ad amnem qui dicitur Leuine 1040 x 1057 St A. Lib. 114 [13th c. copy; part of the march of Kirkness (Kyrknes’)]
insulam de Lochleuen 1150 x 1153 David I Chrs. no. 208 [David I grants to St Andrews Priory the island of Loch Leven, so that the canons may establish ‘the canonical order’ (ordinem canonicalem) there]
abbaciam de insula Lochleuene 1152 x 1159 St A. Lib. 43 [Bp Robert grants to St Andrews Priory the abbey of the island of Loch Leven with all its lands and income]
aquam de Leuene c.1173 x 1189 RRS ii no. 250 [19th c. copy; king grants to burgesses of Inverkeithing the right to levy toll and customs and all dues belonging to the burgh, between the water of Leven (aquam de Leuene) and the water of Devon (aquam de Douane)]
Auiel de Stradleuene 1160 x 1172 N. Berwick Cart. no. 3 [w.; see Strathleven MAI]
in aquam de Leuen c.1290 Fraser, Wemyss ii no. 2 [boundary charter for the lands of Upper Cameron MAI and the common grazing of Nether Cameron]
aqu<a> de Levyn c.1314 x 1318 RRS v no. 403 [Robert I grants the burgesses of Crail (Crale) liberties ‘from the middle of the River Leven as far as the Kenly Water’ (a medietate aque de Levyn usque ad aquam de Putekyn)]
aqu<a> de Levin 1497 RMS ii no. 2343 [Robert Lundy of Balgonie (Balgony) MAI, the lands of Sythrum (Scheithum) MAI, Cadham (Caldhame) LSL, grain mills, fullers’ mills, and Blackfaulds (Blakfaldis) MAI and their tenants on the north and south sides of the water of Leven]
aqu<a> de Levyn 1508 RMS ii no. 3274 [Patrick Lord Lindsay of Byres, ‘lands or lordship of Wester Markinch, on both south and north sides of the water of Leven’, with mills etc. (terras sive dominium de Westir Markinch, tam ex australi quam boreali partibus aque de Levyn)]
the fysching of Leiwin c.1550 N. Berwick Cart. p. xxii [to Andrew Wood of Largo and James Wood]
There are at least two possible explanations for the root of this river-name. (1) The first is that it derives from Celtic *le:mo- ‘elm’ (or older ‘crooked’) (form from Isaac 2004), which gives Welsh llwyfen or G leamhan ‘elm’ (OIr lem ‘elm’). DIL cites it as the first element in various Old Irish place-names: Lemchaill (‘elm-wood’), Lemdruim (‘elm-ridge’) and Lemmag (‘elm-plain’). This is the explanation accepted by Watson for the Leven in Dunbartonshire, which can be assumed to share the same derivation (1926, 119, 71, 344); also by Nicolaisen, for all three water-courses called Leven in Scotland (2001, 228). Rivet and Smith, in a lengthy discussion of various options, including ‘elm’, express well-founded doubt as to ‘whether the elm has ever been sufficiently common, or has ever formed large enough woods, for so many ancient places and especially rivers to be named from it’. On these and other grounds they prefer a derivation from the Celtic root *lim ‘marsh’ (1979, 385–6). However, Isaac (2004) declares this discussion to be ‘invalid’, resting as it does on ‘a false understanding of the formal properties of the element (lack of careful observance of quantity)’.
(2) The second explanation is that it derives from Celtic *le:uo- ‘smooth’, a root found in OIr slemun ‘smooth, slippery’, Middle Welsh llyvyn ‘smooth’ (see Isaac 2004). It would then mean something like ‘smooth- or slow-flowing river’, a description which certainly well applies to both the Fife and the Dunbartonshire Leven.
In either of these cases the ending is probably the common river-name forming suffix -(o)nā, for more on which see Nicolaisen 2001, 227–9.
The River Leven, as well as providing a division for the purposes of this study of the place-names of Fife, was an important medieval boundary, especially in connection with the trading liberties of Crail, Cupar and Inverkeithing, which almost certainly overlie much older territorial units. For more on these, see PNF 4, 266-7 (Cupar Introduction).
The river has given its name to the town at its mouth (see Leven SCO).
This place-name appeared in printed volume 2