresh water but it’s also the name for a watercourse, artificial or natural, from large streams to small rivers.
  • Cairn: It’s a man-made pile of stones.
  • Dhu: The sgian-dubh, or skean dhu, is a small single edged knife that’s part of traditional Scottish Highland dress.
  • Duff: Duff is a surname
  • Glen: Gleann, and thus Glen, is Scottish for Valley with a river and is typically narrower and deep.
  • Knock: It’s another term for clock.
  • Loch: Loch is the term used for a lake or an inlet (Loch Ness? Lake Ness).
  • Strath: It’s a large valley that usually has a river and is wide and shallow.

I found it kind of fun to see what the origins of some of those syllables. For example, I thought it was interesting that there were different terms for a valley. You have strath for wide and shallow valleys and glen for narrow and deep valleys. Were there any that surprised you?