Father’s Day, or reflections on “ethnic” given names

Onomastic purists often shake their weary heads at the modern trend of taking place names as given names, scoffing at names such as Brittany, Dakota, Paris, Savannah, or London. “Naming a child after a place, those aren’t real names,” they mutter to themselves (forgetting, of course, that many surnames transferred to given names such as Courtney, Lindsay, Lesley, etc., were themselves originally place names). But is such a tradition all the strange or objectionable? In today’s post, we’re going to look at a very similar tradition that can be found throughout Western Europe: names deriving from words of ethnic or geographical origin. Some of these names are still in use today, some of them so common that they are no longer immediately connected with their origin.

Danish/Denmark

  • Dan (m.) (available in the next edition) is sometimes an example of the Biblical name Dan, but when found in Scandinavia is most often from Proto-Germanic *daniz ‘Danish’.

English/England

  • Anglicus (m.) derives from a Latin word meaning ‘Angle, man from England’.
  • English (f.) (available in the next edition) is an unusual quite-literal descriptive given name found in the second half of the 16th C.

French/France

  • Francis (m.) and Frances (f.) both derive from a Latin word meaning ‘Frankish, French’.
  • The same origin gave rise to the names Frank (m.) and Franka (f.) (available in the next edition).
  • Paris (m.) and Parisa (f.) may derive either from the ancient Greek hero or the French city. (I’ve always thought the parents of one Paris de Troyes I found in Paris in 1292 had an amusing sense of humor).

German/Germany

  • Tedesco (m.) and Tedesca (f.) both derive from a Proto-Germanic word originally meaning simply ‘of the people, folk’, but which came to mean ‘of the German people’, and is the root of modern Deutsch. The related names Theudo (m.) and Theuda (f.) (both appearing in the next edition) are also derivatives of the same word.
  • Alamand (m.) and Alamanda (f.) (both to be available in the next edition) derive from the Latin name for Germany, Allemania.

Italian/Italy
Ethnic or geographical given names are fairly common in Italian (cf. Herlihy, D. (1988). “Tuscon names, 1200–1530”, Renaissance Quarterly 41 (4), 561–582).

  • Lombard (m.) (available in the next edition) derives from the region of Lombardy in northern Italy.

Scotland

  • Scott (m.) and Scotta (f.) (both to appear in the next edition) are derived from a Latin word meaning ‘man/woman’ from Scotland’.
  • Scotland itself occurs as a given name in England and France in the 11th and 12th C (see Reaney & Wilson’s Dictionary of English Surnames s.n. Scotland.)
  • Alban (m.) derives from a Latin word meaning ‘of Alba’, the ancient name of Britain/Scotland.

This is by no means an exhaustive survey of all possibilities, much less of all the names the DMNES currently has (or will shortly have), but it shows a wide variety of ethnic and geographical references which have made their way into the given name pool. Geography has proved a fruitful source for given names for centuries, making the modern pattern of names taken from cities, states, and regions thoroughly in keeping with historical naming practices.

And what do these reflections have to do with Father’s Day? The Editor-in-Chief’s father’s name is Scott, and it was finding an instance of Scot in early 12th C Scotland this morning that sparked the reflections that led to this post.

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