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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One response to “Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 26-50 for boys

  1. Pingback: Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 26-50 for girls | Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources

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