Dr. Sara L. Uckelman (Heidelberg) and her team are pleased to announce the birth of the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources (DMNES). The DMNES aims to be the most comprehensive dictionary of medieval European onomastics, indexing all given names occurring in records dated between 600 to 1600, as well as providing information about origin, etymology, and frequency. The goal is the production of a dictionary which:
- is available on the Internet, freely if possible, if not, then for a low yearly subscription fee.
- is fully searchable as well as browsable.
- is updatable, with new editions of the dictionary being issued on a quarterly basis.
- has complete citations for all entries.
- is exemplary of a wide range of spellings, dates, and usages.
The DMNES will be a useful tool for people in a variety of different fields:
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 full 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.
Historians: Most history books tend to standardize pre-modern 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 would provide them with a guide towards ascertaining what spellings are variants of the same name and thus could refer to the same person. It would also serve as a guide towards identifying information, such as culture of origin or gender, of unfamiliar names.
Genealogists: Genealogists would benefit from the dictionary for much the same reasons. Genealogists are generally not trained in onomastics and thus do not always recognize when one name is a variant of another, and thus could refer to the same person, or are familiar with the various ways that names have switched genders over the years. A person who is familiar with modern names only would thus be mislead into thinking that John was only used as a masculine name.
In addition, genealogists—and indeed the general population—are often interested in the linguistic origins of their names. There is much data out there which is unreliable if not downright incorrect (witness the number of baby-name books that describe names as being ‘Teutonic’ or ‘Celtic’, or which have incorrect etymologies). The dictionary would bring together scholarly research on the etymology of names making it a one-stop shop for those who are interested in reliable origin information.
Re-enactors: Historical re-enactors who are interested in developing names which are authentic for a particular time period or culture would find the dictionary, bringing together examples from many different contexts into a single source, invaluable.
Parents: In many European countries, there are strict rules about what you can name your child, both with regard to the name pool itself and to allowable variant spellings. The dictionary could be used to demonstrate that variant spellings which would otherwise be considered problematic are legitimate alternatives, and thus used in support of governmental petitions regarding children’s names.
The DMNES is still in its early planning stages; we are negotiating with members of the Heidelberg Research Architecture regarding the best technological framework in which to both store and transmit the data. You can keep up to date with the dictionary’s project by following the blog via the link in the right-hand column.