An Onomastic Calendar: April

  • April 1: Eleanor of Aquitaine died in 1204.
  • April 2: Baldwin I of Jerusalem died in 1118.
  • April 3: Edward the Confessor was crowned king of England in 1042.
  • April 4: Francis Drake was knight for circumnavigating the world in 1581.
  • April 5: Isabella of Hainault, queen of France, was born in 1170.
  • April 6: Raphael, the Italian painter, died in 1520.
  • April 7: Empress Mathilda becomes Lady of the English in 1141.
  • April 8: Barbara of Hesse, Duchess of Württemberg-Mömpelgard, was born in 1536.
  • April 9: Lorenzo dei Medici died in 1492.
  • April 10: Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of Henry IV of France, died in 1599.
  • April 11: Stephen IV of Hungary died in 1165.
  • April 12: Antonio de Sangallo, Italian architect, was born in 1485.
  • April 13: Paul the Deacon, monk and historian, died in 799.
  • April 14: Abraham Ortelius, cartographer, was born in 1527.
  • April 15: Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452.
  • April 16: Adelaide del Vasto, queen consort of Jerusalem, died in 1118.
  • April 17: Bernard, king of the Lombards, died in 818.
  • April 18: Lucrezia Borgia was born in 1480.
  • April 19: Pope Leo IX died in 1054.
  • April 20: Pope Boniface VIII founded Sapienza Universita Roma in 1303.
  • April 21: Saint Anselm of Canterbury died in 1109.
  • April 22: Our editor in chief, Sara Uckelman, was born.
  • April 23: Dagobert III was crowned king of the Franks in 711.
  • April 24: William the Silent was born in 1533.
  • April 25: Sancho IV the Brave, king of Castille, died in 1295.
  • April 26: Simonetta Vespucci died in 1476.
  • April 27: Ferdinand Magellan died in 1521.
  • April 28: Edward IV of England was born in 1442.
  • April 29: Saint Catherine of Siena died in 1380.
  • April 30: Amalasuntha, queen of the Ostrogoths, died in 534/535.

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Mystery Monday: Mandina

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today’s name is a beautiful Spanish name which we find in Barcelona. Was it used elsewhere? Do you know its origin? Let us know!


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Arthurian names: Ambrose/Emrys

By Anonymous, C15th - Original MS held by Lambeth Palace Library, Public Domain,

By Anonymous, C15th – Original MS held by Lambeth Palace Library, Public Domain,

Our most recent post in our monthly topic focused on the character Merlin, and in particular the form of his name given to him by Geoffrey of Monmouth: Merlinus Ambrosius. Having concentrated on the Merlin/Myrddin forms in that post, in this one we now take up the issue of Ambrosius, and its connections to the Welsh name Emrys.

Monmouth is the first to give Merlin the epithet Ambrosius, and this element is distinctly non-Celtic: It is a Roman nomen ultimately deriving from Greek ἀμβρόσιος ‘immortal, divine’. The most famous historical Ambrose is the 4th C church doctor Aurelius Ambrosius, better known modernly as St. Ambrose of Milan. While Ambrose was never a popular name, it was used throughout Europe. The use of the name almost certainly is due to the fame of the saint, and not due to the Arthurian connections via Monmouth.

Merlin is not the only Ambrosius to appear in connection with the Arthurian myths, nor is St. Ambrose the only historical Ambrosius who has a second name associated with the word aurelius. In the 6th C De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, the historian Gildas mentions a 5th C Romano-British war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus; in Welsh histories, he is known as Embreis Guletic (Guletic being a form of gweldig ‘lord’). A 9th C Historia Brittonum, often attributed to Nennius, confuses this person with the boy who became Merlinus, resulting in Monmouth’s conflation of the names into Merlinus Ambrosius [1].

So what about this Welsh form of the name, Emreys or Embreis in Old Welsh and Emrys in modern Welsh [2,3]? We have no non-literary examples of the name used by people in the Middle Ages. It does show up in a place-name associated with the Arthurian character: Dinas Emrys, a post-Roman hillfort where, according to the Historia Brittonum, a young Merlin prophesied to Vortigern that the white dragon of the Saxons, would be conquered by the red dragon of the Welsh [*].

References & Acknowledgements

[1] Hutson, Arthur E., British Personal Names in the Historia Regum Britanniae (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1940), pp. 58, 119.

[2] Bartrum, Peter C. Welsh Classical Dictionary (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 1993).

[3] Bromwich, Rachel. Trioedd Ynys Prydein. (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1978).

[*] Many thanks to Dr. Heather Rose Jones for sharing her research on the medieval usage of Emrys.

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Mystery Monday: Lowko

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today’s name is another Czech name, and the -ko ending indicates it is likely a diminutive. But what is the root name? Possibly some form of Louis? We’d be happier with that identification if we had forms of Louis beginning with Low- in this linguistic area. Do you have any to share?


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Digital Humanities: a fairy tale? (Guest Post)

We’re very pleased to host our first guest post here on the blog. After our recent post Digital Humanities: Challenges, Difficulties, Reflections, and Questions, we thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of Comp’s side of things, since our post mostly focused on the view of Hums. We invited Dr. Tarek Besold of the KRDB Research Centre at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and Sarah Schulz of the Institut für Maschinelle Sprachverarbeitung at Universität Stuttgart to share their thoughts on the issues people on the ‘Digital’ side of Digital Humanities have getting into the ‘Humanities’ side.

And it came to pass, that two curious explorers went out to foreign realms, ruled by two kings that could not be more different in their rules and aims. Moving carefully not to upset the other kingdom, the explorers exercised diplomacy. Gently, they strove to understand each other’s worlds. But what they didn’t know was that their diplomacy and cautious approach could do more harm than good…

In this or a similar way, the story of Digital Humanities could have started. But are Digital Humanities a fairy tale or do they really exist — and if they exist, where can they be found?

Countless attempts to access the nature of DH have been started, sheer endless seems the pool of explanations what it does and what it is aiming for (cf. whatisdigitalhumanities). Dependent on who defines it and despite all carefulness, it is not uncommon that the digital disciplines are reduced in their role to a serving science, aiding Humanities to reach their traditional aims using (possibly speedier or more efficient versions of) their traditional methods. The possibilities of evolution on both sides, powered by a cooperation on equal footing — with potential for a real fusion of disciplines in the long run — instead of a hierarchical interaction with clear primacy of one discipline over the other (usually the H being in the stronger position than the D), are often neglected. By the way, these possibilities do indeed exist on both sides and not as widely assumed by Humanities scholars just on their side. We have often been asked: “Why do you want to help us? Why do you spend your time on this” This answer is quite simple. From a computational point of view the diversity of data and modality poses a big challenge for Computer Science. The problems arising in such projects are often much closer to real-world problems than those tackled in the ivory tower until now and techniques developed in this context will bring advances for all sort of real-world applications.

Furthermore, DH is a field that is not just shaped by the risk of miscommunication of totally different disciplines, but moreover a field that carries the fear of its very own scholars along. Afraid of being left behind by an evolving form of their science of origin, researchers seem in constant fear to lose their right to exist. Thinking back to our study times, when students of theater science spent an entire semester of their basic education on justifying why theater science should be an independent science, it is surprising to see the opposite trend in Digital Humanities. Whereas the upcoming science of theater was fighting for its emancipation, the newly developing field of Digital Humanities embraces many disciplines. But instead of the scientists who are strolling in this new and undiscovered realm searching for the right to define this new field, single disciplines try to position themselves inside of it, desperate to show their surplus value unable to let go the old for something new. Interestingly, this finds its expression in the withdrawal to laboriously developed vocabularies and terminologies of specific fields, to equal parts jeopardizing the diplomacy and communication of our abovementioned explorers.

The right question to ask might therefore not be what Digital Humanities are but rather what they could be once the two explorers let go of their shyness and fear. The most promising characteristics of what is apparent so far might be a strong will. The will to collaborate despite all frustrations, all communication barriers and all compromises that have to be made with the prospect of a gain. Of which kind this gain might be remains to be seen. But it must be this gain that will define this newly developed science. As a defining part of science is the contribution of new knowledge to mankind, there must be more to it than just the pure simplification of the manual labor of a Humanities scientist. So far, DH is more a potential than a science. DH is something that has yet to develop.

Usually, people make a division: on the one side are the computer scientists, on the other side are the Humanities scholars, and when both sides meet, DH comes to be. To be honest, we are not sure that we are really and wholeheartedly able to believe in this simple formula. To be even more honest, we don’t even want to believe in it. Because if this simple rule was true, DH would have no reason (and consequently also no right) to call itself a new field. It would just be a new and fancy tool in the toolbox that Humanities scholars use to tackle their research questions. Still, having grown up in a world of accelerating progress in Computer Science — and in artificial intelligence in particular — we share the strong conviction that there must be more to it.

What is this more that we are calling for? What we are asking for are new methods and new knowledge. Methods which are genuinely new and only come to pass due to the application of computers and AI techniques and technology to questions in the Humanities. Knowledge that would have remained hidden without these methods and the corresponding consolidation. We envision results that, no matter how much time a human Humanities researcher would invest manually in striving for, she would fail. We are convinced that DH cannot, shall not, and will not only be a speed-up and scale-up of conventional methods as practiced for decades and partially centuries. Computer science can offer the skills to work out multimodal collaborations between different fields of Humanities. When art meets sound, when text meets pictures, knowlegde comes to light that otherwise would have remain hidden.

The practice of Humanities as a field of study are in a certain way one of the “most human” activities imaginable. As they have research subjects created by humans like works of art, poems or films, it seems to be an indispensable condition that the researcher needs to share the humanness with the originator in order to understand. Scholars often have to rely on their interpretation of incomplete or lacking information, especially in the arts much is conveyed in an implicit manner and left to the recipient to add, and so forth. Where we have good reason to believe that all humans share basic principles and qualities in their cognition, this also means that we have to accept that we all share the same biases and limitations – both, on the perceptual and on the mental/reasoning level.

Artificial systems aren’t human — they don’t employ the same “hardware”, they don’t work according to the same functional or mechanistic principles, and their strengths and weaknesses seem almost orthogonal to our own. To many (not only, but especially on the Humanities side of things), this makes AI appear absolutely incompatible with the goals of Humanities research. Still, coming from fields such as cognitive AI or computational cognitive modelling, we are convinced that misunderstanding and prejudice are at the basis of this conclusion: It is true, AI still is far from achieving its ambitious goals in overcoming more and more parts of this distinction between man and machine. Nonetheless, cognitive systems and computational models of cognition over the last decades have made great progress and already today put us in the position to model significant parts of human cognition in ways which 20 or 30 years ago would still have been unimaginable. Modelling frameworks such as SOAR or ACT-R allow us to build psychologically-plausible task models down to the level of cognitive memory processes or even activation patterns in a simulated neural network not unlike parts of the brain — why not apply all these possibilities in modelling tasks in the Humanities, complementing and completing the reasoning based on introspection and observation of actual humans as practiced today?

But we want to go even further. Many researchers in Computer Science and AI over the years have learned to appreciate and leverage — rather than deride and avoid — the already mentioned foundational differences between man and machine. An AI does not “see with human eyes”, human perceptual and cognitive primitives are foreign to it, its entire way of perceiving and conceptualizing are qualitatively different — and, thus, allow for different forms of sensing, perceiving, and structuring of its environment and of information in general. Using artificial systems and computational methods might offer genuinely new perspectives on these subjects — perspectives which are new and enriching precisely because they are not human, because they do not adhere with our shared “cognitive program”, but instead are only achievable by taking the human out of the loop and letting the machine do the sensing, perceiving, and reasoning.

And we think what is in our way to find these new means and approaches of gathering knowledge, is the research question itself. What is needed is exploration without fear and the perception of prejudice as a chance (namely in overcoming it) rather than as a valid reason for staying where we are and doing what we do. The non-human and, thus, this far unknown objectivity artificial systems can introduce to DH should be welcomed as an opportunity to see well-known objects of investigation under new light and with literally new “mechanic” eyes. What this requires on our side is neither the mind of a Humanities scholar nor the mind of a computer scientist, but the mind of a curious explorer without fear of breaking laws in one or the other kingdom. And the courage to allow also non-human aspects into the very field called Humanities to make a fairy tale come true.

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Mystery Monday: Kadold

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today’s name has citations from Austria and the Czech Republic, and is a rare example of a name spelled with K- in Latin. The deuterotheme may be related to Old High German hold ‘friendly, comely, graceful’, but the prototheme is opaque. Do you have any thoughts?

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Publication of Edition 2016, no. 2

We are pleased to announce the publication of Edition 2016, no. 2, which is now available at

This edition adds 77 new entries, many of them names found in the Old and New Testaments, researched and finalized as a result of our monthly topic on Protestant names. We have added 5,000 new citations since the previous edition, and in doing so deepened our coverage of Wales, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Italy, with many new sources from each of these places.

This edition marks one year since the publication of our first edition, and we’re very pleased to have come so far in such a short time.

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