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New publication announcement

One of our editorial assistants, Dr. Mariann Slíz, has released a new edition of her foundational work on personal names in Hungary in the middle of the 14th century, Anjou-kori személynévtár 1343–1359 (Budapest: Magyar Nyelvtudományi Társaság, 2017). Even better, you can now download the PDF for free here!

Even if you can’t read Hungarian, the book is still an incredibly useful source, with dated citations in each entry italicized and clearly dated, and if you’re familiar with the standard onomastic resources, you’ll recognise amany of the references to further literature (e.g., Bahlow) in the entries.

Congratulations to Dr. Slíz; and to all our readers about to get lost in Hungarian names — you’re welcome.

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A Confusion of Kates

Yesterday, a friend shared with one of our editors this awesome FB post:

We wondered what would happen if we tried to do a similar chart, but of all the medieval forms of Katherine that we’ve collected so far. Ours isn’t nearly as systematic, but it is much more varied (click on the image to see it in larger format):

Variants of Katherine

It also shows that there are a lot of gaps. Not every combination in the table is possible — one wouldn’t combine Italian Chata- with German/Slavic -russcha, for instance — but there are a number of gaps that we might eventually find/fill, such as Katheline, Cattelyne, Cataryn, Catlyn, Katharin! Who would’ve thought a single name could be so varied and so interesting? My favorites are the Quat- spellings. What are your favorites? Share with us in the comments!


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Kings, Queens, and Bible Figures…or Not

It’s very easy for people with a dabbling interest in modern baby names to look at recent trends in Anglo-American naming practices (e.g., in the last century or so), compare them with what they know of modern-but-not-so-recent trends (e.g., in the 19th C or so), often taken from their own genealogical history, and then make sweeping pronouncements about “how people chose names for their children” or “what names people could name their children” before modern times. Sometimes these claims are influenced by data going even further back; everyone who knows a bit about names knows about Puritanisms like “Fly-Fornication” and “Bestiality” (oops, wait, that one’s a Pratchettism, not a Puritanism).

But it’s a mistake to think that because things changed between the 19th and the later 20th C, that everything before the 19th C was the same. Or even that because things changed in the 16th C, everything from the 16th to the 19th C was the same, and that everything before the 16th C was the same.

Today I came across someone claiming that in historical England, the only options were to name kids after kings, queens, and Bible figures. While it’s certainly true that some popular names were also the names of kings and queens (but there, the other of influence probably goes the other way: Kings and queens were given the names they were because they were common/popular, not that those names became common/popular because they were born by a king or queen) and that some popular names were also the names of important Biblical figures, this claim is problematic in a number of ways.

The first is that it overlooks a substantially-sized group of names that were quite common throughout English history: Names of non-Biblical saints, like Agnes, Margaret, Ursula, Katherine, and Cecilia, which were a particularly generative source of names for women. But even if we include that under “Bible names” (interpreting that to broadly cover “religious” names in general, rather than strictly to narrowly cover only names found in the bible), there are still numerous names — some enormously popular — that do not fit any of these categories.

Some years ago, now, we did two posts on the “most popular” women’s names and men’s names; now, these posts covered not only England, but all the names found on these lists were quite common in England. Let’s take a look at them.

Amongst the feminine names, Alice is a standout counterexample. While there were a few minor continental saints with this name, as well as an empress and a queen consort of Cyprus, these saints were not venerated in England and there’s no reason to think that the two royal women would have had any influence on the popularity of the name outside of their own lands. Yet, Alice was, and continues to be, enormously popular in England, with examples from as early as the second half of the 12th century. Another name on the list, Ellen, shows a similar trajectory: A handful of minor saints with local influence, none of whom were English, and one minor queen consort of a country other than England. And yet, we see this name in England from the early 12th C as well, it’s popularity influenced by the appearance of the name in medieval Arthurian romances (yes, medieval people named their children after literary characters, just as modern people do!).

Turning to the masculine names, Charles was never as popular in England as it was on the continent prior to the post-medieval English kings named Charles, but the name was used, despite there being no biblical, royal, or saintly connection. Another name that cannot be called biblical, royal, or saintly in England is Robert, a name whose popularity in England was driven by the Norman conquest. Sometimes, people just adopted names because they were a part of the changing cultures/fashions/fads of the times. Now, there was a minor (non-Biblical) 13th C English saint named Roger, and that might have contributed to an increase in the popularity of that name, at least in the region where the saint lived. But the name was already in use a century earlier, so the saint cannot have been the driving force (and, again, it’s more likely that a saint has a name because it was popular, rather than that the name was popular because it was given to a saint). A curious name is Walter: It is perhaps the most popular name in medieval Europe (not just medieval England) which was never the name of a saint or a ruler. This didn’t prevent it from often being in the top 5 most popular men’s names in 16th C English parish registers.

Now, these are just some of the most popular names, across all of Europe and a thousand-year-plus timespam. If we look more specifically just at England, and to some of the “not amazingly popular, but not totally unique” names, what we find there is that the number of non-religious, non-royal names proliferates. Such names include:



If we moved on to names that are found rarely, we’d have an even larger swathe of names to pick from.

So, yes, certainly names of kings and queens and saints (saints more so than Bible figures more generally) were popular names in England; but they were by no means the only choice of names available to medieval English people.


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Names of Twins: 16th C Warwickshire

One thing that’s really fun about baptismal registers is seeing the incidence of twins being baptised, and what their names are. (A friend once did a study of a number of Welsh registers, and found that male twins were disproportionately baptised Thomas, which is an interesting comment on the transparency of the meaning to ordinary people at that time.) Because readers of this blog are likely to also be iterested in what twinsets are being named, we thought we’d do a short post on the names of twins found in the Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, parish register.

Between 1558 and 1600, 26 pairs of twins were baptised: 7 were both girls, 7 were both boys, and 12 were mixed. The pairs were named:

Girl 1 Girl 2 Boy 1 Boy 2 Year
Ales John 1573
Alicia Margeria 1565
Anna Richardus 1561
Anna Thomas 1561
Anne Ales 1582/3
Anne ffrancis 1584/3
Christopher Thomas 1579
ffrancis Jone 1573
ffrancis John 1576
Elizabeth Margret 1578
Isabell Mary 1575/6
Jana ffranciscus 1563
Johannes Richardus 1594/5
Johannes Robertus 1561
Johannes Thomas 1564
Jone John 1589
Jone Mary 1584/5
Judith Hamnet 1584/5
Katerina Johannes 1566
Katherine William 1585
Katherine Anthony 1575
Margareta Maria 1568
Margret Thomas 1574
Maria Henricus 1591
Peter Thomas 1577
Richardus Thomas 1595

Those who know their literary history will spot a famous pair of twins in the list…


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Playing linguistic detective: Where is Accon?

Yesterday one of our editors went on an interesting little sleuthing trip concerning the place name Accon. We tweeted it while it happened, but thought it would be fun to also write it up here!

Historical onomastic research is filled with little sleuthing problems. Mostly, they are “what are the etymological roots of this name?” or “are these two spellings variants of each other?”, but sometimes we also get to do a bit of placename sleuthing.

For each citation in the DMNES, we record the most detailed geographical information that we can concerning where the document in question is from. Usually this means recording city + country, although sometimes the best we can do is just country. Because country boundaries change over time, we use contemporary boundaries for our geographical assignations. (So a city that was once in, say, Savoy, but is now in modern-day France will be listed as “France”.)

For charters, the city of issue is generally given — in Latin. So the first sleuthing puzzle always is “what is the vernacular form of this place name?” A lot are quite transparent, e.g., Parisius for Paris. Some of them are easy if you know your history, e.g., Aquisgrana for Aachen, or your linguistics, e.g., Aurelianum for Orléans. Others you might have to look up, but are obvious when you do (as happened to our head editor the other day when she realized Confluentia = Coblenz). There are three very useful sites that we use when identifying Latin placenames with vernacular forms are:

Sometimes in addition to a Latin form in the text, the editor might have provided the “modern”-day vernacular in their editorial header for the charter. This is great! Except when “modern” isn’t modern. A lot of the chartularia we work from are from the 19th C, and especially in German, the modern forms of the place names are not the same as the 19th C ones. Again, some are easy to identify, especially with other indicators, such as Nymwegen = Nijmegen. Often an easy way to find the current modern vernacular form is to put the 19th C form into wikipedia (or even googlemaps!) and see what it spits out — though the results shouldn’t be trusted blindly — you’ve got to use the other contextual clues as well.

All of this leads up to our recent little sleuthing puzzle, namely, a document from Accon. If you plug “Accon” into wikipedia, you get suggested the French city Accons. This is definitely not the right Accon. This is because the charter has to do with the Teutonic Order, so German rather than French, and was written by one “frater Thomas de ordine Predicatorum dei gratia patriarcha Ierosolimitanus”, also noted by the editor as “bischof von Accon”.

So! Let’s look at lists of patriarchs of Jerusalem, and see if we can find a Thomas from 1277. Lo and behold, what does Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem give us but: “Thomas Agni of Cosenza (1271–1277)”. That’s our guy! And, when Jerusalem was lost in 1187, the seat of the patriarchy moved to Acre.

Ahah! Acre! What is Acre called in (modern) German? Akkon. Shift the consonant around a bit, and you get Accon.

So not only did we solve our little mystery, we also now have our first names from a document written in the Holy Land for the DMNES.

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Mystery Monday: Polo

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 where we’ve got three instances in three different countries, and we’re not even sure that they are all in fact instances of the same name. In particular, the example from Austria may be of distinct origin from the others, as indicated by the distinct vowel; and the two Latin genitive examples may be genitives of different nominatives.


So, are these the same name? If so, what name? Got any thoughts? Other possible examples? Please share in the comments!


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The ‘elements’ of name: Water

Continue our tour of the four elements, we now come to the slipperiest, wettest one: Water.

Water names, especially ones derived from topographic elements relating to water such as Brooke, River, and Lake, but also other weather-derived names such as Rain, are pretty common in modern anglophone naming practices: But nature names like these are one of the few general categories of names which are distinctly modern. The evidence we have for water-elements in medieval names comes from three main types: compound names containing an element meaning or referring to water; names derived from named bodies of water; and names reference some water-based origin.

Of the first, we have, in England, the Old English word ‘sea, lake’, which was used as a prototheme in various compound names, both masculine and feminine. In our data, we have examples of Sehild (f.), Saulf (m.), Seaborn (m.), Seman (m.), and Serich (m.). Unlike other compound Germanic names, where the same themes show up in Germany, England, and Scandinavia, we have only found this element in English contexts with one exception — we have one example of a Swedish cognate of Seaborn in Finland (not yet in the dictionary: Sebijörs, gen.)

Of the second, we have Tiberius, a classical Roman name deriving from the river Tiber. Tiberius was the name of a Roman emperor, and, later, four Byzantine emperors. The name shows up in Germany and Italy quite early (most likely references to these emperors), and then there is a big gap before the name was revived in Italy in the 15th and 16th C, as part of the Renaissance fashion of mining classical names. In this context we should also mention the names Jordan (m., entry not yet available) and Jordana (f.). While the etymological root of the masculine name is almost certainly not the river in the Holy Land, the popularity of the name was significant increased because of its similarity to the river name, with many Crusaders returning with Jordan water and naming their children for it.

Of the final category are the names Marin (m.)/Marina (f.) and Pelagius (m.)/Pelagia (f.), Latin and Greek, respectively, for ‘of the sea’. In connection with Pelagius we should also note the name Welsh Morgan, which is etymologically unrelated to anything sea-like, but has historically been connected with Pelagius due to a false etymology of the protheme as deriving from Proto-Celtic *mori ‘sea’.


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