500th entry: Innocent

Today marks a historic point in the development of the Dictionary: We’ve just finalized the 500th entry to be included in the first edition. It is the entry for the masculine name Innocent.



The name derives from Latin innocens ‘innocent, harmless; virtuous, upright’.


Innocent was adopted as the papal name of a number of medieval popes (and one anti-pope!), from the 5th C through to the 18th C. It was also the name of a number of early saints (including the Pope Innocent I).

Because of its use as a papal name, Innocent shows up in far more records than it would have were it simply the name of an ordinary person. As a result, during certain periods, there are disproportionately more citations for the name than might otherwise have been expected.

Of the 18,000+ citations already collected, 12 are citations of this name. Though in the actual entries, citations will be organized first by geographical area, then by language, and then by date, here I’ll present the entries by date.

12th C

  • 1132: Innocencius (Latin, nom.; France)
  • 1141: Innocentius (Latin, nom.; France)
  • 1141: Innocentii (Latin, gen.; France)
  • 1141: Innocencius (Latin, nom.; France)
  • 1142: Innocencio (Latin, abl.; Germany)
  • 1143: Innocencius (Latin, nom.; Germany)
  • 1198: Innocentius (Latin, nom.; Germany)

13th C

  • 1210: Innocentius (Latin, nom., Germany)
  • 1248: Jnnocentius (Latin, nom., Germany)

15th C

  • 1421: Innocent (French, France)
  • 1423: Innocent (French, France)
  • 1489: Innocent (Catalan, Spain)

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Why the DMNES? Part 2: For linguists, philologists, and historians

In addition to filling a lacuna left open by other historical-language dictionary projects, the Dictionary has the potential of being a useful resource for a wide range of types of audiences. In this post, we argue why linguists, philologists, and historians would find the Dictionary useful.

Linguists and philologists: Proper names, strictly speaking, are nouns, and thus in order to have a comprehensive view of a language at any given name, names must be taken into account. By providing onomastic data which is sortable by language, culture, and time, a more complete picture of language change and development across Europe can be seen. This holds not only in the progressive change in the name pool over time—of interest not only to linguists but also sociologists—but also in the spellings of the name. Variant spellings of the same name can provide evidence to local and dialectical orthographies, as well as pronunciations. Additionally, in contexts when almost all written documents are in Latin, names—often only lightly Latinized—can provide valuable information about early vernaculars.

Historians: Most history books tend to standardize documentary name forms to a single language-appropriate spelling. Historians who are not trained in onomastics may thus find working with primary sources difficult and confusing when different spellings of a name may—even within the same document—refer to the same person. The Dictionary can serve as a guide towards ascertaining what spellings are variants of the same name and thus could refer to the same person. It can also help to identify unfamiliar people via the information about their names, such as culture of origin or gender.

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Why the DMNES? Part 1: Filling a lacuna

Recently there has been significant interest in compiling word dictionaries of various medieval languages, cf., e.g., the Middle English Dictionary, various dictionaries of Old French such as those found here, the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources, the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, the Dictionary of the Scots Language, the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français, etc., and here we can count even the Oxford English Dictionary.

These dictionaries, however, do not include given names in their citations, except incidentally (cf., e.g., personal names where the bynames are used as attestations of Middle English words in the MED). The DMNES will fill this lacuna, providing examples of words (names) which are not otherwise included in these historical dictionaries.

There are a number of disparate audiences for whom filling this lacuna can be beneficial. In the next parts of this series, we will discuss the various target audiences of the Dictionary.

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Why the DMNES? A series of posts

One thing we haven’t explored much here — either on the blog or on the “about the Dictionary” page — is why the DMNES? What causes someone to sit down and think, “You know what the world needs? An encyclopedic dictionary of medieval personal names”?

This is something that I and my staff thought about quite a bit at the beginning of the year when the basic foundation for the Dictionary was laid. We put together a 6 page outline of why we thought such a project was a good one, whom we thought could benefit from it, and what we ultimately envisioned for it. This document has continued to grow and develop over the last year, and serves as a repository for the technical specifications that we require for the finished product, the technical developments that have already been created to meet these specifications, as well as for arguments and data that we can crib from for grant proposals.

In a series of posts, we’re going to present some of this material here in an informal context, so as to have a public-facing argument for the project. This post will be updated with links to posts in the series as they are posted.

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Statistics from the other side

The last few months we’ve been posting statistics about how things look with a view towards the first edition of the Dictionary, but today I wanted to say a little bit about the other side of the statistics, all the data that we’ve collected that is not yet ready for publication.

Compared to the 480+ entries that are ready for publication, we have 1580+ that have been created but are still in the drafting/research phase — nearly four times as many. These entries are sitting unfinished for any number of various reasons:

  • Time. When entering individual citations (VNFs in editor-speak), when a new name is reached that doesn’t yet have an entry associated with its canonical form (CNF in editor-speak), we simply create a CNF file which is empty other than the name form itself, and continue entering data. Depending on the data set being transcribed, over the course of an afternoon, 25+ such entries could be generated. Then, someone has to sit down, compare them to the CNF files already in existence (to make sure that it isn’t actually a duplicate of something, just in a different spelling), collect etymological and usage information, review everything to make sure it’s accurate, there are no typos, the XML formatting is correct, etc.
  • Etymology. A lot of the names we deal with are ‘known’ quantities; their origin has been well established, and thus it’s just a matter of writing up the etymological information correctly. Others, though, are unique and puzzling, and a single citation or two is not sufficient for positive identification. For this, I can offer examples the names Pelejana (Valencia, 1510), Persla (Brno, 1349), and Pevernel (Devon, 1599) (yes, I was working in “Pe-” last night…). These are likely tractable cases, but need to wait until further examples are collected before we can make headway with identification.
  • The intractable ones. Some, however, are going to be intractable: We fully expect that there will be names where all we can say is “This unique name of uncertain origin is found only in Italy in the early 14th C”, or the like. But, as with the names of (currently) uncertain origin noted above, we can’t make such a decision about a name too quickly.
  • Non-Latin alphabets (other than Greek). The Dictionary currently has no ready-for-publication entries which involve names of Hebrew origin, because we are still determining the best way to handle words written in that alphabet, in particular how to store the data and how to make sure it displays properly on the website. This means that, right now, a tremendously large number of names of Biblical origin are not yet ready.
  • Complex developments. In many cases, it’s rather straightforward to trace the development of a name through different time-periods and cultures, to confidently say, e.g., that Giovanni is a form of John. Other names are not so straightforward: Are Randal, Randolph, and Ranulph all distinct names? They are of the same etymological origin, which normally would cause us to group them together; but would someone looking for Ranulph think to look under Randal?
  • Names of cultural importance. For many names, providing the etymological information and some information about the use of the name by important royalty, saints, or popes is sufficient: The citations then speak for themselves in illustrating the spread of usage over time and space. But some names are, through their widespread use, important from a ‘cultural’ perspective, i.e., the perspective of anyone who is interested in the relationship between onomastics and social and personal identities. These names deserve greater comment, which, in turn, takes time to adequately compile, collate, and present. An example of such a name is John, whose popularity in pretty much every western European culture from the early 13th C on strips that of almost every other masculine name. (It is rare to find a data set where John and variants are not the most common name by a significant margin. I’ve always wondered about Ormskirk, Lancashire; in their 16th C baptismal register, Thomas just barely squeaks past John to be the most popular name.)

So what does all this mean? It means that the first edition is not going to contain a lot of names that people might expect to be in there (John very most likely being one of them). But it also means that there is always place for further research, and that we are unlikely to reach the end of potential new entries any time soon. It also means that at some point down the line, we’ll be able to put together a “Does Anyone Know This Name?” page where lay users of the Dictionary as well as onomastic specialists can contribute their knowledge regarding identification and etymology of rare and unusual names.

It also means that we could stop collecting data now (though we won’t!) and spend the next two months solely doing research, and there’d still be potentially nearly 10,000 VNFs that could end up in an upcoming edition, since that is the number we correctly have waiting for review by one of the editors, to ensure that the entry details are correct and that the entry for the corresponding CNF is ready for publication. And this is just a scratch on the surface: There are hundreds of thousands of names out there waiting for us to catalogue them.

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New libraries = new sources!

The best part about a new university? New untapped sources in the library:
new sources

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Taking stock, Nov. edition

This month has been a quiet one for the Dictionary, as the school year began, one member of staff hopped the channel and took up a permanent academic position, and another finished up her Ph.D. dissertation, but there’s nothing like the threat (incentive) of monthly updates to encourage last-minute-Friday-night working. When I realized how close we were to 7000 citations, how could I not put in the time needed to make sure we reached (and actually exceeded!) that number?

We start November with 460 entries ready for inclusion in the first edition (up from 414 last month, an 11% increase). 282 are masculine (still ranging from Adalbod to Zdyslav — it’ll probably be a long while before the end bound changes, and the beginning bound won’t leap forward until we start working through names of Hebrew origin), and 177 are feminine (with the same bounds as before).

The more than 7000 citations (7006 to be precise) represent a 25% increase over last month (5574); the average number of citations per entry has jumped slightly to just over 15, though it again should be stressed that most entries are far from average, either containing only one or two citations, or many, many.

Roughly 3690 citations are from Latin-language records, slightly more than 52% (what can I say? Early chartularia have so many interesting names, I haven’t been very equitable in how I’ve spent my time).

As with previous stock-takings, we’ll close with a few charts:

Citations per country

Spain has jumped ahead of the Czech Republic in the rankings, compared to previous months. (A collection of very fascinating documents from the late 15th C is partly responsible for this, with gorgeous names like Euphrosyne.)


Not much change here.

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