It’s been awhile since we’ve done a set of themed posts on this blog! They’re a lot of fun to write, but sometimes less fun to think up themes for (hint, hint, if you have any suggestions, leave them in a comment and we’ll see what we can do!). But we recently thought of a neat theme — the four elements! Earth, air, fire, water, the foundations of medieval metaphysical and physical theories…In what ways do they turn up in personal names?
The element for this post is ‘earth’: Earth, dust, dirt, ground, mud, clay, soil, etc. While we do not want to argue in this series of posts that medieval metaphysical and physical theories had any influence on what peopled named their children — that is almost certainly not the case — the one name that we can showcase for this element is actually one with a connection to the element itself: Adam derives from a Hebrew word for red clay or soil, which is purportedly what God made the first man from. Adam was never an exceptionally popular name in medieval Europe; but it was also never an entirely unpopular name. We have examples of it from the Czech Republic, England (from the 12th C on; it predates the later fads for Biblical names), Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Low Countries, Scotland, Sweden, Ukraine, and Wales — a pretty widespread distribution geographically, and also temporally as our examples range from the 8th to the 16th C. (Many of the early examples are the names of priests.)
Next post: air!