How did Bonny Doon get its name, and what does Bonny Doon mean?

  Listen to the song (sing along!)

The Banks O' Doon

by Robert Burns


Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon
How ye can bloom so fresh and fair
How can ye chant ye little birds
And I sae weary fu' o' care

Ye'll break my heart ye warbling birds
That wantons thro' the flowering thorn
Ye mind me o' departed joys
Departed never to return

Oft hae I rov'd by bonnie Doon
To see the rose and woodbine twine
And ilka bird sang o' its love
And fondly sae did I o' mine

Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose
Fu' sweet upon its thorny tree
But my false lover stole my rose
But ah! She left the thorn wi' me



 
  How did Bonny Doon get its name, and what does Bonny Doon mean?
    First-comers often claim the privilege of naming places that previously had no name.  Such was the case with John Burns, a native of Scotland who came to Santa Cruz via Ontario County, New York, just after the Gold Rush, in 1852. He operated a shingle mill and lumber operation, and with a friend planted the first vineyards in the county (save probably for those at the mission). He named Ben Lomond Mountain for the renowned mountain of the same name near his birthplace in Stirlingshire, Scotland, near Glasgow. Mr. Burns was laid to rest in the I.O.O.F. cemetery at the end of Ocean Street by Graham Hill, in 1898. 

    The town of Ben Lomond sprang from a lumbering settlement that was originally known as Pacific Mills. In 1887, as the lumber camp developed into a town needing a post office, and after the USPO declined the name Pacific Mills because there were already too many towns in California named after mills, local lumber entrepreneurs Burns and son and James Pierce put their heads together and submitted instead the name Ben Lomond, after the mountain in whose shadow it was situated, which John Burns himself had named. The Scots word "ben" means mountain. The original Ben Lomond in Scotland looks out over the original Loch Lomond.

    Sometime in the early 1850s, when he is said to have taken up residence here, John Burns named Bonny Doon after the celebrated song by Robert Burns (no relation of his), Scotland's undisputed national bard. 

    Robert Burns lived from 1759-1795 and was justly celebrated in his own brief lifetime in Scotland. His fame persisted well into the next (19th) century and his songs were all the rage in America (and throughout the vast Scottish diaspora) at the time of the Gold Rush at least through the end of the century.

    Robert Burns's 1783 poem, The Banks O' Doon, commemorates the river Doon (nothing directly to do with the word dune, please, though there is a subtle etymological connection), known in Scots Gaelic as Abhainn Dh¨in, which flows from Loch Doon to the Firth of Clyde in Ayrshire. A keen student of Scots ballads and fiddle tunes, he set the poem to music a few years later. Along with Loch Lomond and Auld Lang Syne, its popularity continued to grow long after he passed away. Our own local lad far from home, John Burns, loved the song and named the area after the song. 

    A number of the other local Scottish place names - Bonnie Brae, Bracken Brae, Loch Lomond (created in 1960) and all the others - owe their origin to little more than the fad for things Scottish and the precedent of Burns's legacy of Ben Lomond and Bonny Doon. There is no compelling evidence of any significant early Scottish settlement in Bonny Doon or Santa Cruz county. There were a few Europeans and Americans in California before the Gold Rush, and of course there were a great many more here shortly afterwards, and they came from all points on the globe. Indeed, if there was any one notable ethnic population in Bonny Doon, it would have been Italians. But one Scotsman certainly left a mark on this area, a century and a half ago.

                                                                                Paul Hostetter


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