Mystery Monday: Elisagar

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.


Here’s a poser! By the 13th century, there aren’t that many names of Germanic origin where the root themes are obscure. And yet, this appears to be what we have here. This masculine name found in 13th C Switzerland is probably of Germanic origin, with the final element being Old High German, Old Saxon gēr ‘spear’. But what on earth could Elisa- be? This is one of those names that is quite opaque to use, and we would love any insights or thoughts you might have. Please share in the comments!


Filed under crowd-sourcing, dictionary entries, mystery monday

9 responses to “Mystery Monday: Elisagar

  1. Jörg Knappen

    Förstemann (1900) lists this name under the entry ALIS, and he expresses a lot of doubt on different hypotheses of its origin. Here’s the quote from Förstemann

    ALIS. Grimm in ZDA. Ill 146 erinnert
    bei Elis- an die Elysii (Tac. Germ. 43); ebds.
    s. 156 vermntet er, der anlaut H bewahre die ur-
    sprünglichere form und die apliaerese desselben sei
    cine annäherung an das biblische Elias (wirklich
    finde ich Elias fiir Elisachar Schpf. a. 817, n. 82
    und 131). Doch scbeinen mir die Elysii etwas fern
    zu liegen. Sollten wir, wie ALJA zu got. alja alias
    gehört, hier das abd. alles, ags. elles aliter ver-
    muten ? auch dies ist bedenklich. Ich vereinige hier
    ,die formen mit Alis-, Als-, Elis-, Helis-, lasse aber
    Us- und ähnliches aus dem spiele. Zu bemerken
    ist noch, dass einzelne formen mit Elis- entartungen
    von HALID sein mogen; so liest man z. b. neben
    Elispret Ng. a. 813 (n. 178) und Helispert Ng. a.
    818 (n. 195) ebds. a. 838 nnd 872 Helidpert.

    Förstemann traces the mentioned stem HALID to Old Norse halr “man”.

    • Brian M. Scott

      You’re quoting from the second edition, but despite this entry it doesn’t actually have an entry for HALID: it has HALIDA instead. (The first edition had HALID, for which no etymology is offered.) The entry for HALIDA connects the theme with OHG helid, OSax helidh, OE häledh, and modern German Held; there is no mention of ON halr. All of these are from PGmc haliþaz ‘hero, man’.

      • Jörg Knappen

        The halr etymology is found in Förstemann (1900) under the lemma HAL:

        Wol zu altn. halr, ags. hale vir, wovon
        HALID weiterbildung ist.

        But a relation to HALIDA “hero” (German Held) is a good and solid one.

    • Brian M. Scott

      I am a bit skeptical of the suggestion that the name is Germanic. Lidia Becker, Hispano-romanisches Namenbuch: Untersuchung der Personennamen vorrömischer, griechischer und lateinisch-romanischer Etymologie auf der Iberischen Halbinsel im Mittelalter (6.-12. Jahrhundert), pp. 426-7, takes it to be a variant of Eleazar(us), perhaps by insertion of a glide consonant g in hiatus after metathesis to Elezaar. She cites Eliacer a.945 from Galicia and Elisagar leuita a.928 and Elisagar a.957 from Catalonia.

      The bishop of Bellay (in eastern France near the Swiss border) from 915 to 927 was an Elisachar, and in 827 an abbot (H)elisachar was an imperial envoy of Childebrand III in Spain. There was also a ninth century bishop Helisachar of Toulouse.

      • Diego

        M. Buchner suggests that Helizachar the abbot of St. Riquier (the one sent to Spain in 827) was of Syrian origin and proposes an etymology here:

        Ph. Depreux collects plenty of information on this Helizachar in “Prosopographie de l’entourage de Louis le Pieux (781-840)” pp. 235-41, but see footnote 21: “Le nom de Hélisachar ne donne pas d’indice quant à l’origine du personnage. Cf. MORLET, Noms de personne, tome 1, p. 79, au préfixe Elis, Lis: ‘Ce thème onomastique a été dégagé de noms bibliques tels que Elisabeth, Eliseus, Elisachar, par une coupure aritraire de ces noms’.”

  2. Brian M. Scott

    Lidia Becker, Hispano-romanisches Namenbuch: Untersuchung der Personennamen vorrömischer, griechischer und lateinisch-romanischer Etymologie auf der Iberischen Halbinsel im Mittelalter (6. – 12. Jahrhundert), pp. 426-7, takes it to be from Eleazar (ultimately of Hebrew origin) by metathesis to Elezaar and insertion of a glide consonant g in the hiatus. She cites Elisagar leuita a.928 from what appears to be a Barcelona source. Another source locates it in the Catalan County of Osona, as, apparently, does this one.

    In the ninth century a Helisachar was the bishop of Toulouse; this is the same name in a slightly different guise. From 915 to 927 an Elisachar was bishop of Belley, taking us a bit closer to Switzerland.

  3. Jörg Knappen

    In favour of a Germanic origin there are several deuterothemes combining with an ALIS/ELIS prototheme, Förstemann 1900 lists the following names:

    Helisbirch (f), Elispret, Alsedomus, Elisdrud, Alsker, Elysigar, Elisidis (f), Alseman, Alsmar, Elismot, Elisnod, Elisachar (obviously interpreted as Elis-waccar), and Alsward.

  4. This is easier to interpret if we assume the Helisbirch and Helisachar forms preserve the original form with the others exhibiting loss of the initial H (not unusual). The prototheme then would be OHG Heilisa/Heilis-, OE Háls/Hæls/Heals-, ON Háls-.found in OHG heilisunga, heilison, heilisod, heilisari; OE hálsung, hálsigend, hálsian, hǽlsend, hǽlsere, heáls-bóc, Hálsard, Hǽlsingas; ON háls-bók, heilsa; from a reconstructed *hailis-/*hailisa-. The sense is difficult since there may be a few homographs with different meanings and origins whose derived forms have been conflated— on the one hand health/salvation (and thus “greeting”), on the other an omen/talisman/something holy..

    • Brian M. Scott

      ON háls-bók ‘a book to be hung around the neck’ is unrelated: the first element is háls ‘neck’, from PGmc *halsaz ‘neck, throat’. The same goes for OE hēals-bōc.

      The underlying PGmc base for your suggestion would be *hailaz ‘whole, healthy’; forms with -(i)s- appear to be from a denominative verb *hailisōną ‘to greet; to beseech’ (as in ON heilsa ‘to greet’ and MHG heilsen ‘to offer good wishes, e.g., at the new year or a wedding’). It’s not clear that this, as distinct from forms based directly on *hailaz or *hailiþō ‘health’, is very plausible as a Gmc. prototheme.

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