The curious origins of 20 Edinburgh street names

The West End of Princes Street, Edinburgh, which was named in honour of the sons of King George III. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The West End of Princes Street, Edinburgh, which was named in honour of the sons of King George III. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Home to literary sons and daughters through the ages, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Muriel Spark, it is hardly surprising that Edinburgh’s street names are playful and poetic.

We performed some literary detective work and studied the curious origins of some of Edinburgh’s thoroughfares.

Salamander Street

This Leith street was once the home of fiery and toxic glass and chemical works.

According to late Edinburgh author Charles Boog Watson, the street takes its name from the salamander lizard (which folklore says can survive the flames of a fire) as this is the only creature that could live in such conditions.

World’s End Close

This is the final close before the Canongate, named years ago when some poorer Edinburgh residents couldn’t even afford to leave the city walls - the street was the figurative end of their world.

Croft An Righ

The name of this narrow Edinburgh thoroughfare translates from Scottish Gaelic as ‘Seat of the King’ or ‘King’s Croft’, and came from its proximity to Holyrood Palace.

Cuddy Lane

Cuddy means ‘donkey’ or ‘stupid’ in the Scottish dialect.

This Morningside street is named after its residents, according to Watson. He doesn’t specify whether this is in reference to the animals or the locals.

Dumbiedykes Road

Off Holyrood Road, this mainly residential street was named after a school for the deaf and dumb which once sat on the boundaries of Holyrood Park.

Cadzow Place

In the Meadowbank area, the inspiration for Cadzow Place came from the Lanarkshire village of Cadzow, which was the setting for Sir Walter Scott’s ballad of Cadzow Castle.

READ MORE: Stunning images of 12th Century Scots castle

Pleasance

In years gone by, this Fringe hotspot was referred to as ‘The Pleasant’. The unusual name was taken from a convent, named after St Mary of Placentia.

Princes Street

The busy shopping street was originally intended to be named after the city’s patron saint, Giles.

However, according to Watson, King George III “in his stupidity” associated the name with a London slum “and he would have none of it”.

The name was therefore changed to honour George’s sons, the Royal Princes.

Stanley Street

Likely named after American journalist Henry Morton Stanley, who explored Africa in the 19th century and allegedly ‘discovered’ David Livingstone, who had disappeared on the continent.

Quality Street

A Davidson’s Mains street where the houses were allegedly of better quality than neighbouring houses.

Candlemaker Row

Unsurprisingly, the name is taken from the industry which once operated here. Candlemaker Row was home to the Hall of the Incorporation of Candlemakers, among other waxy establishments.

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Fountainbridge

Not named for its proximity to the Union Canal, but rather the Dalry Burn, which ran from the Borough Loch in the Meadows over towards Coltbridge.

Alan Breck Gardens

This Clermiston street is named after a character from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. In the novel, main character David Balfour climbs Clermiston Hill before spying his Uncle Ebenezer’s house.

Picardy Place

Named after the Protestants who sought refuge in Edinburgh from the French region of Picardy

Danube Street

Many will be familiar with the European river Danube, which passes through Budapest and Vienna. Its permanent link to Edinburgh is likely due to the European connection of Hanoverian Kings George II, III and IV.

Potterrow

Not wizard-related, but actually named after the industry of its former residents - potters.

Sciennes Road

This commonly mispronounced thoroughfare takes its name from the Convent of St Catherine of Siena. This is spelled ‘Sienne’ in French, which was the court language of Scotland in the 1500s.

Fair-a-far

The curiously titled Cramond street is named after a local farm. The origins of the farm’s name have sadly been forgotten over time.

Cockburn Street

Named after notable lawyer, judge and writer Sir Henry Cockburn, who took a keen interest in preserving the city’s architectural heritage.

Bellenden Gardens

Takes its name from its shape, according to local legend.