Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 51-100 for boys

At this rate, we’re probably going to only make it through the top 100 before the month is out. One thing that has been interesting about each group of names that we’ve looked at is how consistent the relative popularities of different name types have been, with Biblical names being the most common amongst the boys’, and relatively unrepresented amongst the girls. We’ll see that trend continue as we move down to the top 51-100 of the boy’s names, and thus even if we don’t investigate any further, we would not be surprised to see this trend trickle even further down the list. But let’s see what else we can find!

As we noted, the Biblical again dominate this group, but this time we start to see the influence of non-English spellings on American names. Firs we have two variants of John: Evan (67), a medieval Welsh form, and Ian (76), modernly generally treated as a Scottish form but medievally actually found in the Low Countries, Germany, and Eastern Eruope. Then we have two Spanish forms: Jose (80) and Mateo (85) (this is, of course, also an Italian form!). Amongst the standard English forms of the names we have but two New Testament names — Thomas (no. 51) Nathaniel (97) — compared to a wide range of Old Testament names: Aaron (52); Eli (53); Jeremiah (55); Josiah (57); Jordan (60); Adam (73); Asher (83); Zachary (88); Ezra (92); and Elias (100).

Of these names, a few deserve extra note. First, neither Jeremiah nor Josiah are typical medieval spellings: before 1600, both were more commonly spelled with the Greek influenced form -ias. This is exactly where Elias (as opposed to Elijah) comes from, and if you check out the variants of Zachary, you’ll find -ias forms there as well. Second, we lack entries for Eli, Ezra, and Asher: This is a reflection of the fact that these names were rarely used by Christians until the 17th C, being more commonly used by Jews — and so far, our coverage has a distinct dearth of Jewish records. Third, it is debatable whether Jordan should be considered in this list. Certainly, most people associate the name with the Biblical river Jordan. And this association is ancient and honorable: The name was popular in the Middle Ages particularly amongst those who had been on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and brought back water from the Jordan River to baptise their children. However, it is unlikely that this was the original root of the name; instead, the root appears to be an Old German name Jordanes. (The complications surrounding the name are why we don’t yet have an entry for it, despite the fact that we have examples from England, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, from the 11th C to the 16th!)

We then have a slew of given names that were not originally given names, but surnames — and if we collect all four groups, locative, occupational, patronymic, and descriptive, together, they outnumber the Biblical names. The place names are almost all English in origin: Colton (59), Brayden (61), Lincoln (66), Easton (78), Brandon (82), and Bentley (93). The one exception is Xavier (90), an Old Spanish form of a Basque place name deriving from etxe berri ‘new house’ or ‘new home’. The occupationals are all medieval English: a Parker (72) maintained a park or game preserve; Chase (74) was a name for a hunter, someone who chases; a Cooper (77) made barrels while a Tyler (81) lay tiles and a Sawyer (94) sawed wood. A Ryder (98) is one who rides out, and this specific spelling is not modern, but can be found in the 16th C. In our patronymics group we have already seen a variant of Jaxson (84) in an earlier post. Hudson (65) is ‘son of Hudd‘ — a pet form of either Hugh or Richard. Nolan (71) could also be put under the “Irish” heading below: It derives from the Irish clan byname Ó Nualláin, which in turn derives from Irish nuall ‘noble, famous’. There are two descriptive: Cameron (56), from Irish camshron ‘bent nose’ and Blake (96), which has two equally plausible, and contradictory origins: It can be from both Old English blǣċ ‘pale, bright, shining’ and blæc ‘black, dark’. Finally we have Carson (89), a Scottish surname of uncertain origin. Early forms include Carsan, Acarson, and Corsan, and it may have been originally a place name.

The next biggest groups are the names of Greek and Latin origin. For the former, there is Nicholas (62), popular throughout Europe; Angel (64), concentrated in Italy and Iberia; Jason (86) and its nickname Jace (75), which we could also place in the Biblical names category above, and if we had any medieval examples of the name we probably would have — modernly, the Greek hero rather than the obscure New Testament character is the more likely root of the name; and Theodore (99), a rare name medievally and one easily confused with forms of Theodoric. In the second group, we have the imperial Adrian (58), especially popular in the Low Countries; lordly Dominic (68), also spread throughout Europe; saintly Austin (69), this form an English contraction of the larger Augustine; and Leo (91), which is equally derivable from the Latin and the Greek.

This leaves us with six names, half of which are Irish: Connor (54) is an English form of the Irish name Conchobhar, which was popular in Ireland from the 8th to the 16th C; Kevin (79) is an English form of the early Irish saint’s name Cáemgen used in the 6th and 7th C. The name was not otherwise used, until it was revived in the modern period, but the place name Caisleáin Caoimhghin was recorded in English in a variety of spellings throughout the Middle ages, including Castelkevyn in 1308 and 1547, Castle Kevin in 1590, Castlekevin in 1542, and Castrum Kevini in 1343; and Ayden (87) is a variant of Aiden, which we’ve discussed earlier in this series.

What is most surprising about this group of names is that we have but one name of German: Robert (63), which had held sway for centuries as one of the most popular names. We also have a name of Welsh that we discussed in detail a few months ago as part of our Arthurian names series: Gavin (70). Last in the group we have one name which is purely modern: Kayden (95). The most tenuous connection that we can make from this name to the Middle Ages is via the Scottish surname Cadenhead, originally the name of a place at the head of the Caldon or Cadon Water in Selkirkshire. But this is at best a retrospective connection.

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Mystery Monday: Quindiverga

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.

We’ve identified more Q names than not (and at one point we’d actually finalized all our Q entries…of course, then we found some new ones), but nevertheless we’ve got a Q name for you this week — an early Spanish name. Is it Gothic? Is it Latin? Is it a mixture? Let us know what you think!

Quindiverga

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Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 26-50 for girls

Just as the top 26-50 boy’s names continued the strong showing of Biblical names, the girl’s top 26-50 continue the trend of being much more diverse in origin. In fact, we will see in this a handful of names which do not have any medieval European origins at all.

The biggest class of names in this group are those of Latin origin. Natalie (no. 27) derives from Latin natalis ‘of, related to birth’. Its use as a name comes from the phrase dies natalis ‘day of birth’, i.e., Christmas day, the day of the birth of Christ. The name was thus used for pepole who were born or baptised on or near Christmas day. It was never a common name, medievally. Aria (no. 29) is identical with a Latin word for ‘open space, park; courtyard; empty space’; while we haven’t found any conclusive examples of this word being used as a medieval name, there was a masculine St Ario and a related Latin feminine name Arria, which was used in the classical Roman era and also in early France. Camila (no. 43) is a variant of Camilla, the feminine form of a Latin cognomen, which was used in 16th C Italy. Claire (no. 49) is a French form of Latin clara ‘clear, bright, shining’, the name of an influential 13th C saint. The name was not much used before the 13th C, but the saint’s importance caused it to spread throughout Europe in the 14th and 15th C. Violet (no. 50) is another Latin name by way of French: it adds the French diminutive -et to Latin viola, the name of type of flower. The name was moderately popular in Scotland in the 16th C.

Next up are the names of Greek origin. The root of the name Alexa (no. 32) is the same as the prototheme of Alexander but while the masculine name was quite popular, the feminine variants are much more rare. While researching this post, we found our first example, from early 16th C Barcelona. Look for an entry on this name in an upcoming edition! We saw a variant spelling of Zoe (no. 33) in the previous post on women’s names; this spelling is the more typical spelling. Penelope (no. 34) came into use in the Middle Ages due to the fad for adopting names of classic mythology from the 16th C. Ariana (no. 46) is, strictly speaking, an Italian form of a Greek name (Ariadne). It’s a difficult name to determine if it was used medievally, since the Latin word Ariana was used not as a name but as an adjective to describe a woman as adhering to the Arian heresy! To date, we have no clear evidence that Ariana was used as a given name in the Middle Ages.

We have more Biblical names in this group than in the previous one, but still not as many as in the comparable boy’s group. The first, Lillian (no. 26) is included in the group because it is, originally, a diminutive of Lily which was itself, medievally, a nickname of Elizabeth and not related to the flower name. Hannah (no. 28) is a common modern variant of Hebrew Anna, but the aspiration of the initial vowel and the addition of the extra -h at the end was quite a late development, with Anna (no. 44), the standard Latin form, being far more common. Leah (no. 36) is a curious name: Given it’s context as the name of a relatively important Old Testament character, one would expect to find examples of it used amongst the Protestants. So far, we have not yet found any, and Withycombe s.n. Leah indicates that the name came into use in the 17th C.

In this group of names, we have our first Arabic names! One of them, has a long history of use in Europe: Layla (no. 30) was found in Arabic records in al-Andalus (Andalucia) between 700 an 1200. These same records don’t include Aaliyah (no. 48), so we are uncertain about its use in Arabic contexts in Europe.

The remaining names are rather eclectic. There are two names of Germanic origin: Allison (no. 39) is an English and French diminutive of Alice, deriving from Adelaidis while Skylar (no. 42) is not a given name at all, in origin. It is a phonetic rendering of Dutch schuyler ‘scholar’, used as a descriptive byname in the Middle Ages. Then we have two names which were originally place names: Brooklyn (no. 31) is like Skylar, a phonetic rendition of an originally Dutch place name, Breukelen. Paisley (no. 45) is a place in Scotland, which in the 18th C gave its name to the distinctive Persian textile pattern that was produced there. Two further names are best classed as miscellaneous: Nora (no. 41) can be a diminutive of a variety of names, including Eleanora, Honora, Dianora, or even perhaps Gunnora. Ellie (no. 47) too can be a diminutive of Eleanora, but also of Ellen.

Finally, we have one name of Irish origin: Riley (no. 35) is an English version of Early Modern Irish Raghallaigh, the genitive (possessive) form of Raghallach, a masculine given name used in the 13th C; one name of Old English origin: Audrey (no. 37); one name of New World origin: Savannah (no. 38), originally deriving from Taíno, the language spoken by the Taíno people of the Caribbean; and one name of modern origin: Samantha (no. 40) can be dated to the 17th C, but so far no earlier examples are known.

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Mystery Monday: Pregonia

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.

Last week we had a name that was so far removed from any name we’ve ever seen before. This week we have the opposite: A name that feels like you should know what it is, but which you just can’t pin down. Have you ever come across this name before? Do you recognize its origin?

Pregonia

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Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 26-50 for boys

Moving on to nos. 26-50 on the list of top boy’s names in the US for 2015, we continue the trend of the largest category being the names of Biblical, providing a nice mix of both Old and New Testament names. First we have John (26), a name regarding which we can be surprised for finding it so low. Since the 12th century it has been, almost without fail, the most popular man’s name across Europe, and it’s only in the last few decades that it has fallen out of favor in America. Part of the reason it has dropped rankings is because of the rising popularity of variant forms and diminutives, which the US Social Security tracks separately, but which we include in a single entry. Thus, here we should also note Jack (no. 40), a diminutive which has its origins in Middle Dutch Jankin. Other names in this category include Luke (no. 28), which we saw in an earlier post in the Greek-influenced variant Lucas; Andrew (no. 30), which we could also have included under the “Greek” heading below, and which was relatively common throughout Europe; and then various Old Testament names like Isaac (no. 31), more commonly used earlier by Jews but becoming popular amongst Protestant Christians in the 16th C; Joshua (no. 33), Caleb (no. 37), Nathan (no. 38), Jonathan (no. 48), and Isaiah (no. 49), names almost unheard of before the 16th C and still rare then; and Levi (no. 42), used almost exclusively by Jews medievally.

The next most common type of name in this group are the ones deriving from medieval surnames: Hunter (no. 41), an occupational byname deriving from Old English hunta ‘hunter, huntsman’; Jaxon (no. 44), a purely modern spelling of Jackson, which we saw in an earlier post; Landon (no. 46), a French surname found (among other examples) in the early 15th C in the city of Choisy; and Grayson (no. 47), a Lancashire and Yorkshire form of Graveson ‘son of the greyve (steward)’.

Of equal number are the names of Germanic origin. Two are classics: Henry (no. 29) and Charles (no. 50), the names of kings, emperors, and saints. In particular, the eight English kings named Henry have helped ensure the popularity of this name in the English-speaking world, and Charlemagne, one of the Nine Worthies, was a well-respected figure throughout Europe. The third, however, may surprise people by occurring in this category: Wyatt (no. 34). This is an English form of French Guiart or Wiard, with W- forms being typical of Normandy and Picardy, which in turn derives from two German elements. (Despite this, the name was vastly more popular in France than anywhere else).

We next have four names, two of Greek and two of Latin origin. The Greek names are names of saints: Christopher (no. 32) and Sebastian (no. 35), both of which were used throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. Finally, we have one religious and one secular Latin names: Christian (no. 43), identical in origin to the proper adjective, never extremely popular but found more often in Germanic and Scandinavian contexts; and Julian (no. 45), a name of imperial status, most common in Italy and France and found rarely elsewhere.

We’re left with a handful of origins each witnessed by one name. We have another name of Irish origin: Ryan (no. 39) is an English form of the Old Irish name Ríán, which was used during the 9th-11th C. It then fell out of use, and was revived in modern times. And in this batch of names we get our first name of Welsh origin: Dylan (no. 27) is a name found in Welsh mythology, and like many such names, we have no evidence that it was used by real people during the Middle Ages.

Finally, we have one name which is best described as complicated: Owen (no. 36). This spelling is a modern English form of a name which occurs in medieval Welsh as Owain, deriving from Old Welsh Ou(u)ein. This name is often connected with Old Welsh Eug(u)ein, explained as an adoption of Greek Eugene. The early Welsh Ou(u)ein or Eug(u)ein was the name of an Arthurian character, a son of Urien, with the result that the name was also used in French, developing into Yvain. It has been questioned, though, whether Ou(u)ein is related to Eugene — for it would make it an unusual example of a Greek name imported into Old Welsh at a very early date. It may be that the name has an independent origin, only later retro-actively connected to the Greek name. Hence, as we said, it’s complicated!

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Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 11-25 for girls

While nos. 11-25 of the boy’s names were dominated by names of Biblical origin, the story is very different — and much more eclectic — for girl’s names. In nos. 11-25, we have but one name of Biblical origin — but it shows up in two varieties. Elizabeth (no. 13) has long been a classic, coming to dominance in the 13th C (though it was used before then) and never really falling out. Nowadays, Lily (no. 25) is generally assumed to be a flower name, but medievally, it was an English nickname of Elizabeth.

Three names are of Greek origin. We’ve seen Sofia (no. 14) before, but in a different spelling. The -ph- is closer to the original Greek, while the -f- spelling shows Latin influence (it was this spelling that became the preferred spelling in Italy and Iberia). Chloe (no. 17) is an epithet of the goddess Demeter, but it was also used as an ordinary personal name. There is a New Testament character named Chloe, and her name is spelled Cloe in the Wycliffite translation of 1395. We haven’t found any medieval examples of the name but would not be surprised to see it amongst Protestants in the 16th C. Zoey (no. 23) is a variant of Zoe, from Greek ζωή ‘life’. Zoe was the name of an early Christian saint, but it was primarily used in Byzantine (Greek) contexts (it didn’t enter England until the 1850s). We haven’t yet explored many Greek sources, so we don’t yet have any examples, but we would not be surprised to!

Three names in this group are Germanic. The first, Amelia (no. 12), is often connected with the Latin gens Aemilius, but though the two names were early confused and conflated, they are of different origin. Amelia derives from the element *amal, and could have been used as a nickname of any compound name beginning with Amal-. The name can be found in Germany, the Low Countries, and France in the Middle Ages, in various spellings.

In the top 10 we saw Ava, which in that form is relatively rare medievally. Its diminutive forms, which include Evelyn (no. 15), were vastly more common — though one of the most common medieval spellings, Avelin or Aveline, doesn’t appear in the US top 1000 at all!

Ella (no. 18) is a curiously little name, when it comes to medieval usage. It’s one of those names that sounds like it should be a well-used classic, and yet, it is surprisingly rare. It was used in England from the Norman Conquest until the 14th century, as well as in Germany, but its real popularity dates to its revival by the Pre-Raphaelites.

We next move onto the names which are best classified as French: It is not that they were ultimately French in origin (both are of Germanic roots rather than Latin) but that these particularly spellings are uniquely French. Both names are also originally masculine names, having transferred to feminine usage only recently: Avery (no. 16) and Aubrey (no. 21). Avery is a French form of the name that is more standardly Alfred in English. The Alf- element became first Auv- and then Av- in French, while -frid or -fred became -frey and then -fry. The root of Aubrey is Alberich, with again the Alb- element mutating into Aub- in French, and -rich becoming -r(e)y (in the same way that German Heinrich became English and French Henry). These names were not used by women before modern times (though feminine forms of both can be found in medieval France, Auverée and Auberée).

Three of the names are surnames, two of them patronymic and one descriptive. Madison (no. 11) and its rhyming partner Addison (no. 24) are ‘son of Mathie’ (a pet form of Matthew) or occasionally ‘son of Maddy’ (a diminutive of Mathilda or Maud) and ‘son of Addy (a pet form of Adam), respectively. These surnames are both English, and can be found from the 13th C on. Scarlett (no. 22) is also a surname in origin, deriving from Old French escarlate ‘scarlet’. Scarlet was not only a color but the name of a rich, sumptuous cloth of that color, and an ‘escarlate’ was someone who traded this cloth. The surname is established in England from the 12th C on.

We finally have two names from Latin: We include Grace (no. 19) here because the ultimate root of the name is Latin gratia. The name was not common in England until the 16th C, but other variants — such as Gratia itself — can be found on the continent earlier. The other, Victoria (no. 20), was the name of some 3rd and 4th C martyrs, but they were not enough to push the name into common use; examples are quite rare before the 16th C.

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Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 11-25 for boys

Having covered the top 10 in our previous two posts, we now go through the names in a bit quicker fashion. In this post we cover names 11-25 from the boy’s list, grouping them together according to origin.

Biblical: Elijah (no. 11) is almost unheard of in the Middle Ages in this form — instead, it was the form Elias, influenced by the Greek spelling of the name, that was extremely common, particularly in England and France, giving rise to the English vernacular Ellis. Daniel (no. 12) was used throughout Europe from a relatively early period, but it wasn’t until the 16th C that it became popular. The Old Testament is definitely the favored part of the Bible for this group of names, with four more drawn from there. David (no. 18) has enjoyed widespread popularity, showing up as the name of early Welsh and Anglo-Saxon saints and of two 14th C kings of Georgia (the country, not the state). The name was especially popular in Wales where it gave rise to a plethora of nicknames, of which Dio would be a fun alternative to re-introduce into modern use. Joseph (no. 21) is rather like Daniel: Found throughout Europe but never especially popular. Unlike Daniel, however, it didn’t enjoy a boost in use by the Puritans, likely for the same reasons that Mary was not especially preferred. Gabriel (no. 22) is a strange one; it shows up in France and Italy from the 14th C, but was almost unheard of before then, and it was not common in England at all until the 16th C. In contrast, Samuel (no. 23) was for the most part more popular in England then elsewhere.

Moving on to the New Testament, two of the gospel writers are featured: Matthew (no. 15) and Lucas (no. 16). The former was rare before the 12th C but afterwards became quite common all over Europe, and in a wide variety of forms. Lucas is the Latinized form of the name, but it was also found in the vernacular, being the spelling used in the Wycliffite translation of the Bible into English from 1395. Lucas was also the preferred Middle French spelling, and a handful of examples in Spanish and German are also known.

Irish: Aiden (no. 13) is an anglicized form of Old and Middle Irish Áedán/Early Modern Irish Aodhán, which is traditionally identified as a diminutive of the O/MIr áed ‘fire’. Áedán was a popular name in early Ireland, and the plethora of saints named this (including one who went as a missionary to northern England and founded the monastery of Lindisfarne, not far from where the DMNES headquarters are located!) has contributed to the revival of the name in the 20th C. We do not yet have any examples of the name in the Dictionary, but that is because of some of the unique problems that the main sources for Irish names — the Irish annals — present in our contexts. We’ve got a blog post brewing on that topic, as we may have figured out at least part of a solution recently.

Surnames: In this category we have three surnames, one originally deriving from a place name, one from a patronymic byname, and one from an occupation. While all of these names have medieval roots, none of them were used as given names in the Middle Ages. Logan (no. 14) derives from a number of places known by this name, the most important being Logan in East Ayrshire, Scotland. Jackson (no. 17) quite literally means ‘son of Jack’, with Jack being a diminutive of John found in England from the 13th C. The surname of occupation Carter (no. 24) derives from Latin carettarius, Old North French caretier, Middle English cart(e) (of Scandinavian origin) + -er, or Old French charetier, all meaning ‘charioteer, carter’, or the like. The byname arrived in England with the Normans and the Danes.

Miscellaneous: The three that don’t fit in any other category are an eclectic mix. First there is Oliver (no. 19). Many people have suggested is related to Latin oliva ‘olive’ but this hypothesis is not well supported. A more plausible alternative is that it is a gallicization of Scandinavian Olafr, which arrived in France with the Vikings. Indeed, the first examples we see are in France and England in the 12th C, about when you’d expect the Northman name pool to have become the Norman name pool. The name was also much less common in places that were not significantly influenced by the Vikings.

Next we have Jayden (no. 20), the first name in this list that has no identifiable medieval origins of any kind. The name came into use in the US in 1994, and its origins before that are murky.

Finally, Anthony (no. 25) is the only name on the list of Roman origin. It was the name of a Roman gens, and is itself possibly of Etruscan origin. One might expect that names of Roman inheritance to be most popular in Italy — and indeed we have a number of Italian examples — but the popularity of the 4th C Saint Anthony ensured that the name spread widely throughout Europe.

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