The Picts were the post-Roman people of the
Scottish Highlands, but no Picts existed as any sort of identifiably
The name was one that was applied to them from
outside, and more often on an individual basis rather than as a
specific tribal name.
They were just 'painted people', a reference to
their blue woad tattoos. The name the Picts themselves used to
describe their people remains unrecorded and unknown.
They were an amalgam of northern Celts of various
waves plus earlier indigenous peoples of Britain, those who had
migrated to avoid later arrivals rather than being submerged by
Celtic tribes were predominant (but not exclusively
so) below the Antonine Wall (see the map of most of Europe's tribes
around the first centuries BC and AD to view the location of Caledonian
tribes in relation to all other Celts, via the sidebar link).
The name of Caledonia, which predates the general
use of 'Pict', is more curious. The ending of '-ia' is a Roman suffix,
which leaves Caledon or Galedon.
The '-on' suffix here is the 'definite article' -
in English 'the' - which evolved over time into use as a plural.
This leaves Caled or Galed, which looks a good deal like Galat(ia),
the regions in modern Spain and Poland. It is simply the Celtic
ethnicity name, and in fact 'celt', as recorded by the Greeks, is a
version of it.
The location of tribes that carry variations of
this name is staggering: Caleti (Belgae), Gallaeci or Callaici
(Iberia), Celtici (Iberia), Caledonii (the Scottish Highlands),
Gaulish tribes in Galatia (Anatolia), and Gaulish survivors in
It also appears that the name may have originally
started with a 'kw' instead of a 'g', 'kh', or 'k' sound. The German
neighbours to the north of the Celts persistently called them 'wal',
not 'gal', and possible dropped the 'k' from the original 'kw'. (For
more detail on this, see Origins of the Celtic Name, via the
sidebar link.) If any name was used by the Picts for themselves, it
may have been 'Caledon', meaning 'The Celts'.
The traditional view of Picts as the 'painted people' is based
on a description given by the Romans, and the use of blue woad
as a body paint does seem to have been highly prevalent in the
far north of Britain