The Pictish stone at Dunfallandy, near Pitlochry, shows two seated figures facing one another above a cloaked rider. The trio are accompanied by the following symbols:
Seated figure (left) – ‘Pictish elephant’ possibly above another, badly-eroded symbol
Seated figure (right) – double-disc above crescent & v-rod
Rider – crescent & v-rod above ‘Pictish elephant’
Nobody knows for certain why the Picts used symbols but various theories offer more-or-less plausible explanations. It’s a case of ‘take your pick’, unless you fancy devising your own theory. For myself, the one that gets my vote (at the moment) explains the symbols as personal names and sees the many ‘symbol pairs’ as patronyms meaning ‘X, son of Y’ (or ‘Z, daughter of Y’). Pictish symbols mostly appear in pairs, with only a few instances of a lone symbol. Three or sometimes four symbols occasionally appear together, but the paired combinations account for more than half of the total. Elsewhere in Britain we find another type of symbol pair on Early Christian memorial stones where a Latin inscription tells us that ‘X, son (or daughter) of Y’ is buried or commemorated nearby. The carved Latin names are symbols, like the Pictish designs, but unlike the Pictish designs their meaning has not been forgotten.
The Dunfallandy stone is a good way to illustrate the patronymic theory. It was used as an example by W.A. Cummins in his book The Picts and their symbols (1999). Cummins suggested that the crescent & v-rod might represent the Pictish male name Bridei (Gaelic Brude), the most common name in the Pictish king-lists . The strange ‘Pictish elephant’, which could be a stylised image of a dolphin, was regarded by Cummins as possibly representing the Welsh name Edern (related to Latin Aeternus). He made this suggestion on the grounds that the name Eddarrnonn, perhaps a Pictish equivalent of Edern, was inscribed in the ancient Ogham alphabet on two stones bearing the ‘elephant’ symbol. As he pointed out, the Irish annals note the presence in Pictland of someone called Itarnan who died in 669. Could Itarnan be the same name as Eddarrnonn, and could both represent a Pictish form of Edern? No name has so far, to my knowledge, been proposed as a possible match for the double disc symbol.
On the Dunfallandy stone, then, we seem to have two figures associated with symbol pairs and one figure associated with just one symbol (unless, as Cummins suggests, this is all that remains of a badly-weathered pair). If the symbols represent names, and the pairs represent patronyms, I think we can interpret the stone as a genealogical statement:
‘Figure A (the rider) is the son of Figure B (seated left) and Figure C (seated right)’
Adding the names proposed by Cummins puts flesh on the bones:
‘Brude, son of Edern, is the son of Edern (the son of ?) and ? (the daughter of Brude)’
In the picture below, I’ve attempted to show how a Pict might have ‘read’ the Dunfallandy stone as a statement of parentage for Brude, son of Edern.