#Namehunt: Marcelle

June is another ramp-up-towards-the-next-edition month, and we decided to make this month’s topic one that would encourage us to wrap up not only more entries, but more entries that we know people want to see. (So if you have any suggestions, leave a comment on this post and we’ll see what we can do!) We have a queue of names, and we’ll devote this month to targeted posts on as many of these names as we can.

The first is Marcelle. This is a French form of Marcella, a feminine form of Marcel. Marcellus was originally a cognomen of the Roman gens Claudius, and is etymological a diminutive of Marcus. The feminine form Marcella is the name of a 5th C Roman saint and a 14th C Greek saint. Despite its Roman roots and the early saint, the feminine name was never especially common. We have one 16th C example of Marcella in Italy, and have recently added another example from Italy, a 9th C citation of the diminutive form Marcellina. The name, perhaps surprisingly, also can be found in Scotland. In 1465, one Roderick Macliode married one Marcella Celestini de Insulis [1]; this Marcella may possibly have been a Gaelic speaker. In another Scottish record, this one from 1527, there is mention of “Katherine Fuktour and Marsle hyr dotthir” [2].

But what about Marcelle, the French spelling in question? It has proven remarkably difficult to find any evidence for this name actually being used by real people in the Middle Ages. We have found one Marie la Marcelle in 1340 [3], but this is an example of a relational byname (i.e., Marie’s husband — or possibly her father — was probably named Marcel), not a given name. The only clear instance of the name that we’ve found is the name of a character in Arnoul Gréban’s 15th C mystery play, Mystère de la Passion. Given the early saint and the use of the name in literature, it’s not impossible that we’ll one day find an example of a medieval French woman named Marcelle…but that day has not yet come.


Notes

[1] Munro, Jean, and R.W. Munro. Acts of the Lords of the Isles: 1336-1493, Scottish History Society, 4th Series, vol. 22. Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1986, B41.

[2] Black, George F., The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning and History, (New York: The New York Public Library, 1986), s.n. Fuktor.

[3] Viard, Jules, Documents parisiens du règne de Philippe VI de Valois (1328-1350): Extraits des registres de la chancellerie de France, Volume 2; Volumes 1339-1350 (H. Champion, 1900), p. 60.

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