Robert Burns—widely regarded as Scotland’s national poet—is a celebrated literary figure who inspired future writing greats including William Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, and John Steinbeck. He’s credited with first penning “Auld Lang Syne,” which was based on an older folk song, and writing prose that still resonates widely today due to its humorousness, relatability, and universal themes of love and nature. The “ploughman poet’s” everyman farming origins have always been part of his appeal.
As we approach the anniversary of his January 25, 1759 birthday, here are eight things named after the eponymous “Rabbie” Burns.
1. Burns Night
We start with the night named for Burns himself, a high accolade indeed considering there is no equivalent, say, Shakespeare Night or Miller Day. Burns Night was established on July 21, 1801, five years after the poet’s death, when nine of his friends convened at Burns Cottage in Alloway to recite his poetry and share a haggis. Nowadays Burns Night is a global phenomenon, celebrated anywhere the bard’s writings and Scottish culture are appreciated. The festivities include good food, plenty of drink, and a celebration of his work.
Before the meal, the Selkirk Grace, a Scots prayer, is spoken. Haggis is typically served, and in formal settings it will be carried into the room on a platter with a bagpiper leading the way. “Address to a Haggis” (Burns’s own verse celebrating the dish) is recited before people eat. The host presents a toast called the Immortal Memory to pay tribute to Burns with a speech educating those present about his life and work; additional toasts may follow. People spend the evening singing and reciting Burn’s poetry, then usually wrap up the affair up with a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”
2. Burns Supper
Burns Night is not Burns Night without a proper Burns supper, which includes haggis (offal, oats, and spices encased and boiled in a sheep’s stomach), neeps (mashed turnips), and tatties (mashed potatoes), washed down with whisky. Although similar meals were widely eaten beforehand, it was popularized by Burns’s poem “Address to a Haggis.”
3. Streets Named After Robert Burns
In 2021, the Royal Mail postal service analysed addresses across the UK, finding Burns has inspired over 920 street and house names, with 272 towns and cities containing at least one Burns-related address. Ayr, Burns’s birthplace, and Glasgow contain the most, and unsurprisingly, 42 percent of Burns-related street names are in Scotland. There are also plenty of Burns references in addresses further afield: There’s a “Haggis House” in the southeastern county of Berkshire, a “Robert Burns Mews” in London, and a “Neeps Terrace” in Cambridgeshire.
As the Head of Royal Mail Address Management Unit, Steve Rooney, told The Herald, “Royal Mail delivers mail to over 30 million addresses, six days a week. This puts us in a unique position of having access to all the brilliant street names across the UK. Robert Burns and his poems have clearly inspired a raft of street names across Scotland and the rest of the UK, demonstrating the important role he plays in the UK’s history.”
4. Places in the United States Named after Robert Burns
Despite never traveling to the United States, Burns’s work became a hit when it was first printed stateside. Both abolitionists and Confederates found interpretations in his work that appealed to their distinct values. His themes of solidarity, liberty, and equality, and his disdain of class distinctions (so common in the UK) were appealing to the fledging U.S. democracy. It is therefore unsurprising his legacy spread across the U.S., and remain strong to this day.
Burns, Oregon, was founded in the 1880s. According to its website, a storeowner named George McGowan suggested that rather than having the town named after himself, it should instead honor the “Poet of the People, Mr. Burns.”
New York’s Allegany County contains another Burns. The town was settled in 1805, and contrary to a misconception of being christened after a fire, its website claims the area was named after the Scottish poet.
Burns Commons, a park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was named thus in 1994, 85 years after a 12-foot bronze statue of Burns was installed there upon donation by a Scottish immigrant. The resident had heard Chicago had a statue of Burns, crafted in Scotland, and wanted to afford Milwaukee the same privilege.
5. Monuments and Statues Named After Robert Burns
This brings us to another of Burns’s widespread legacies. In a testament to the Scottish diaspora—and the wide regard with which his work and philosophies are held—there are more statues of Burns than anyone else bar religious figures, Christopher Columbus, and Queen Victoria.
Scotland contains some 27 Burns monuments, including those at his birthplace in Alloway, the Neo-Greek temple in Edinburgh, and the statue at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The U.S. contains the second greatest number. Perhaps some of the most well-known are the Burns statues in the Literary Walk of Central Park, New York, and Garfield James Park, Chicago. The former was created after a statue of one of Scotland’s other great literary figures, Sir Walter Scott, was commemorated in Central Park and a committee decided Burns should receive a similar accolade. The latter arose after the local Burns Memorial and Monument Association sent a representative to Scotland in 1903 to commission the bronze sculpture.
Canada contains nine Burns monuments; the one in Vancouver’s Stanley Park is considered the first statue ever erected in the city. Australia is home to eight, including a life-sized, sandstone monument in Camperdown, Victoria, which is one of the world’s oldest statues of Burns. It was created in 1830 and displayed at the 1859 Burns centenary celebrations in London before being shipped to Australia. The statue at Ballarat, Victoria, was Australia’s first to a poet.
There are four in New Zealand, including one in Dunedin, probably due to the fact that one of the city’s founders was Robert’s nephew Thomas Burns. England contains a comparatively paltry three, two in London and one in Newcastle-on-Tyne. There is one in the Sorbonne, Paris. Possibly the most unlikely location for a Burns monument is in Tallin, Estonia, where it resides opposite the (later) bust of Sean Connery.
6. The Burns Stanza
The Burns stanza is a form of verse the poet widely employed in his work. It was actually used since the Middle Ages in English writing and Provençal poetry, though Burns later popularized it in some 50 poems, influencing subsequent generations of poets. The Burns stanza takes the form of a six-line stanza rhyming aaabab, the lines denoted a written in tetrameter (having four stresses), and those denoted b in dimeter (having two stresses). The first stanza of “To a Mouse” illustrates this:
“Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!”
Prior to Burns, this literary structure was known as a “standard Habbie,” named after Habbie Simpson, a 16th-century musician about whom Robert Sempill first composed a poem in this form Nowadays it’s also referred to as a “six-line stave,” or a “Scottish stanza.”
7. The Robert Burns Trains
Built by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL), the Class 87 Electric Locomotive 87035 Robert Burns is one of 36 flagship trains built for passenger services on the UK’s West Coast Main Line between London and Glasgow in the mid-1970s. It was a high-speed service from 1974 to 2004, and is now on display at Crewe Heritage Centre, complete with its original livery and rededicated Robert Burns nameplates.
Its older namesake, the Britannia steam locomotive 70006 Robert Burns—part of British Rail Standard Class 7, named after significant historical British figures—was in operation from 1951 to 1967.
8. The Burns Crater
Burns found extraterrestrial fame in 1985 when the International Astronomical Union named a roughly 26-mile (43-kilometer) crater on the planet Mercury after him. Mercury’s craters are named after “deceased artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field and have been recognized as art historically significant figures for more than 50 years.” Burns shares the honor with other creatives such as John Lennon, Truman Capote, and Hector Berlioz.