According to Gillies (1906) Gometra is from the Norse gottr + madr + ey and means "The good-man's island" or "God-man's island". Mac an Tàilleir (2003) offers "Godmund's island". The Norse Goðrmaðray may also mean "warrior priest's island". The Gaelic Gu mòr traigh meaning "only at low tide" has been proposed as the meaning of the name, but may be an example of folk etymology. Mediaeval charters render the name "Gomedrach".
The island is agricultural, formerly growing grain for the monastery on Iona. Once home to a population of over a hundred, it is now down to a tight-knit community of a handful of people, up to a thousand black face sheep, highland cattle, pigs, horses, a flock of feral goats, and red deer. Historical sites on the island include an old burial ground, the remains of two duns and old settlements. It has no school, doctor, or ferry. It has a weekly postal service and issues its own local carriage stamps.
The island became part of the Kingdom of the Isles, during the Norse era. Whereas nearby Ulva and Staffa belonged to the MacQuarries from the 10th century, Gometra became a possession of the Iona monastery prior to passing into the hands of the Duke of Argyll. Dean Monro makes no mention of Gometra or Ulva in his 1549 work A Description Of The Western Isles of Scotland but both are referred to briefly by John Monipennie c. 1612, stating of the latter that "about 300 paces from this island, lyeth Gomatra, two miles long and one mile broad".
In 1821 Ulva was sold by the trustees of the MacDonalds of Staffa to Lt-General Charles MacQuarrie (brother of General Lachlan MacQuarrie), and after his death was bought in 1835 by Francis William Clark of Ulva, a lawyer from Stirling, of Morayshire origin who began a brutal clearance of a substantial proportion of the inhabitants of Ulva within a few years. However the MacDonalds of Staffa retained Gometra until 1858 when it was sold to Donald MacLean, who built Gometra House.