Mystery Monday: Bye

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.

Today’s name is a fun one, because we’ve got examples from 16th C England and 13th C Germany and we have no idea if they represent the same name or not.


There’s every reason to think that these are distinct names; but there’s also no reason to think that they aren’t the same. This is in part because we have no idea what name this could be; pretty much the only possible possible explanation is that the 16th C English form is a double diminutive of Sibyl via such forms as Sybeye and Sybbie.

Have you got any other ideas? Reasons to think these are the same name? Different names? Please share in the comments!


Filed under crowd-sourcing, dictionary entries, monthly topic

3 responses to “Mystery Monday: Bye

  1. Diego

    The 1590 instance at least could be simply Greek Bía “strength”. The one from 1233 fits perfectly, but seems less likely for the time and period.

  2. Brian M. Scott

    There are earlier German examples of Bia. From this page of the Henry Project:

    Bia, d. 25 May 929×932.
    Bia was still alive in 929, when she appears in two entries in the confraternity books of St. Gallen and Reichenau [Althoff (1984), 366 (K 17); see below under Bertheid]. She was deceased by 931×2, the time of composition of a list of St. Gallen containing only deceased individuals [Althoff (1976), 402]. Her date of death was 25 May [“VIII. k. [Iunii] Bia soror regine Mahtild ob..” Calend. Merseb., 114; 25 May “Bia praeposita” Nec. Gandersheim, Althoff (1976), 402; “VIII. Kalend. Iunii Bia soror reg. Mathildis” Trèves diptych, Althoff (1976), 387]. See the Commentary section for a supposed marriage.

    She also appears here and in this expanded version of the same stemma.

    Here we apparently have an example from 1040.

    Here we have a Bya conuersa in what is probably a fragment of a 13th century Drübecker Totenbuch.

    Adolf Socin, Mittelhochdeutsches Namenbuch, p. 52, adds a Bia 1254, the wife of one Werner von Bettlach; his source is a Basel Urkundenbuch. He considers the name Germanic, and on p. 195 includes it in a list of early monothematic names, along with a masculine counterpart Bio, for which however he gives no citation. And as usual he offers no etymological conjecture.

    And here is a Bya 1364 from the Benschop, Utrecht, in the Netherlands.

    The entry Bye Hill in the St. Antholin parish register may be problematic. Her mother is apparently the Rose Biell who married Nicholas Hill on 22 February 1573/1574. Judging by the parents and siblings, she does seem to be the Rose Hutchinson (Hill) of this genealogical entry as claimed in the first footnote, though I’m not in a position to verify all of the references. She is probably the Rose Hill of the 11 May 1611 entry for George Huchinsone here; her age is right. At any rate, it’s not clear that the Bye Hill entry is actually correct.

    On the other hand, Reaney & Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames s.n. By notes Thomas and Henricus filius Bye 1279 from the Cambridgeshire Hundred Rolls, calling it ‘a personal name of obscure origin’.

  3. Jörg Knappen

    Looking the name up in some of my sources, there is no generally accepted etymology for it. Seibicke, Historisches Deutsches Vornamenbuch, cites another author connecting the Low German name to the Old Saxon word bia “bee”. Tammena, Namengebung in Ostfriesland, links this name to Bea, a short form of Beatrix or Beate.

    This is all about the Low German name, I have no say on the Early Modern English occurrance.

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