A Brief Non-Onomastic Note

The entire staff of the Dictionary wishes to congratulate one of our editorial assistants, Nina Shiel, who has filed the final copy of her Ph.D. dissertation, Upgrading Ekphrasis: Representations of Digital Space and Virtual Worlds in Contemporary Literature, this week. We wish her the best of luck for her upcoming viva!

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Taking stock, Oct. edition

Last month we posted some statistics about the current state of the Dictionary. It was so interesting, we decided to do such a summary every month. So, here’s how things stand as we head into October!

There are 414 entries ready for inclusion in the first edition, up from 297 last month (a 39% increase!). 253 are masculine (ranging from Adalbod to Zdyslav), and 161 are feminine (ranging from Accorsa to Zoete, so nothing new there).

There are 5574 citations distributed over these 414 entries, up from 3880 last month (a 44% increase!). The average number of citations per entry is still just over 13 citations per entry (though the caveats from last month still stand).

Approximately 2750 entries (about 50%) are from Latin-language records, the rest from various vernaculars. The citations from 779 are still the earliest, but a number of other 8th and 9th C examples have been added, broadening substantially our view of vernacular-influence spellings of early Germanic names, even though they come from Latin-language records.

And since charts are so much fun, here are how the citations are distributed over language and country:

Citations by country

Citations by country

Citations by language

Citations by language

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5000th citation

We have just completed the final review for the 5000th individual citation to go into the Dictionary (a citation of Theoderici, a Latin genitive of Theodoric — a name which many people might be surprised was as enduringly popular as it was — from a German record from 1214). Here is a nifty little chart that shows the breakdown of citations per country:

Citations per country

Citations per country

And another with citations per language:

Citations per language

Citations per language

The disparities in the first chart reflect the sources from which the editorial team has chosen to work with: the Czech Republic is grossly overrepresented due to the existence of a fascinating collection of Latin charters from the mid 14th C full of names, many of which show strong influence of the vernacular in their spellings. Since transcription from, say, English parish registers can sometimes be a bit boring (yes, Virginia, every fifth man really was named John in 16th C England…), collections of charters like this one that have unusual and sometimes unique names of course are going to receive the benefit of a disproportionately large amount of attention.

Reaching the 5000th citation represents an increase of nearly 29% since we last took stock, just over two weeks ago. Such rapid progress even in the midst of other time-consuming matters is exciting and inspiring, and we look forward to seeing what the coming months will bring!

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Diminutive forms in 16th C England

A remark in this post on an onomastics blog that I follow, that

it seems like people in the past were a lot less nickname-happy than people today. I’d be shocked to hear of, say, a Renaissance Amelia who went by Amy, or a 19th century pioneer Joshua who went by Josh

got me thinking. The comment surprised me because in the data I’ve worked with over the last decade and a half has included quite a few marriage and baptismal records from late 16th C English parish registers, and I’ve come across quite a few diminutive forms. I decided to cull data from an albeit very small data set (the data which is currently in the Dictionary‘s database, which is a very small excerpt of the data I’ve collected over the years), and do a bit of analysis.

Diminutive forms of names can mostly be classified into two types: Those where the radiconym was also in use, and those where it wasn’t. In the later case, by the 16th C, it may not really make sense to speak of those names being diminutives, if there no longer is, and hasn’t been for a long time, a name that they are a diminutive of.

In this category, we can class such names as Ursula, Wilmot, and Thomasine and their (very numerous) variants. These names derive from Ursa, Willelma/Williama and Thomasse/Thomasa, respectively, but these forms have historically been vanishingly rare in English. (Thomasse appears in French, Guillerma and variants in Spanish, and Ursa in Italian.) A masculine witness to this is Lancelot, and its variants; these are etymologically diminutives of Lance, but the popularity of the Arthurian character meant that the double diminutive form was far more popular than the radiconym.

Of the names where the radiconym was still in common currency, we can further divide the examples into those where the diminutive form is roughly as common as its root, and those where the nickname is substantially less common. In the former category are names such as Alison, Marian, and Isabel. The latter category are the ones that I believe the poster quoted above would find most surprising:

  • Annie 1586, 1597 (from Anne)
  • Beaton 1581 (from Beatrice)
  • Davy 1599 (from David)
  • Emot, Emet 1418, Emote 1580 (from Emma)
  • Ebbot 1597, Ebbet 1597 (from Elizabeth, or possibly Isabel)
  • Eliza 1567, 1581, 1582, 1584, 1594, 1595 (from Elizabeth)
  • Elineta 1563 (from Ellen, or possibly Eleanor)
  • Kate 1596 (from Katherine)
  • Nancy 1583 (from Anne)
  • Sybbie 1573 (from Sybil)

And this is only looking at examples which have 16th C citations; I omitted a number of 15th C examples.

This is but a small data set, and thus no strong conclusions should be drawn from it. But I think it’s certainly clear that nicknames were used in the Renaissance, even in as official contexts as marriage and birth records.

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Taking stock

Though, as noted earlier, we will be unable to release the first edition of the Dictionary at the end of this month as originally planned, nevertheless we are continuing to make good progress on the data-collection and -entry side of things. I thought it would be fun to take stock of things as they stand, and put up a few teaser statistics.

There are currently 297 entries ready for publication: Each of these entries includes the etymological derivation of the name; brief notes about any major royalty (kings/queens; emperors/empresses), popes, or saints who bore the name; and any other relevant information concerning the linguistic development of the name, references to secondary literature, or cross-references to other application dictionary entries. 176 of the entries are masculine names, ranging from Adolf to Zdyslav, and the remaining 121 are feminine, ranging from Accorsa to Zoete.

There are 3880 citations distributed over these 297 entries, making an average of just over 13 citations per entry. Of course, the reality is much different: Many of the entries have only a single citation, and a bare handful of entries have hundreds. Such minimal data is already indicative of the larger sample being confirmative of Zipf’s Law; one exciting consequence of the Dictionary is that research concerning empirical matters such as Zipf’s Law will be much easier to undertake as a huge body of data will all be gathered in a single place.

The citations are taken from records from the Czech Republic, Germany, England, France, Italy, Scotland, Spain, and Sweden. The earliest citations are from 779, a handful of masculine names from a Carolingian charter; the latest are from 1600 and are drawn from English parish records. Approximately 1850 citations are from Latin-language records; the remainder are from various vernaculars.

I rather like nice little statistics: Maybe we’ll do updates like this the beginning of every month!

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Onoma 50 Call for Papers: Medieval Multiculturalism: The Evidence from Names

Editors: Dr. Sara L. Uckelman, Dr. Jennifer A. McGowan, Genora Grim, and Nina Shiel.

Many people view the populations of the European Middle Ages as static, with most people never going more than a handful of miles from where they were born, and only those of high status and standing traveling any great distance. One consequence of such a view is the perception of medieval cultures as mono-cultural and consisting of relatively homogeneous peoples. Such a view, however, oversimplifies the complex cultural situation, and one area of evidence against this simplified view comes from records of personal names. The study of personal names can provide surprising insights into the multiculturalism and motility of medieval peoples, especially as this evidence is often overlooked by those who are not linguists. In order to address this oversight and bring together relevant research on the issue of personal names, multiculturalism, and motility in medieval Europe, we are calling for papers for a themed section of the journal Onoma with particular focus on these issues.

The primary scope for the themed section is Europe (western and eastern) from the fall of the Roman empire until the end of the 16th century, though we welcome proposals which cover cultures outside of this geographical area which nevertheless engage with medieval Europe, such as the introduction of Spanish names in the New World, or the influence of Arabic cultures as evidence by their influence on name pools. Topics of interest include (but are not limited to):

  • The names of foreigners recorded in vernacular languages not their own.
  • The evidence of locative bynames for travel and migration.
  • Mixed-language names.
  • Persons with multiple locative bynames.
  • The eclipse of “native” names by “Christian” names during the 11th-12th C.

If you would like to contribute to this themed section of Onoma, please submit a title and abstract by November 1, 2014, to onoma50@dmnes.org. Accepted authors will be informed by November 15, 2014, and the final deadline for completed the articles will be May 31, 2015.

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Bad News, and Good News

After having promised, for some months now, an end-of-September date for the publication of the first edition of the Dictionary, we must unfortunately bring the bad news that we’re pushing back this date to the beginning of 2015.

But the good news is, this delay is because Dr. Sara L. Uckelman, the EiC, has recently accepted the offer of a permanent position at Durham University and so will be using the next two months to pack up her and her family’s lives in Germany and move to England, instead of the much more enjoyable alternative of working on the Dictionary. But rather than put out something that doesn’t meet our exacting standards, just to meet proposed deadlines, we decided it would be better to delay things by a few months in order to ensure the first edition sparkles.

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