Looking into history: modern and classic forms of medieval names

A number of the girls names that show up in the ONS lists for 2018 are ones where there are a variety of different spellings for an individual name, some of which are modern, some of which are medieval. In this post, we explore some names that fit into this category.

  • No. 12 name Charlotte was originally a Middle French feminine form of a diminutive of Charles. While feminine forms of Charles were never as common in the Middle Ages as masculine forms, we can still find quite a variety, including Carla (560), Carlotta (2340), Carlota (2499). Karolina (701), Carolina (1013), Caroline (1013), Charlene (2340), Carolyn (5666) are other feminine diminutive forms, though this we are not sure if they were used medievally or not. Similarly, popular modern spellings Karla (1649) and Carol (4684) don’t appear to have been used medievally.

    Modern diminutives Charlie (745), Charley (767), and Charly (4684) are now often used as a unisex name, though even a couple of decades again, they were primarily only masculine. The variants Charleigh (1887), Charlee (2674), and Charli (4684) are pretty strongly coded as feminine, and the modern diminutives Lottie (63), Carly (1234), Carrie (1649), Cari (1887), Loti (2187), Lotti (2187), Lotte (2674), Carlie (3985), Carley (4684), Karli (4684), Lotta (4684), Kari (5666), and Karlie (5666) have pretty much always been primarily feminine.

    Like many other popular names, there are a number of modern compounds, including Lottie-Rose (1711), Charlotte-Rose (2340), Charlee-Rose (5666), and Charlie-Rose (5666); Lottie-Mae (1887), Lotte-Mai (2674), and Lottie-May (3985); Lottie-Rae (2901); Lottie-Grace (3178); Lottie-Anne (5666); and Carla-Maria (5666) and Lottie-Marie (5666).

  • No. 15 is a name that beautifully indicates how trends change over time; to my ear, Florence or Florance (4684) is the name of my grandparents’ generation; to my daughter, it’s a name of her generation! I have to wonder how the name was read in 16th C England — was it fresh and new and modern, or was harkening back to medieval French and Spanish romances?

    I would’ve thought that Florence was enough of a name by itself; but, no, the modern compounds Florence-Rose (3178); Florence-May (4684) and Florence-Mae (5666); and Florence-Ivy (5666) show up in the ONS data. The diminutive Flo (2090) is also modern.

  • The name coming in at no. 16 is a modern diminutive: Evie. This can be a nickname for Eve or for Evelyn, a variant of Aveline. Many people are surprised to find out that Eve was moderately common in the Middle Ages, thinking that the ill reputation of the Biblical character would prevent religious Europeans from naming their children after her. But you’d be surprised what sorts of names people gave their kids…

    Unsurprisingly, there are a number of modern compounds using this diminutive — Evie-Rose (560); Evie-Mae (602), Evie-May (1436), and Evie-Mai (1711); Evie-Grace (952); Evie-Rae (1649) and Evie-Rey (5666); Evie-Jane (2499) and Evie-Jean (5666); Evie-Leigh (2901), Evie-Lea (3985), and Evie-Lee (5666); Evie-Marie (3985); Evie-Louise (4684); and Evie-Ann (5666). The variants Eevee (2187), Evee (2674), Eevie (2901), Eviee (3178), Evy (3985), Evi (4684), and Evey (5666) are also modern.

  • Evelyn itself shows up (in this spelling) as name no. 19. Medieval forms of the name almost all retained the initial A-, which makes me wonder when the shift to E occurred (probably in the 16th C; that’s when all the vowels shifted in English!) It does mean that the wealth of variations of the name in the ONS data are pretty much all modern, including Evelina (574), Evalyn (701), Eveline (920), Evelynn (920), Evelin (1035), Evelyne (1083), Avleen (1526), Avalyn (2340), Evelynne (2499), Evlyn (2499), Evaline (3985), Evalina (4684), Evelyna (4684), Avaline (5666), Avalynn (5666), Evalyne (5666) Eveleen (5666), Evelinne (5666), and Evleen (5666) — but Aveline (3178) is medieval! — and especially including the compounds Evelyn-Rose (1272), Evelyn-Grace (3985), and Evelyn-Louise (5666).
  • The name coming in at no. 21, Phoebe, has its roots in the Greek New Testament, but it was quite rare before the Protestant reformation in the 16th C, where it was occasionally used in France. Variants such as Pheobe (1887) and Phoebie (2674) and compounds like Phoebe-Rose (1711); Phoebe-Grace (2499); Phoebe-Rae (2499); Phoebe-Mae (2674) and Phoebe-May (3985); Phoebe-Louise (4684); and Phoebe-Leigh (5666) are modern, while Phebe (2901) is reflective of Middle French orthography.
  • Name no. 22 brings us to an immense category of names: Nicknames of Elizabeth. There are so many of these, in addition to so many variants of the full name itself, that we’ll look at the full forms separately from the diminutives, and just focus on those here. How many modern nicknames of Elizabeth are found medievally? The ones in the following list in bold are all variants we’ve found before 1600: Elsie (22), Eliza (39), Betsy (145), Elise (216), Libby (248), Elisa (350), Betty (408), Elsa (437), Elissa (729), Beth (864), Elsi (1035), Lisa (1083), Betsie (1136), Elyse (1170), Bessie (1272), Elizah (1526), Elysia (1526), Elisia (1649), Liza (1711), Betsi (1887), Elis (1887), Eliz (1977), Betsan (2187), Eliska (2187), Libbie (2187), Elissia (2499), Elyssa (2499), Bettie (2674), Elyssia (2674), Lizzie (2901), Bess (3178), Beti (3178), Elsey (3178), Elysa (3518), Lissie (3518), Elize (3985), Elize (3985), Ellise (3985), Ellissia (3985), Ellsie (3985), Elyza (3985), Betsey (4684), Elysse (4684), Ilsa (4684), Lizzy (4684), Ellesse (5666), Ellisia (5666), Ellysia (5666) Elys (5666), Elza (5666), Elze (5666), Iliza (566), Ilse (5666), Lise (5666), Lissy (5666), and Liz (5666). It’s funny how even when a name has been in pretty much continuous use for more than a thousand years, you can still pick out trends in the diminutives.

    (None of the compounds are medieval, of course: Elsie-Mae (527), Elsie-May (720), Elsie-Mae (1314), Eliza-Mae (1788), Eliza-May (3178), Libby-Mae (3518), Betsy-Mae (3985), Betsy-May (4684), and Eliza-Mai (5666); Elsie-Rose (761), Eliza-Rose (1788), Betsy-Rose (3518), Elsa-Rose (4684), Betty-Rose (5666); Elsie-Rae (1136) and Betsy-Rae (4684); Eliza-Grace (2187), Elsie-Grace (2499), and Elsa-Grace (5666); Betsy-Lou (3178), Elsie-Lou (3518), and Betty-Lou (5666); Elsie-Jo (3985); Elsie-Marie (3985) and Lisa-Marie (4684); Elsie-Jayne (4684); Elsie-Leigh (4684) and Elsie-Lee (5666); Elsie-Ann (5666); and Elsie-Louise (5666).)

  • Name no. 24, Alice, is definitely a classic name, with roots going all the way back to the 9th C (and probably even earlier). It’s popularity means there’s a wide variety of spellings both medievally and modern — of the following ONS forms, beyond Alice itself, the ones in bold are all medieval: Heidi (86), Alicia (195), Aliza (211), Alyssa (229), Alessia (268), Alisha (274), Alicja (314), Alys (497), Alyssia (519), Aleeza (523), Alisa (602), Alesha (701), Alissa (778), Alesia (1083), Alizah (1170), Ailsa (1343), Alysia (1436), Alison (1490), Alissia (1526), Alisia (1711), Alysha (1788), Alise (1887), Allie (1887), Aleesha (2090), Allison (2090), Ailish (2340), Alessa (2499), Aleesa (2674), Alizay (2674), Alyza (2674), Eilish (2901), Ally (3178), Alaiza (3518), Alaysia (3518), Alecia (3518), Aliz (3518), Alyzah (3518), Eilis (3518), Elicia (3518), Aleasha (3985), Aleezah (3985), Aleezay (3985), Aleisha (3985), Alizeh (3985), Allyssa (3985), Alicija (4684), Alishah (4684), Allyson (4684), Aleida (5666), Aleysha (5666), Allyssia (5666), Alycia (5666), Alysa (5666), and Alyse (5666). (There are also quite a number of medieval forms that are not included in the above list!)

    None of the following compounds are medieval: Alice-Rose (2340), Alyssa-Rose (3518), Alissia-Rose (4684), and Alyssia-Rose (5666); Alessia-Maria (3985); Alicia-Mae (3985), Alice-Mae (4684), Alice-May (4684); and Alice-Grace (5666).

  • Name no. 32 is Mathilda, whose medieval variant forms go all the way from Mechthyldis to Mold. Of the modern variants found in the ONS, the ones in bold are also medieval: Matilda (31), Tilly (163), Tillie (587), Matylda (1059), Mathilda (1111), Matilde (1111), Tilda (1977), Mathilde (2187), Maude (2499), Maud (2674), and Matlida (5666). Unsurprisingly, none of the compounds are medieval: Tilly-Rose (1649), Matilda-Rose (2340), Tillie-Rose (3518); Tilly-Mae (2187), Tillie-Mae (2674), Tilly-May (3518), Tillie-Mai (3985), Matilda-May (5666), and Tilly-Mai (5666); Tillie-Ann and Tillyanna (both jointly 5666); and Tillie-Marie (5666).
  • The other name that Evie can be a diminutive of first shows up in the ONS data at no. 33, Eva. This particular spelling was most commonly found in Latin contexts in the Middle Ages, but other variants, including Eve (183), show up in the vernacular, and we can also find the Latin form Ewa (1887) and the diminutive Evita (5666). But forms like Ieva (1526), Evaa (3518), and Evah (5666) and compounds like Eva-Rose (1136); Eva-Maria (1788), Eva-Marie (3518); Eva-Grace (2187); Eva-Mae (2340), Eva-May (2499); Eva-Rae (3985); Eva-Louise (4684); Evaleigh (4684), Evalie (4684); Eva-Jean (5666); Eva-Lily (5666); and Eva-Noor (5666) are (all together now!) distinctly modern…
  • We said we’d treat Elizabeth and its variants separately from its diminutives, and we first run into this name at no. 47: Elizabeth (47). Other ONS forms include (those in bold are also medieval spellings) Elspeth (745), Elisabeth (864), Elisabeta (2090), Elsbeth (2187), Elisheva (3178), Elizaveta (3178), Elisabetta (3985), Elizabete (3985), Elzbieta (4684), Elisabella (5666), and Elisaveta (5666). Looking for an unusual form of Elizabeth for a future child? Check out the DMNES entry for many variants not shown here!

And this takes us through the classic names found in the top 50 girl’s names!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under dictionary entries

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.