It's not uncommon to read a book with a sense of admiration for the amount of research the author has put into writing it. That's certainly true for "Abbotsford to Zion: The Story of Scottish Place-Names Around the World" by Elspeth Wills. Here, though, the admiration goes rather further. Usually it is possible to work out how an author went about researching a book, in general if not in detail. We read this one with no idea at all how we'd have approached the task of uncovering the material it presents. Perhaps its was an error to try to work it out: and it certainly didn't get in the way of our enjoyment of a book that should be considered a "must buy" for anyone with an interest in Scotland, its history, and its place in the world.
The Scots have throughout recorded history been amongst the most footloose and widely travelled of races, whether willingly or otherwise, whether as explorers, as empire builders or as victims of clearance. As a result there are few corners of the globe that have not been visited and settled by Scots. There are also few places on Earth which do not reflect Scottish influence in their place names. In her introduction, the author notes that there are "at least 550 towns, suburbs, villages, mountains, rivers and other topographical features in South Africa alone with Scottish names." She goes on to explain that the purpose of her book is not to list every place with a Scottish name. Instead she sets out to "tell the fascinating and occasionally bizarre stories behind a selection of these names".
The result is an excellent book that is full of surprises, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. We find out how and why New South Wales came to seem more Scottish than Welsh. Elsewhere we find that for a time, three-quarters of all overseas investment in US ranching came from Scotland, with an obvious impact on place names in the US west. Meanwhile, did you know that there are 40 settlements and landscape features around the world that include the name "Campbell"? No, neither did we, though we do now. And it's not just existing settlements. The author's annotated catalogue of settlements across the USA and Canada with Scottish names that no longer exist is remarkable. We also very much like some of the book's unexpected twists. There is one section about place names that sound Scottish but are not. It seems that "Abbotsford" in Wisconsin is named after a Mr Abbot and not by fans of Sir Walter Scott, for example.
Sometimes the Scottish origins of the names are far from obvious. "Atolovo", a village in Bulgaria, reflects the title of the 8th Duke of Atholl who funded a refugee settlement there after WWI (and who, it seems was at one time a candidate to become King of Albania). And it's not just on Earth. The author discusses craters and ridges on the Moon, craters on asteroids, stars, and even features in the ring system of Saturn that have names with Scottish origins. We could go on, but won't: this really is a great book.