Author Archives: Sara L. Uckelman

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:
Mermer

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!

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Solution Saturday: Trauta

Every Saturday, we will revisit one of our Mystery Monday names that we have solved. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed their knowledge and expertise, whether commenting here or on twitter or via email. You’ve all helped solve a mystery!

Today’s name is Trauta. Our suspicion that the name was Germanic in origin, despite it’s appearance in 14th C Italy, was corrected! It is a variant of the name Druda, and the examples we found will be incorporated into that entry in the next edition.

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Mystery Monday: Lyssence

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 one that we came across quite recently, in the 16th C registers of the parish of Bath.

Lyssence

It’s clearly masculine from context, and also clearly a given name (gotta love parish registers for making both of these things often crystal clear!), but beyond that, we haven’t a clue. It’s a name that nibbles at you and makes you think “surely there’s got to be a straightforward explanation”, the sort of name that sounds like it’s just a word, but there’s no word like “lyssence” or “lissence” in any dictionary we’ve checked, and plugging the word into google gets modern social media handles and nothing more.

Do you recognise the name? Have any thought as to its origin? We’d love to know! Please share in the comments.

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Mystery Monday: Kineke & Kyne

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.

You’d think that with as few names beginning with “K-” that there were in the Middle Ages, we’d have them all solved by now. And yet! More of our K-names are mysterious than not:

Not, not all of these are real mysteries; some of them are just “entries we haven’t gotten to you” or “things that were mysteries when we first created the entry but we’ve learned more since then and now we know what it is (oh, hello there Kerold, given our solution to Kermunt, this must be a form of Gerald, we can quick combine those two entries…; oh, and Kislolt has got to be Gislold, and, look, we haven’t finalized THAT entry yet, so let’s pause to do that…; oh, hunh, Kotabert is clearly a variant of Godbert, so let’s combine those entries…and now you know what preparing a Mystery Monday post ends up looking like! For every one Mystery we write about, we often solved another 2-3 along the way.)

But let’s move on to today’s actual mystery, a feminine diminutive recorded in late 13th C Latvia:
Kineke
Context makes it clear that it’s feminine, the -ke suffix makes it clearly a pet form, so the only question remains: What is the root name? Hack off the -ke and what you’ve got left is Kine- (oh, wait, that looks an awful lot like Kyne, which is a Low German feminine name also found in Latvia!

Kyne

So we should probably combine these two entries into one). Interestingly, our draft entry for Kyne has a note “Cuna?” in it, i.e., possibly they’re both pet forms of Cunigunde.

What do you, dear readers, think? Are we on the right track? We’d love a little bit more corroborative evidence before we confidently ascribe both Kineke and Kyne to Cunigunde.

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Solution Saturday: Kermunt

Every Saturday, we will revisit one of our Mystery Monday names that we have solved. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed their knowledge and expertise, whether commenting here or on twitter or via email. You’ve all helped solve a mystery!

Our very first Solution Saturday name is Kermunt. Our hypothesis that the prototheme was a variant of Ger- was borne out by the commentators, which makes this name a variant of Germund. We’ve folded the citation in the entry for Kermunt into the entry for Germund.

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Secret names: Remembering rather than hiding (Part 3)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here; Part 3 is below.

Secret names: Remembering rather than hiding (Part 3)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Ultimately, these sorts of codes were made to be seen, and the names encoded within them were meant to be remembered. This was the intention of the eighth-century abbess who wrote this message by substituting the vowels with abbreviations for ordinal numbers:

Ego una Saxonica nomine Hugeburc ordinando hec scribebam

I, a Saxon nun named Hugeburc, wrote this.

This message appeared in the prologue to Hugeburc’s own work, the Hodoeporicon: a life of the Anglo-Saxon missionary saint Willebald. In it, she called herself ‘a little ignorant creature’, but both her skilled Latin and her use of code showed how untrue this was. [1] While claiming modesty, she ensured that she would be remembered for her learning.

Most ciphers seem to have been written by adults – even high-status ones, who composed their own works and were entrusted with the copying and decoration of books. But we do have one instance of a cipher used by a child, in a ninth-century manuscript of poetry probably used in an early medieval classroom. At the beginning of the book, there is a marginal note, written in a cipher in which dots were substituted for vowels. Here, however, they are also arranged roughly in the shape of the vowel itself. The note reads:

Bernardus puer me fecit.

Bernardus, a boy, made me [i.e. the note]

Many of these ciphers were written by substituting vowels, which was both common and not difficult to crack. But concealment wasn’t the point. Medieval ciphers can be compared to computer languages, encoding and recording metadata about manuscripts, and the people who made them. Ciphers were therefore meant to draw attention, to communicate their contents, and ultimately to ensure that names – and the people behind them – weren’t forgotten.

References

[1] https://thijsporck.com/2017/05/15/anglo-saxon-cryptography/.

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Mystery Monday: Jarand

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 we have a Polish masculine name from the early 15th century:

Jarand

There’s a (modern) Polish city called Jarandowo, which is likely related, etymologically, to the given name, but this doesn’t tell us anything about what their shared etymology might be.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share in the comments!

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Secret names: What’s in a name? (Part 2)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is here; Part 2 is below; Part 3 is here.

Secret names: What’s in a name? (Part 2)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Not all monks were quiet or modest! In this manuscript from France, containing some works by St Jerome and dated to 806 CE, the scribe Agambertus covered an entire page in ciphers.

The first is a monogram, a series of letters joined together and spelling out the name of the woman who commissioned the manuscript: Hlottildis or Theodildis (since the final S is missing, this interpretation is uncertain). The monogram also contains the abbreviation ‘abbat.’ for ‘abbatissa’, meaning ‘abbess’, indicating that Agambertus’ commissioner was fairly powerful.

The second code is Agambertus’s name and an invocation, all written in Greek letters mixed in with a made-up alphabet (known as the alphabet of Aethicus Ister) and ‘Marcomannic’ runes.

After that, there is a plaintext referring to the sixth year of Charlemagne’s imperial reign, followed by a request to the reader to pray for the scribe, written by replacing each vowel with the following consonant.

The lower part of the page is filled with palindromes: three squares playing around with the words SATOR, AMOR, and AMEN; and two anagrams of the scribe’s name, one of which is arranged in the form of a cross. [1]

Agambertus evidently enjoyed experimenting with ciphers, which enabled him to show off his skill as a scribe. This page of puzzles would have intrigued its readers in the ninth century, as it does today, but it was also a more serious sign of a belief in the written word as the Word of God. This was reflected in human language and in the stories of the Bible, but it needed decoding and interpreting before it could be truly understood.

Agambertus wasn’t the only one who enjoyed visual puzzles. Monograms and monogrammatic writing, in which letters nestle within or on top of each other, were especially popular in the early Middle Ages. In this book, made in ninth-century France, the scribe Audgarius first wrote the title of the legal text he was copying. At the bottom, he added his own name and the Latin word ‘nomen’, ‘name’, as if they were also part of the title – but in a much more complicated arrangement on top of each other.

References

[1] I. Garipzanov, Graphic Signs of Authority in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 300–900 (Oxford, 2018), pp. 260–62.

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Introducing: Solution Saturday!

For a few years now, on Mondays we’ve been posting “mystery” entries, where we’ve harnessed the collective onomastic power of the internet to crowdsource the origin/etymology of the name. One of the big plans for our research interns this summer was to start solving some of those mysteries — that is, going through the archive of Mystery Monday posts and whether we now have sufficient information to positively identify (or positively identify that we can’t identify!) a particular name.

So we’re very pleased to introduce Solution Saturday where we go through the “solved” names and say a bit about the answer to the mystery (and thank the people who have contributed their time, knowledge, and expertise). We probably won’t have have a solution every Saturday, but we’re excited to make progress on these names over the coming months, and present some of the solutions in the next edition (currently aiming for a publication date in September 2020). Check back next week for our first solution!

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Secret names: Cracking the medieval code (Part 1)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is below; Part 2 is here; Part 3 is here.

Secret names: Cracking the medieval code (Part 1)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Medieval people often needed to write names down. They were important for witnessing documents, recording real estate, noting who had borrowed which book or owned which slaves, and ensuring that communities of people were remembered. And sometimes, names were written down using ciphers.

This was especially common between the eighth and eleventh centuries, when much writing was done in monasteries by both clergy and lay people. In later centuries, such ciphers were dismissed as the result of bored monks playing around. But we’ve recently begun to uncover the importance of marginalia – codes, notes and signs – for understanding the social spaces of monasteries and their wider communities. In such marginalia, we can hear the echo of the words and names of people from the distant past.

So why did these people deliberately try to conceal their names in the early Middle Ages, and how did they do it?

Name that monk:

Ciphered names often appear in colophons: the notes sometimes left by scribes at the end of the manuscripts they copied. Colophons usually record why a manuscript was made, for whom or by whom, where and when, or simply express relief that the long, hard work of writing was finished at last.

The scribe of this manuscript, copied in the late tenth or early eleventh century in Luxeuil, France, left behind a colophon. It appears at first to be gibberish:

Hbfc Stfphbnxs scrkpskt p[er] prfcfptb brchkinb[er]tk mbgkctrk

But this is actually a sentence encoded using a simple substitution cipher, in which vowels are replaced with the consonant that immediately follows them: a with b, e with f and so on. The decrypted sentence reads:

Haec Stephanus scripsit per precepta Archimberti magistri.

This was written by Stephanus at the command of Master Archimbertus.

The main text above the colophon is the Life of St Deicolus (or Dicuil), containing a history of the Benedictine abbey Deicolus founded in Lure, France, until the year 990. It names other abbots of Lure, including Baltram and Werdolphus (Werdulf). Perhaps all these names were an inspiration for Stephanus to record his own, and that of his master?

A similar colophon, using the same code, appears in this early eleventh-century prayerbook. Deciphered, it reads:

Frater humillimus et monachus Aelsinus me scripsit, sit illi longa salus. Amen. Ælfwinus monachus aeque decanus me possidet.

The most humble brother and monk Aelsinus wrote me, may he have boundless health… Ælfwine, monk and also deacon, owns me.

We know that in 1031 or 1032, Ælfwine became abbot of the New Minster in Winchester, in which Aelsinus (the Latin form of the name Ælfsige) was also a monk. Aelsinus therefore wrote this manuscript before this date. Was his use of cipher for the names he mentioned in this colophon an expression of monastic humility?

Interestingly, during the twelfth century someone added feminine endings to many of the prayers, suggesting that the prayerbook came to be owned by a female community — perhaps Nunnaminster, a royal monastery founded by Queen Ealhswith, the wife of Alfred the Great.

Other ciphers were much less formal than these colophons. One example was left by a scribe called Ekkehart the Fourth (c. 980–1056), who lived in the monastery of St Gall in Switzerland (and was the fourth of a series of scribes called Ekkehart). At the back of the manuscript, on a page used for doodles and pen-trials, Ekkehart left a code he called ‘clophruna’, from the Old High German verb klopfon ‘to knock, to tap, to rap’, and the word for ‘rune’. But this ‘knock-rune’ code has nothing in common with runes: it is based on the Latin alphabet. Each letter is numbered according to its place in the alphabet, and these numbers are then indicated by dots: a = 1, b = 2 and so on. [1]

In the manuscript, the series of dots marked 5-10-10-5-8-1-17-19 can be decoded as E-K-K-E-H-A-R-T (taking into account that i and j weren’t distinguished in the medieval Latin alphabet). This code enabled monks to exchange messages when they were keeping their compulsory hours of silence alone in their individual cells — tapping the messages out on the walls, letter by letter.

References

[1] R. Derolez, Runica Manuscripta: The English Tradition (Bruges, 1954), pp. 134–35.

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