Genealogy, Philology and Connections to Antiquity

Cotter, Mac Oitir, Ottar, Othere, Otter

A study in the philology and etymology of the name Cotter and how it appears to be connected to
Vikings, Norse Sagas and the Arthurian Legends

My maiden name is Miriam Ellis and I am a student of philology - the study of a language together with its literature, and historical and cultural contexts. I have been studying languages nearly all my life, and taught Irish Gaelic for a number of years - a pursuit which sprang from cultural roots on both sides of my family. My father is Welsh, English, German, Irish and so on. My mother, however, is 100% Irish. That is to say, both of her parents are of Irish descent in the near traceable past. Her mother's name is McGrath and her father's was Cotter. Because of my love of languages, and particularly of the study of the histories of words, I began to investigate that humble paternal name - Cotter. The results of this study have been, quite frankly, startling and glorious, and it is my hope that all people bearing any of the following surnames will make it to this page to share in my findings: Cotter, Mac Oitir, Mc Oitir, MacCotter, O'Cotter, Ottar, Otter and possibly various surnames which contain the element 'Water' in them.

First of all, I wish to state that I am putting my ideas forward only as a theory. It may be that I will get feedback to disprove my findings, but my deep research into this surname has lead me to believe that I may be the only person who has connected the dots of this story in the following manner, and thus I feel my ideas should prove of interest to any Cotters, etc. researching their family genealogy. I would suggest, for those seriously interested in studying their roots, that this document be printed out for easier reading and better understanding. It is somewhat lengthy. Come with me on this journey into the past of our people. Prepare for some puzzles and try to keep with me here. I really do come to a point at the end. To all of the Cotters out there, be ready for some truly amazing discoveries.

First of all it is vital that we take a cursory glance at the name Cotter. Because of the English occupation of Ireland, many surnames were 'Anglicized' which means changed to sound more English. This also happened to both personal names and place names. For instance, the personal name Maire became Mary and so on. In the case of Cotter, we have some real errors to contend with. The root of the name is actually 'Oitir', but because it descends from Mac Oitir, (meaning son of Oitir), people hearing the name accidentally attached the 'C' to the front of 'Oitir', ending up with something like Coitir, or Cotter. You will even find the name Mac Cotter in existence as a result of aural error, written error and the passage of time. So, now, at least, we have worked our way back to the root Oitir. But what is Oitir?

It is often mistakenly believed that the name Cotter is some form of a Norman/French diminutive meaning 'cottager'. Not only is this incorrect, but it would make Cotter a very commonplace name, indeed. Fortunately, we know we are dealing with Oitir, not Cotter. The name Oitir first shows up, so far as my research shows, during the Viking invasion of Ireland in the 8th century. As a matter of fact, this name hit the shores of Ireland attached to a Viking, or Vikings, personally named Ottar! Ottar is a name with roots that reach back into the very distant past of the great Norse sagas which feature the magnificent King Othere who ruled the oldest Norse dynasty in Sweden in the early 6th century. When Ottar showed up in Ireland, his name had already been around for a very long time, and it was connected with the greatest parts of history and legend which come from Scandinavia.

So, how is it, then, that Ottar the Viking's name comes to be spelt Oitir or Ottir in Irish documents dating to the 11th century? Here, I would like to posit an idea, in theory, which is based on reconstruction methods and my knowledge of the Irish language. We know that Vikings are also called Norsemen. Now, in Gaelic, one of the forms of the word for North is 'thuaidh'. Believe it or not, this word is pronounced 'ua'. 'Tir' is a Gaelic word for land. Therefore, I would propose that to a Gaelic speaker hearing the name 'Ottar', it might sound like they were hearing some form of "Thuaidh - tir", or North Land, and if they discovered that these invading fellows came from the North, it could make very good sense to them that they were called "Northland". Again, this is only a theory, but one that I like, and one which potentially explains the gaelicized spelling of the old Norse name.

As with so many Irish names, "mac" would then be added to the descendants of Ottar, when he had them, and thus his sons would be Mac Ottar, or Mac Oitir. We see such a clear reference to this in a document dating from 1142 which states "Ottar, son of the son of Ottar, of the people of the Hebrides' was chosen by the Norse of Dublin as their King." Being the 'son of' someone was very important back then. It told others who you were and it is because of this that Ireland is, to this day, populated with Mc's, Mac's and O's.

Mac Oitir, or Cotter is a very old name, then, and one which has been prevalent for hundreds of years in Ireland, most particularly in Cork which was a Viking trading post. Cork is still bursting with Cotters today and it is from there that my own line of Cotters come. However, most of the above may not be much news to serious family tree scholars. That Cotter is a surname of Viking origin takes no more than a few mouse clicks to discover these days. It is what follows that I am putting forth that I believe to be sailing in uncharted waters. In order to set this information before you, we must put what we are talking about into historical perspective. To this end, I have laid out a very abridged timeline covering relevant data from 5600 BC up to the 19th century.

With this timeline, I propose to suggest that not only are the Cotters descended from some of the world's most famous Vikings, and thus, connected backward to the great Norse Myths, but also that our people play a part in the creation of the wonderful Arthurian legends, via our connection to Uther Pendragon, King Arthur's father. Simply put - Uther = Ottar = Oitir = Mac Oitir = Cotter. By following my timeline, you can attempt to follow my train of thought with this. Again, I do urge that you print this out for more reasonable reading. Despite the brevity with which I am treating 7000 years of history, it makes a bit of a saga! I will offer conclusions at the end of this time line:

The Othere Uther Oitir Time Line

5600 BC - Mediterranean Sea bursts the Bosporus, flooding the black sea basin, very likely spurring the beginning of the Indo European tribes' migration. This large body of peoples, including the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Celts, Slavs and Norse, were located around Germany and they moved out into Europe and Asia. It is believed they spoke a language referred to as Proto-German, which, once they split up, became the basis for all of the languages found in Europe today. When the Celts arrived in Britain is unknown - possibly around 500 BC, when they must have conquered the Island's native inhabitants.

55 BC - Romans arrive in Britain and subjugate the Celts. It is the Romans who call the Celts the 'Britons'.

407 AD - Romans depart from Britain. Celts again in power.

432 - St. Patrick brings Christianity to Ireland. This is a traditional date - though it is believed he actually may have arrived as late as 461.

C. 450 - Invasion of Angles/Saxons/Jutes.

500 - The earliest mention of the name 'Arthur' is found in Welsh writings which go from this period up to the 10th century. Who this was remains a source of huge debate. All we can say from the sources is that the name was known to the Celts and that it was connected with some magnificent and peerless warlord. Who this was has not been proven...nor has it been proven that Arthur was even a real person. Great debate goes on. The name Art(h)ur would regularly develop in the Welsh vernacular from *Artgur, 'man of the bear; bear-man' by c.500AD (when compounded as a second element Brythonic -gur becomes -ur by c.500AD giving, from *Artgur, Art(h)ur). A main source for the name lies in is the collection of heroic death-songs known as Y Gododdin, relating to a battle fought in the late 6th century.

C. 515- C. 530 - The following entry borrowed from Wikipedia at the following link:

Ohthere, Ohtere (the name is sometimes misspelt OhÞere), or Ottar Vendelkråka (Vendelcrow) (ca 515 - ca 530) was a king of the Swedish house of Scylfings. Ohthere is considered to be a fairly historical king of Sweden, the memory of whom has been conveyed both by Beowulf, Norse sagas and Swedish tradition (see also Origins for Beowulf and Hrólf Kraki). His name has been reconstructed as Proto-Norse *Ohtaharjaz or *Ohtuharjaz [1]. He was the son of OngenÞeow and the brother of Onela. He was the father of Eadgils, and according to Beowulf he also had a son named Eanmund.

According to the oldest source, Beowulf, he was captured by the Geats together with his mother and his younger brother Onela. They were saved by his father OngenÞeow who killed the Geatish king HæÞcyn and besieged the Geats in a forest named Raven's wood (wið Hrefnawudu and in Hrefnesholt 1). However, Geatish reinforcements arrived led by the Geatish prince Hygelac whose warrior Eofor slew OngenÞeow.Later Ohthere died and his throne was inherited by his brother Onela. This version fits the Swedish tradition which claims that Ottar resided at the ancient royal estate in Vendel, in Uppland, and that he was buried in Ottarshögen (Ohthere's mound). An archaeological excavation in 1917 supported the tradition dating the finds to the first half of the 6th century. It was a burial befitting a king.

According to the latest source, Ynglinga saga, Ottar refused to pay tribute to Frodi. Then Frodi sent two men to collect the tribute, but Ottar answered that the Swedes had never paid tribute to the Danes and would not begin with him. Frodi then gathered a vast host and looted in Sweden, but the next summer he pillaged in the east. When Ottar learnt that Frodi was gone, he sailed to Denmark to plunder in return and went into the Limfjord where he pillaged in Vendsyssel. Frodi's jarls Vott and Faste attacked Ottar in the fjord. The battle was even and many men fell, but the Danes were reinforced by the people in the neighbourhood and so the Swedes lost (a version apparently borrowed from the death of Ottar's predecessor Jorund). The Danes put Ottar's dead corpse on a mound to be devoured by wild beasts, and made a wooden crow that they sent to Sweden with the message that the wooden crow was all that Ottar was worth. After this, Ottar was called Vendelcrow.

Ynglingatal only mentions that Ottar was killed by the Danish jarls Vott and Faste in a place named Vendel, whereas Historia Norwegiae only informs that Ottar was killed by the Danish brothers Ottar [sic.] and Faste in a Danish place called Vendel.

Swedish scholars doubt the Icelandic and Norwegian localization of Ottar's death to Denmark. According to the classic Swedish encyclopedia, Nordisk Familjebok, Vendelcrow was a name given to any resident of the parish and the ancient royal estate of Vendel until the present time. Consequently, Snorri Sturluson's version could be considered to be a later addition explaining a cognomen, the meaning of which he did not know.

Moreover, the Old Norse expression corresponding to putting someone on a mound has two meanings, one of which is putting him on top of the mound, while the other one is to bury someone in a mound. Consequently it is thought that the tradition of Ohthere's burial in Vendel was misinterpreted as his being put on top of a mound in the more well-known Vendsyssel.

***NEW!!! I have just discovered Ottar's burial mound in Sweden. This is a famous tourist spot and is the largest Vendel-period mound of its kind. See Ottar's Burial Mound Here.

C. 520 - Celts defeat Anglo-Saxon at the Battle of Mount Badon, halting their advance for decades.

577 - The Saxons defeat the Celts at the battle of Deorham, dividing and cutting off the Celts in Wales from the Celts in Cornwall. The Celts are pushed out to Ireland and Scotland as well.

597 - St. Augustine brings Christianity to Britain.

688-728 - Ina is the Saxon king of Wessex at this time. Possible earliest Arthurian legends date to this time, written by a Welsh hermit around 720 who said that a vision of an angel had revealed to him information about Joseph of Arimithea and the Grail. The book is dedicated to "Vualwnaus (this is Gawain)" and his writings do speak of some of the knights. I find this book being referred to as "The Holy Grail Book I", but references to this are very scarce.

787 - The first Viking raid. They sack the monastery at Lindisfarne.

795 - The first recorded Viking raid of Ireland, near Dublin.

C. 850 - Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway is born around this time. I note this here because I have found a brief and incomplete reference to the fact that in the long battles which went on between the Norwegians and the Geats (the Goths of Southern Sweden), King Harald is said to have battled with and killed one Jarl Ottar of Ostergotland. This fact was recorded in the historian Snorri Sturluson's 13th century work, Heimskringla. This work was meant to be a history of the Kings of Norway, dating back to their somewhat legendary connection with the ancient Kings of Sweden, the Ynglings, mentioned above. When the actual battle between King Harald I and Jarl Ottar of Ostergotland took place, I am not sure, but it would have been between the years 850-933 as King Harald I died in c. 933.

852 - Vikings Ivar Beinlaus and Olaf the White land in Dublin Bay and establish a fortress, on which the city of Dublin now stands. Olaf was the son of a Norwegian king and made himself the king of Dublin. By coincidence, Olaf was the grandson of a man named Ketil Wether (and this word, 'wether' could related to 'otter', not sure of this). Ketil Wether was born around 806.

865 - The Danes/Vikings invade England.

871 - The Saxons defeat the Danes at Ashdown. Alfred the Great becomes king of Wessex. His reign continues until his death in 899. It was during his time that the Dane Law was established.

890 - Ottar was a Viking adventurer from Hålogaland. Around 890 he traveled to England, and Alfred the Great had his tales written down. Ottar told that he lived farthest to the north of all the Norwegians. He told about his travels to the Bjarmaland (White Sea), and south to England, accurately describing the entire Norwegian coast. He told about the Kvens, the Samis and the Swedes. Ottar's tales are the earliest known written source using the term Norwegians. Much of what we know about the Viking Age Bjarmland comes from the Norse and Icelandic sagas, also from the writings by the Norwegian explorer Ottar.

913 - The Welsh Annals state "Otter came". Reference to Jarl Ottar is also found in the Welsh Brut t tywysogion, "Chronicle of the Princes". A 'Jarl' is a Viking nobleman or chieftain. The English word 'earl' derives from this.

913 - We hear of a naval battle off the Isle of Man in which Ragnall, king of a part of Northumbria, defeated "the navy of Ulster," with their leader, "Barid Mac Ottir," with almost his entire army being slain. I do not know the exact source of this, but found it mentioned in a book on the History of the Isle of Man.

915 - The Anglo Saxon chronicle relates that Jarls Ohtor and Hroald or Hraold come from Brittany to raid the Welsh coast along the Severn Estuary. They concentrate their initial attacks on Archenfield, the Ercing where Aurelius and Uther Pendragon of the Arthurian legends are first placed when they come to England from Brittany. Hroald is slain but Ohtor goes on to land "east of Watchet".

916 - From the Annals of the Four Masters:

Oitir & na Goill do dhul o Loch Dá Chaoch i n-Albain, & Constantin, mac Aedha do thabhairt catha dóibh, & Oitir do mharbhadh co n-ár Gall immaille friss.

Oitir and the foreigners went from Loch Dachaech to Alba; and Constantine, the son of Aedh, gave them battle, and Oitir was slain, with a slaughter of the foreigners along with him.

1014 - Brian Boru puts and end to the Viking invasions of Ireland by defeating them at the Battle of Clontarf, near Dublin. Here is something of interest: Lothlend/Laithlind is Viking Scotland (and probably includes Man) and I believe one can deduce this from a close reading of a reliable and dated Irish source: the account of the battle of Clontarf in the Annals of Ulster dated 1014.

Sloghud la Brian m. Cenneitigh m. Lorcain, la righ n-Erenn, & la Mael Sechlainn m. Domnaill, la righ Temhrach, co h-Ath Cliath. Laighin uile do leir i tinol ar a cinn & Gaill Atha Cliath & a coimlin do Ghallaib Lochlainne leó. .i. x.c. luirech. Gnithir cath crodha etorra - In quo bello cecidit ex adhuersa caterua Gallorum Mael Mordha m. Murchada ri Laigen, & Domnall m. Fergaile rí na Fortuath: cecidit uero a Gallis Dubghall m. Amlaim, Siuchraidh m. Loduir iarla Innsi Orcc, & Gilla Ciarain m. Gluin Iairnn rigdomna Gall, & OITTIR DUB, & Suartgair, & Donnchad h. Eruilb, & Grisene, & Luimne , & Amlaim m. Laghmaind, & Brotor qui occidit Brian, .i. toisech na loingsi Lochlannaighi, & .ui. mile iter marbad & bathad.

`Brian son of Cennétig son of Lorcán, king of Ireland, and Mael Sechnaill son of Domnall, king of Tara, led an army to Dublin. All the Leinstermen were assembled to meet them and the Foreigners of Dublin and an equal number of the Foreigners of Lochlainn i.e. 1000 mail-clad men. A valiant battle was fought between them...In this battle there fell on the side of the opposing troop of the Foreigners Mael Mórda son of Murchad king of Leinster and Domnall son of Fergal king of the Fortuatha; of the Foreigners there fell Dubgall son of Amlaíb, Sigurðr son of Hlo[hook]ðver jarl of the Orkneys, and Gilla Ciaráin son of Glún Iairn heir-designate of the Foreigners, and OTTIR DUB and Suartgair and Donnchad ua Eruilb and Griséne and Luimne and Amlaíb son of Lagmann and Broðar who killed Brian, commander of the fleet of the Lochlannaig, and 6000 who were killed and drowned'.

It would appear that someone, a viking, named Ottir Dub died in this battle against Brian Boru.

1066 - The Norman invasion. William the Conqueror becomes king after winning the battle of Hastings.

C. 1142 - Ottar, son of the son of Ottar, of the people of the Hebrides was chosen by the Norse of Dublin as their King. This is recorded in something in Ireland called the Four Masters under date 1142 which apparently states the son of Mac Oitir assumed "the chieftainship and government of Dublin". The Mac Oitir referred to was one of the Gaels of the Hebrides. Gaels was the name being given at that time to people of mixed Viking-Celt origins from the intermarriages that had taken place from the Viking invasion onward. The Annals of the Four Masters or the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters are a chronicle of medieval Irish history. The annals are mainly a compilation of earlier annals, although there is some original work. They were compiled between 1632 and 1636 in the Franciscan monastery in County Donegal. The entries for the 12th century and before are sourced from medieval monastic annals. Here is the exact translation I found from a site on the Four Masters:

"The son of Mac Ottir, i.e. Ottir, one of the people of Insi-Gall the Hebrides, assumed the chieftainship and government of Ath-cliath." I want to see the Gaelic.

1144 - Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh clergyman, wrote Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), which is supposed to be a history of Britain going all the way back to the 600's. This is one of the earliest writing known today about King Arthur. He also wrote of Gawain (changing the name to this from the welsh Gwalchmai), and about Merlin. I am not sure what texts he worked from, how much was actual history, or how much he simply invented on the spot. This book was hugely popular, and a surprising number of copies were printed and circulated. For the most part, this is a battle book...not in any sense a romance, but the splendour of it lies in the magnificence and valour of its knights. As you will see below, scholar August Hunt proposes that Geoffry of Monmouth created the person of Uther Pendragon by fleshing out the story of the 10th century viking, Ottar (Otter, Othar). Uther Pendragon is the father of King Arthur. It is important to note that Arthur is from the Gaelic word 'arth' meaning 'bear, and in the Shetland Islands, 'Arthur' is the version of the Norse name 'Ottar'.

1155 - Wace, an Anglo-Norman, writes Romans de Brut - a verse history of Britain. It goes from the founding of Britain, by Brutus of Troy, to the end of the legendary British history created by Geoffrey of Monmouth. He is the first we know of to mention Arthur's Round Table, and also to name the sword 'Excalibur'. Because he wrote in the vernacular, his work make the Arthurian legends widely accessible.

1170-1181 - Chretien de Troyes of France wrote the following five well-known poems. Eric & Enide; Yvain, the Knight of the Lion; Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, Cliges and Perceval, le Conte du Graal (Perceval, the Story of the Grail). His sources for this may have been both Geoffry de Monmouth and Wace, but neither of these writers had ever writted of Lancelot, so perhaps that character is de Troyes' invention. It is de Troyes who worked the themes of courtley love and romantic chivalry into his Arthurian legends.

c12th C. - A work called the Life of St. Carannog is published in land "east of Watchet" **see above.
From August Hunt's article:
"The Willet or "Guellit" River, adjacent to Carhampton, the ancient Carrum, is east of Watchet. Both the Willet and Carhampton feature in this work in the tale of Arthur and the terrible dragon ("serpentem ualidissimum, ingentem, terribilem"). This is the basis on which scholar, August Hunt proposes (in an attempt to associate Othar with Uther Pendragon) that this terrible dragon in the story owes its existence to the dragon-ship of Ohtor, i.e. a typical Viking ship with a dragon's head at its prow and a dragon's tail at its stern, and that Geoffrey of Monmouth made use of the terrible dragon's presence at Carrum to associate Uther with Ohtor. After an unpleasant stay on an island (Steepholme or Flatholme), Ohtor and what remains of his host go to Dyfed, where Uther is said to fight Pascent and the Irish king Gillomanius. Ohtor then proceeds to Ireland, where Uther had previously fought Gillomanius over the stones of Uisneach/Mount Killaraus."

August Hunt points out the following correspondences between Othar and Uther Pendragon:

Uther is found in Brittany Ohtor is found in Brittany
Ercing Archenfield
Carrum (as terrible dragon) east of Watchet
Menevia in Dyfed Dyfed
Ireland Ireland

1204-1210 - Two works should be mentioned here: the chronicle of Helinandus and the Grand St. Graal of the Vulgate. Helinandus, again, makes mention of the Welsh hermit's vision of 720. I cannot find accurate information about the other work. I'm assuming it was written in the vernacular and furthered the 'grail' aspects of the Arthurian legends.

c1210 - Wolfram von Eschenbach, the great German poet, writes his version of Chretien de Troyes, Percival, "Parzival". There are differences between the two, and Wolfram's is my personal favorite.

1225 - Snorri Sturluson writes the Heimskringla - a collection of sagas recorded in Iceland. The collection contains tales about the Norwegian kings, beginning with the legendary Swedish dynasty of the House of Ynglings in the section of the work called the Ynglinga saga. This includes King Othere. The work then goes on to record the lives of the more historical Norwegian rulers of the 10th to 12th centuries, up to the death of Eystein Meyla in 1177.

1300 - The name Mac Oitir or MacCotter is apparently very well established in Cork by this time.

C. 1450 - Sir Thomas Mallory writes Le Morte D'Arthur, his collection of Arthurian legends which are among the best known today, and those from which most modern sources draw.

Onwards - William and Thomas Cotter were Gaelic poets of that century whose songs have survived till the present. Sir James Cotter was in command of King James II's troops in Co. Clare. His son, James Cotter (1689-1720), ended his life on the gallows. His son, another Sir James Cotter (1714-1770), having forsaken the religion and politics of his forebears, was created a baronet and among his posterity were a number of Protestant clergymen in Co. Cork, including Rev. George Sackville Cotter (1754-1831), who was a translator of classical works of some merit. The name is still almost peculiar to Co. Cork. There are no less than eight place names in that county which incorporate the surname, e.g. Ballymacotters and ScartMcCotters near Cloyne.

Conclusions and Further Questions

If you've made it through to this point of my thesis, you deserve to have some summing up done of all of the above. Here is what I believe I have discovered thus far:

1) That the Cotters are most certainly of Viking origin; that their name derives from Mac Oitir, which in turn derives from Oitir, which is a variant spelling of Ottar.

2) That Ottar is an ancient name derived from a king, whether mythical or historical, of Sweden, Othere. Whether this means that later Scandinavians bearing his name did so because of lineage, or simply because it was a popular name I have not discovered. It may be impossible to do so, but it is a subject I mean to pursue. At any rate, it is a name of the noblest kind.

3) That some figure known as "Arthur" has existed in the Celtic mind from as early as circa 500 AD. I would propose that if it first shows up at this period, it is likely that it had been around much longer than that. It may be that this figure, real or imagined, has been part of Celtic legend since the days of the Indo-European tribes which is as far back as we can reach. Because beings seldom crop up out of nowhere, but are rather the fruits of long oral tradition, it may be that some form of the Arthur legend has existed for many thousands of years.

4) That between the late-9th century and mid-12th century, the name Ottar, in its various forms, appears repeatedly throughout Northwestern Europe. Showing up first as the Viking who visited King Alfred's court in 890, this Ottar was considered to be one of the greatest voyagers of his age. His visit to the White Sea area is the first one ever to have been undertaken, so far as we know. This was some fellow! Now, whether he is the same Ottar who then attacks Wales, is killed in the battle on the Isle of Man, or who appears from the direction of Brittany (no doubt from a Viking raid) to fight in the battle at Archenfield, I simply do no know.

It may be that the Ottar of King Alfred's court was the father, and that he had 2 sons who bore his name. Perhaps one of them died off the Isle of Man in 913, but the other one is Jarl Ohtor who fights and escapes alive from Archenfield in 915. Does he survive this battle only to be killed by King Harald Fairhair of Norway, as Snorri Sturluson records in the Heimskringla, or is this a completely different Ottar? Or perhaps one of these last two is the original Ottar who appeared in Alfred's court. Are we dealing with one man or six separate men here?

Logic points out that it has to be at least 2 different men, because one man couldn't possibly have died in 913 and then fought a battle in 915, and then also have been killed by King Harald I. So, how many Ottars are we dealing with??? Are they relatives, or does this puzzle simply hang on the coincidence of different people having a common name. I would love to find answers to this mystery! The name continues to appear in Ireland when Oitir son of Oitir is made King in Dublin in 1142. By this point the Vikings and Celts are very mixed up with one another and before long, the name Mac Oitir (son of Oitir) is appearing all over the map. Viking/Celtic mixed 'breeds' were called Gaels, which interestingly enough, is very similar to the Anglo- Saxon word 'Gealas' which was what they called the Geats (Goths) of Sweden. At the very least, I would propose that modern day Cotters are from the line of one or several different Norse Oitirs who showed after the 795 invasion of Ireland.

5) That the scholar August Hunt has put forth a very plausible theory regarding what happened to the concepts of Uther/Arthur once Ottar came into play in 890. Again, the original real life Arthur is a figure whose existence has yet to be proved, despite ongoing study. At the very least, the concept of Arthur has been around for a tremendously long time, and it is vital that we reflect on the impression the Viking invasion must have made on the Celtic psyche of 8th century England, Wales and Ireland. The terror of the dragon ships, the bloodthirstiness of the warriors, the pillage and destruction that came out of these raids must have made a permanent mark on the minds of both those who experienced the events first hand as well as those who heard of them second hand, or as stories told around the communal fires years later. These shocking events would be remembered for centuries in Northern Europe, and the stories would be handed down to each successive generation. By the time we get to Geoffrey of Monmouth, some 250 years after the first invasion, who writes the first 'official' Arthurian legends, it would be small wonder if he drew on the stories of the Viking warlords when describing the mightiest warriors he could think of. August Hunt's citing of the very accurate similarities between the events and locations in Uther Pendragon's tale and the historical events that occurred surrounding the Viking Ottar who came from Brittany and attacked Archenfield need to be taken note of. I think Hunt is really onto something here and it was his writing that gave me a huge piece of my puzzle. I hope to speak to him at some point.

6) That because of the Ottar/Uther connection, it is possible (though not fact) that Cotter roots play a part in the formation not only of the best known legends of all Celtic mythology - The Arthurian legends, but also of the classic Norse Sagas which have been revered and studied by the world's greatest scholars including the master of them all - J.R.R Tolkien. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, was an Oxford Professor of Philology. He translated works out of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse which had never been read before by modern people. No one knew the ancient world and its tongues as did Professor Tolkien, and it is to him that I would like to dedicate this thesis.

In conclusion, I would like to say that being a Cotter is a rather remarkable thing. I'll admit, I have long suspected this to be so, and that, when I first heard our correct name, Mc Oitir, a couple of years ago, my busy brain automatically made a vague, half-thought-out connection between this and the name Uther. My father read me T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone when I was perhaps 7 years old. The name stuck with me, waiting for me to make the connection. It is often these little words which give pause and purpose to the philologist, and I'll confess, I jumped right out of my seat when I came across August Hunt's article affirming this little idea my brain had started. To have such legendary beginnings flowing into our surname from both ends (Celtic & Norse) is astonishing to me. We are the stuff of dreams, truly.

Miriam Ellis
March 2006

I eagerly invite any and all correspondence regarding the above. Do you have another piece of the puzzle? I would so love to know about it. Please don't hesitate to contact me with thoughts, comments, vigorous nay-sayings and so forth. I also invite you to visit the other pages of this website to view my fine art, illustrations and drawings.


The story of Uther and Igerna by August Hunt, 2000.

The Four Masters

The History of the Isle of Man by A. W. MOORE, M.A.

The Annals of Ulster


More Information

NEW!!! Cotters of Inchigeela is Michael Cotter's new must-visit website. If you are researching Cotters, don't miss this fabulous site, replete with facts, photos and and even a forum for Cotters. This is an extremely worthy effort on Michael Cotter's part that will be of incredible value to all Cotters.

I recently had the pleasure of communicating with August Hunt, whom I have quoted above, and he informed me that he has a book coming out on the Arthur/Uther legends in which he will reveal more information about the sources of these figures. You may read about Mr. Hunt's upcoming book here:

I discovered something of considerable interest while visiting the Danish website of the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. The staff of this museum constructed a Viking ship recently. And what did they dub this ship??? Ottar! You guessed it. See a video clip and information about this amazing project here:

New! I was very pleased to be contacted by a reader from Sweden who sent me the following excellent information:

"Here's another piece of the puzzle, maybe. There's an old anglo-saxon name Uhtred or Uhtr├Žd, which obviously has the first part Uht-, and it strikes me as very similar to the first part Oht- as in Oht-here. The anglo-saxons had many names in common with the old norse, so there might very well have been an anglo-saxon *Uhthere, which would just have been a variant of Ohthere, and *Uhthere is of course even more similar to Uther, so... perhaps the father of king Arthur was an anglo-saxon?" - S. Hallgren, Sweden

New! Another reader sent me a note describing an old family name in Breton that has long since died out. This name is 'Eder'. Apparently a castle still stands where the family once lived and their history is a rather bloody one, including an Eder who betrayed his own people in the 16th century Wars of Religion in France, and ended his career by going on a bizarre killing spree across the country. Rather ghastly, but my reader posited that this name, Eder, is none other than our familiar Otter. It makes good sense to me, pronouncing both words with a French accent, that they may well be one and the same!