Arthurian names: Gawain

Taking a request from the audience, in this post post we consider Gawain, the name of a son of King Lot of Orkney and a nephew of Arthur. Under the name Gwalchmei he occurs in some of the earliest Welsh mythologies, and after Chrestien de Troyes picked up the story, calling the character Gawain, he became incredibly popular in French Arthurian cycles.

The origin of the name is disputed. The first element is Old Welsh gwalch ‘hawk’, but the element -mei is uncertain, and the later forms of the name ending in -wain and the like perhaps show influence of Old Welsh gwyn ‘white’. In any case, Gwalchmei itself is rare outside of literature: It is the Old French influenced forms that spread around Europe. The name, perhaps influenced by Gaelic gabhann ‘of the smith’, survives today in the form Gavin; because this is the most common spelling under which the name is used today in English-speaking contexts, it is the spelling we have picked for our header name.

This name was never as popular as some of the others, but it is relatively wide spread. In England and Scotland, we have a variety of English and Latin examples from the 16th C; the most common forms are Gawen and Gawyn. In unprocessed data, we have an unusual form, Gouen, in 14th C Yorkshire. On the continent, our examples are earlier: In France, we have a Latin genitive form Galweni from 1164, and a variety of Middle French forms in the 14th C, including the dialectically interesting Gauvaing. The name also moved quite far east, with Gawin, Gawinus, and Waliwan all occurring in 14th C Silesia. In Italy and Spain, the internal l was retained, as can be seen in the forms 13th-14th C Latin genitive forms Galvanei and Galvagni from Italy; Gualvanus and the diminutive Gualvaninus, two names from early 14th C Imola in our unprocessed data; and the 16th C Catalan nominative form Galvany from Valencia.

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3 responses to “Arthurian names: Gawain

  1. Pingback: Arthurian Names: Kay/Kai/Cai/Cei | Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources

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

  3. Pingback: Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 51-100 for boys | Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources

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