Arthurian names: Lancelot

 Lancelot fighting the lions near the well. Illumination from the 3rd volume of Lancelot Romance, as preserved in the Russian National Library.

Lancelot fighting the lions near the well. Illumination from the 3rd volume of Lancelot Romance, as preserved in the Russian National Library.

The character Lancelot first shows up in Chrestien de Troyes’ Le Chevalier de la Charette, written in the 12th C; he may be identifiable with any of various characters in the Welsh mythological cycles, but there is no clear argument in favor of any of them. In some manuscripts of Le Chevalier, the character is referred to as L’Ancelot ‘the servant’, but given that in an earlier work by Chrestien, Erec et Enide, there is a minor knight named Lancelot, it is worth considering alternative origins, especially as a plausible one presents itself. The most straightforward interpretation of the name is as a double diminutive of the Germanic element Lanzo, a hypocoristic of any of various names beginning with Old High German lant or Old Saxon land ‘land’. The root name Lance can be found in Italy and Germany in the 12th C, and somewhat later in the Czech Republic, and other diminutive forms, such as Lancelin, can be found as early as the 11th C. Lancelot itself became quite popular in England and France, with other examples showing up in Italy, Scotland, the Netherlands (consider these fantastic 14th C Dutch forms: Lantsloet, Lanceloit, Lansloet, Lantsloit, Lantsloot!), and even further afield.

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2 responses to “Arthurian names: Lancelot

  1. Pingback: Arthurian names: Guinevere | Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources

  2. Pingback: Monthly topic for April, and a milestone | Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources

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