In Search of Yfaine

As a research intern this summer with Dr. Uckelman this summer, I’m working on a couple projects! For the Mystery Names project, my fellow interns and I are going through the Mystery Monday blog post comments and DMNES Twitter replies to determine if the collective onomastic power of the internet has shed light on the names! For the Arthurian Names project, we’re cataloging names from medieval romances and the manuscripts they appear in.

Recently, I came across a name that combined both of these projects: Yfaine. I stumbled on this 13th century feminine name on a routine investigation into Mystery Monday comments. Sadly, there was only one response across the board—not enough to count the name as solved. But I wasn’t ready to give up on Yfaine just yet! It reminded me too much of the name Yvain, a masculine moniker recurring in Arthurian tales.

Reaching out to Dr. Uckelman, I wondered whether the two names could be connected. Yvain is a variation of the Welsh name Owain, which repeatedly appears in Arthurian literature. So, Yvain (and variants) would have been in use by the date we have for the source of the Mystery Name Yfaine.

Another part of my reasoning for the connection is that “f” and “v” sounds are both fricative, created using similar mouth positions, and there’s evidence of these letters being relatively interchangeable in Old French, the language of our source [1].

Also, according to Dr. Uckelman, Old French names were feminized by adding an “-e” to the end. Therefore, conventionally at least, Yvain becoming Yfaine is possible, through the assimilation of “v” to “f,” plus the feminizing “-e” at the end.

To investigate this possibility, we tried to find examples of the character Yvain’s name spelled as “Yfain” (still masculine, but demonstrating the “v” to “f” sound change), as well as “Yvaine” (a feminine version of Yvain), but had no luck. It seems that the name Owain, though it has many variations—including Yvain—does not have a variant with an “f.”

We didn’t give up hope, though! Dr. Uckelman was struck with the thought that the letters “-in-” in Yfaine could be a misreading of “-m-,” so the name is actually “Yfame,” a variation of “Euphemia,” for which we have an entry in the Dictionary here. We even have a source in Old French from 1296, lining up nicely with our Mystery Name!

We’re on the lookout for manuscripts that could confirm this line of thought! If anyone out there has any ideas, other examples, or finds such a manuscript, we would greatly appreciate you sending them our way!

Note:
[1] http://www.french-linguistics.co.uk/pronunciation/french_fricatives.shtml

2 Comments

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2 responses to “In Search of Yfaine

  1. Diego

    G. Vasseur compiled a list of names found in the Cartulaire de Ponthieu in 1311-1312:
    https://www.persee.fr/doc/rio_0048-8151_1952_num_4_1_1236
    https://www.persee.fr/doc/rio_0048-8151_1952_num_4_2_1256
    This includes (p. 149) “Yfenne, Ifaine ou Yfeme, Yfaime”, which may support the idea of a misreading m/in.
    However, there are several other independent examples of “Yfaine” in the first half of the 14th c., and it seems unlikely that they all contain the same error:
    Damoiselle Yfaine (Yfania), femme de Jean Sauvage (1331)
    https://archive.org/details/actesduparlemen01fran/page/46/mode/2up
    Yfaine de la Bassée (1334)
    https://books.google.com/books?id=Zq8JAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA196
    Yfaine de Creeil (1345)
    https://books.google.com/books?id=_u6ou_ZewOAC&pg=PA202
    Yfaine de Citerne (1350)
    https://archive.org/details/actesduparlemen02fran/page/334/mode/2up

  2. PIERRE YVES QUEMENER

    Bonjour,
    Gaston Vasseur assimile en effet, peut-être à tort, les formes Yfenne, Yfaine, Yfeme et Yfaime. Yfeme et Yfaime me semblent être des variantes du nom Eufemia, Euphémie. Yfenne et Yfaine pourraient être des formes hypocoristiques du nom Tiphaine.
    Il faut écarter je pense la piste arthurienne car le nom Yvain est rarissime dans le répertoire masculin médiéval.

    Google traduction :
    Gaston Vasseur indeed assimilates, perhaps wrongly, the forms Yfenne, Yfaine, Yfeme and Yfaime. Yfeme and Yfaime seem to me to be variants of the name Eufemia, Euphémie. Yfenne and Yfaine could be hypocoristic forms of the name Tiphaine.
    I must rule out the Arthurian track because the name Yvain is extremely rare in the medieval male repertoire.

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