Category Archives: dictionary entries

The ‘elements’ of names: Earth (part 2!)

So after we posted our first post in what was to be a four-part series (one for each element) on names involving the four elements (read Part 1: Earth), a number of people pointed out that we totally overlooked a candidate for “earth”: ‘rock, stone’!

Well, rather than feeling too sheepish and embarrassed about such an oversight, we figured we’d simply fix this by making a follow-up post. So in Earth-Part-Two we’re going to look at all the names we have that derive from an element meaning ‘rock’ or stone’.

The most classic example is, of course, Peter, deriving from Greek πέτρος ‘rock’. The most well-known bearer of the name, Peter the first Catholic pope (at least from the medieval point of view!), was given his name as a metaphor for the foundation of the church itself. As the Wycliffite translation of the Bible (1395) puts it:

And Y seie to thee, that thou art Petre, and on this stoon Y schal bilde my chirche, and the yatis of helle schulen not haue miyt ayens it. (Matthew 16:18)

As the name of a disciple and pope, Peter was enormously popular in Europe. Our earliest citation is from the end of the 7th C in Germany, and by the time we hit 1600, you can’t turn around without bumping into a Peter or three. Geographically, almost every country that has citations in the database has an example of Peter — it’s even one of the three names we find in Algeria. The popularity of the name is reflected in the diversity and quantity of pet forms witnessed:

Pär, Peczold, Peep, Peireto, Per, Pere, Pereto, Perin, Perino, Perkyn, Perocto, Peron, Perono, Peronet, Perot, Perreau, Perrecars, Perrenet, Perresson, Perreset, Perret, Perrichon, Perrin, Perrinet, Perrod, Perron, Perronet, Perrono, Perrot, Perrotin, Perrusson, Pers, Perucho, Peschel, Peschil, Peschlin, Pescho, Peschyl, Pesco, Pesko, Pesold, Pessek, Pessel, Pesshico, Pessico, Pessko, Pesslin, Pesyco, Peterl, Pethe, Peto, Petrecono, Petreman, Petrezolo, Petricono, Petrin, Petrino, Petriolo, Petrocho, Petrocino, Petrono, Petrosino, Petrussio, Petruche, Petrucio, Petrutio, Piep, Pierel, Pieren, Pieret, Pierozo Pierren, Pierron, Pierrot, Pyotrussa

Of course, given the popularity of the masculine name, it’s no surprise that the feminine form, Petra was also relatively widespread throughout medieval Europe (although it was rare before the late 13th C). What might be surprising is that with one exception, all of our examples are of diminutive forms — too many to list here. Another name that needs to be mentioned in this context is the feminine name Petronilla. The root of this name is the Roman nomen Petronius. Petronius itself may possibly derive from the same Greek root; but it is not clear that it does. Nevertheless, medievally the name was treated as a feminine form of Peter, and it was moderately popular throughout England, France, and the Low Countries, with a handful of examples also turning up in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.

But Greek isn’t the only language to have given us rocky names! We also have two Germanic/Scandinavian elements meaning ‘rock ” or ‘stone’ that were used in monothematic and dithematic names: Old Icelandic hallr ‘rock, stone’, found in the compound Haldor; and Proto-Germanic *stainaz ‘stone’, which gave rise to Old Icelandic steinn, Old English stān, Old Frisian, Old Saxon, and Old Dutch stēn, and Old High German stein.

This latter element was quite a popular element, both as a prototheme and as a deuterotheme:

Country Prototheme Deuterotheme
England Alfstan, Brihtstan, Dunstan, Goldstone, Thorsten, Wulfstan
Estonia Thorsten
France Steinhard Thorsten
Germany Steinhard
Iceland Thorsten
Ireland Dunstan, Thorsten
Norway Thorsten
Scotland Thorsten
Sweden Steinarr Holmsten, Thorsten

The element itself was also used as a standalone, monothematic name: Sten. We have examples from Finland, France, and Sweden.

We could also stretch the definition of “earth” as far as names derived from precious stones, but perhaps we’ll draw the line here and save those for another post on their own sometime!

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Mystery Monday: Orendil

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.

Orendil

Today’s name would be an excellent addition to a game of “medieval name or Tolkien elf?” — doesn’t “Orendil” sound like he could be a cousin of Elendil’s? It’s a curious name, because the deuterotheme ‘-dil’ is vanishingly rare in our corpus; the only other names we have in our data set that end in this are Seidil and Seydil, two Middle High German diminutives of Sigfrid.

As for Oren-? Well, the only other name we have that begins with that string is another oddity, the feminine French name Orenge. So we’re at a bit of a loss. Have you found the name before? Have any thoughts of its origin? Please share in the comments!

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The ‘elements’ of names: Earth

It’s been awhile since we’ve done a set of themed posts on this blog! They’re a lot of fun to write, but sometimes less fun to think up themes for (hint, hint, if you have any suggestions, leave them in a comment and we’ll see what we can do!). But we recently thought of a neat theme — the four elements! Earth, air, fire, water, the foundations of medieval metaphysical and physical theories…In what ways do they turn up in personal names?

The element for this post is ‘earth’: Earth, dust, dirt, ground, mud, clay, soil, etc. While we do not want to argue in this series of posts that medieval metaphysical and physical theories had any influence on what peopled named their children — that is almost certainly not the case — the one name that we can showcase for this element is actually one with a connection to the element itself: Adam derives from a Hebrew word for red clay or soil, which is purportedly what God made the first man from. Adam was never an exceptionally popular name in medieval Europe; but it was also never an entirely unpopular name. We have examples of it from the Czech Republic, England (from the 12th C on; it predates the later fads for Biblical names), Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Low Countries, Scotland, Sweden, Ukraine, and Wales — a pretty widespread distribution geographically, and also temporally as our examples range from the 8th to the 16th C. (Many of the early examples are the names of priests.)

Next post: air!

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Mystery Monday: Nemfidius

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 masculine name from 11th C France, recorded in Latin. The Latin form of the name makes it tempting to render the second half of it as relating to Latin fidius ‘more faithful’; but that leaves us without any way of explaining nem, which makes it rather wishful thinking.

Nemfidius

Do you have any thoughts about the origin of the name? Any other examples of it? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Masoeytta

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 feminine name recorded in Latin in late 13th or early 14th C Bergamo. It’s a strange name because that central vowel cluster — oey — is definitely atypical. (In our 66,000+ citations, we have only one other instance of this cluster, in an Old French form of Louis). But the rest of the name doesn’t give us many clues to go on either — -etta is an Italian hypocoristic suffix, found in Angeletta and Bonetta, and more commonly in the masculine form -etto; and Italian forms of Thomas and Thomasse can be truncated to Maso- or Masa-, with further diminutive suffices added. So it’s possibly that Masoeytta is the result of truncating Thomasia or Thomasa and then adding -etta, but where is the -y- coming from? And why is it -o- instead of -a-?

We have no idea. Do you? Got any hypotheses about how to explain these interloping vowels? Please share in the comments!

Masoeytta

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Mystery Monday: Lancenna

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 feminine name found in France in the first half of the 12th century. We have a number of examples (all in reference to the same woman as far as we can tell) between around 1147 and 1179, all spelled Lancenna or Lanscenna. It is probably of Germanic origin, with the most likely candidate for the prototheme being Old High German lant, Old Saxon land ‘land’, which becomes lanzo, lanc- in hypocoristics.

But the deuterotheme? We have no idea.

Do you have any thoughts? Have you seen this name before? Please share in the comments!

Lancenna

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How medieval is “Your Medieval Name”?

There’s a meme (due to www.abbeytournament.com) that’s been circulating around Facebook sporadically recently, allowing people to generate their “medieval name” according to their day. You’ve probably seen it:
Your Medieval Name
The first time it came up in a group that a couple DMNES staff are members of — a group not devoted to either the Middle Ages or to names — one editorial assistant put out a cry for “HALP”, and another swooped in with documentation. Now every time that meme comes around, we’re reminded of that thread, and finally decided to make a blog post out of it!

So, how medieval is “Your Medieval Name”? Actually, pretty medieval!

The feminine names are almost all good solid choices for late medieval England or France:

  • Milicent – Yes, medieval!
  • Alianor – Yes, medieval!
  • Ellyn – Yes, medieval!
  • Sybbyl – Yes, medieval!
  • Jacquelyn – Yes, medieval!
  • Catherine – Yes, medieval!
  • Elizabeth – Yes, medieval!
  • Thea – Possibly medieval but we’ve not found any evidence for it yet.
  • Lucilla – Sort of medieval: R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain I: Inscriptions on Stone — Epigraphic Indexes (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1983), RIB 1288 and 1271, note one Iulia Lucilla in a first- to fourth-century British inscription (in this name, Lucilla appears as a cognomen), and another Romano-British inscription mentioning a woman known only as [L]ucilla.
  • Mary – Yes, medieval!
  • Arabella – Yes, medieval: E.G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). s.n. Arabel(la) has a 13th C Latin example of the name.
  • Muriel – Yes, medieval: A variety of forms can be found in P.H. Reaney & R.M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (London: Routledge, 1991).
  • Isabel – Yes, medieval!
  • Angmar – Um, no.
  • Isolde – Yes, medieval!
  • Eleanor – Yes, medieval!
  • Josselyn – Yes, medieval, but not as a feminine name.
  • Margaret – Yes, medieval!
  • Luanda – Um, no.
  • Ariana – Not medieval: It’s a modern Italian form of the Greek name Ariadne, found in mythology, and in the Greek and Byzantine empires.
  • Clarice – Yes, medieval!
  • Idla – Possibly medieval. It appears that this googlebook has a Polish example of the name, but we have not been able to get more than a snippet view, to be able to confirm the date and context.
  • Claire – Yes, medieval!
  • Rya – Um, no.
  • Joan – Yes, medieval!
  • Clemence – Yes, medieval!
  • Morgaine – Yes, medieval, but only used in literature, and not by real people.
  • Edith – Yes, medieval!
  • Nerida – Definitely not.
  • Ysmay – Yes, medieval: Withycombe (op. cit.) has an example of this spelling.

The masculine names don’t fare quite so well.

  • Ulric – Yes, medieval!
  • Baird – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name. It is derived from Old French baiard or baiard ‘bay-colored’.
  • Henry – Yes, medieval!
  • Oliver – Yes, medieval
  • Fraden – Possibly medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • John – Yes, medieval!
  • Geoffrey – Yes, medieval!
  • Francis – Yes, medieval!
  • Simon – Yes, medieval!
  • Fendel – Not medieval to my knowledge, either as a given name or a surname.
  • Frederick – Yes, medieval!
  • Thomas – Yes, medieval!
  • Arthur – Yes, medieval!
  • Cassius – More Roman than medieval.
  • Richard – Yes, medieval!
  • Matthew – Yes, medieval!
  • Charles – Yes, medieval!
  • Reynard – Yes, medieval!
  • Favian – Sort of medieval, if you take it as a variant of Fabian.
  • Philip – Yes, medieval!
  • Zoricus – Not medieval to our knowledge, but it could possibly turn up at some point in future research.
  • Carac – Not medieval
  • Sadon – Not medieval
  • Alistair – Medieval, but not as the nominative form of the name, only as the genitive.
  • Caine – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Gawain – Yes, medieval!
  • Godfrey – Yes, medieval!
  • Mericus – More Roman than medieval.
  • Rowley – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Brom – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Cornell – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.

All the surnames are fine for 14th-16th C English, except these:

  • Cabrera – This is Spanish, and would only have been used by women; the masculine form is Cabrero.
  • Coastillon – Not quite sure what this is but it looks like a misspelling of some French place name.

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