[NB The brief explanation given below has been drafted on the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the basic building-blocks used in Celtic topographical place-names (Chapter 1 of the Home menu), with the structure of compound place-names (Chapter 2) and with the structure of Celtic river-names (Chapter 19)]
It would appear that the Geography of Ptolemy is the only ancient source which refers to this tribal name.
We start with Ptolemy’s name for the Water of Luce (in Dumfries and Galloway), the Abravannus. It seems quite clear that this river-name was earlier Abrabandion, a river-name of the kind having a river-prefix, here a compound of the river-letters b and r, attached to a place-name, here Bandion. Bandion is a place-name in the hill-letter n1 and will refer to a hillfort founded in the 3rd or even 4th century BC. The Band element means ‘high hill summit’, so the hillfort will have been on the summit of a high hill close to the river. There is an earthwork close to the river at the village of Glenluce, though it is thought to be of medieval date (see the Canmore website of Historic Environment Scotland). There is also a hillfort a little to the north on Cruise Back Fell (NGR: NX 179 622), the hill dropping down to the east bank of the river. The Water of Luce is the main river nearest to Ptolemy’s Novantarum peninsula, presumably the Rhinns of Galloway, and to his Novantarum promontory, presumably a promontory somewhere on the Rhinns of Galloway (Ptolemy gives the peninsula and promontory the same coordinates). It is helpful here to consider the tribal name Trinovantes, which will be derived from a river-name of the form Trinobandion, this being substantially the same name as Abrabandion, there being merely a slight difference in the river-prefix. The place called Bandion in the case of the Essex river will have been a hillfort or settlement up on the top of high ground close to the river Pant/Blackwater (Pant will be derived from Bandion). But the important point to note is that the river-prefix Tr in Trinobandion comes complete with an in ending. One sees this ending in a number of river-names. It is seen as an after the Tris element of Trisantona and as en after the Derb element of Derbentio. We can therefore be fairly confident that the Celtic form of Abravannus had actually been Abranobandion, with an an ending after the river-prefix Abr. The people who lived around the river would then be called the Abranobandae, which form, with omission of initial Abra and the common changes b→v and d→t, yields the tribal name Novantae. Note that the later river-letter in the river-prefix Abra is r, indicating that the Novantae used the hill-letter m and corresponding river-letter r.
[This page was last modified on 24 March 2021]