Blame it on the Gaelic?

When Ross Ferry was Ross's Ferry?

In days of old, when knights were bold, and Ross Ferry was Ross’s Ferry. Or was it?

Last weekend I railed against cartographers, bureaucrats, and linguistic descriptivists for robbing Nova Scotia place names of their rightful apostrophes.

A Gaelic-speaking Cape Bretoner writes from New Zealand to suggest an alternative explanation: A lot of Nova Scotia place names originated in Gaelic, which has no apostrophe.

My post did acknowledge that my beloved Kempt Head likely never had an apostrophe, even though it was probably named for early settlers with the surname Kempt. Nearby Ross [Ross’s, Rosses] Ferry, I argued, almost certainly did initially carry the possessive mark.

Not necessarily, says my correspondent.

Kempt Head is a translation for Ceann Camp. Ross Ferry was probably originally Gaelic as well. 

The online Gaelic-English Dictionary does indeed translate Ceann as “head,” “end,” or “lid,” which fits with the English word’s sense of “headland” or “promontory”—like Kempt Head. But the dictionary gives no translation for Camp, and I’ve not heard of any early settlers called Camp. A quick check with an online census did turn up a few Kempts.

Ah, but Gaelic has no “k,” so Camp could possibly be a Gael’s way of spelling the name. Perhaps Ceann Camp is a translation of Kempt Head, not the other way around. My correspondent again:

Gaelic surnames are all different in English. MacAonghus—son of Angus—being MacInnes. You can see how Aonghus would end up being pronounced as Angus, but [in Gaelic] it sounds like Euneuz (french eu sound).

As for Ross Ferry, I am skeptical of the Gaelic theory. Too many people pronounce the possessive case (“Rosses”) even if they don’t insert an apostrophe into the written version. This was the more frequent pronunciation half a century ago, when I first visited Ross’s Ferry.

Just as I write those words, however, I realize the blowup of an old sepia postcard of Ross’s Ferry in the 1930s or so, which adorns my living room wall, is plainly labeled, “Ross FerryCape Breton.”

I’m sure an historian will help us out.

RossFerry 550