Mystery Monday: Mermer

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.

Most of our mystery names are mysterious because we have no idea what their origin might be. Today’s name is the opposite: We have two equally plausible options, and are looking for assistance in discriminating between them!

The name is a 14th-15th C masculine name found in Switzerland:

Normally, a name found in a German influenced part of Europe containing the element mar or mer would be easy: We’d identify it as coming from Old English mære, Old High German, Old Saxon māri all from Proto-Germanic *mērijaz ‘famous’. Doublets — where a name is composed by duplicating an element — are rare, but not unheard of in Germanic names (our personal favorite is Bertbert, which will appear in the next edition), so ordinarily this would be a straightforward identification.

But! There is also a Greek name, rendered in Latin as Mermerus, found in mythology as the name of a centaur, of the grandson of Jason and Medea, a host of Odysseus, and of a Trojan in the Trojan war. The 14th-15th C is on the early end for the revival of classical Greek names in the Renaissance, but we don’t have a previous date for this occurrence, and Switzerland is close enough to Italy that this etymology cannot be discounted.

So we turn to you: What do you think? Do you have any evidence that ways in favor of one alternative over the other? Or any alternative etymologies to suggest? Please share in the comments!


Filed under crowd-sourcing, dictionary entries, mystery monday

2 responses to “Mystery Monday: Mermer

  1. Diego

    The name is found in Savoy at least a century earlier, so the Renaissance Greek origin may be less likely: in 1310 a document is signed “in presentia … Mermerii filii Bosonis de Vus … Mermerii Vernier de Fessier”, which means that these two were born and christened several decades before:
    There are apparently more examples in M. Chiaudano, “La finanza sabauda nel sec. XIII” (1937). There is no full page view in Google Books, but going by the title I suppose it’s relevant.

  2. Brian M. Scott

    Several sources say that Mermier, the French form corresponding to Latin Mermerius, is a diminutive of Guillaume; e.g., this snippet, this one (though the snippet cuts off just before reaching Mermier), and page 24 of this PDF. Mermod (Mermodus), Mermet (Mermetus), feminine Mermeta, etc. apparently also belong to this family.

    The numerous examples of Mermerius and Mermier that I found are concentrated in Savoie and Switzerland and frequently occur together with Mermod, etc., so these diminutives may be somewhat regional in nature. They range from the 13th century through the 14th century.

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