Mystery Monday: Nizul

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 13th C German name:

Nizul

One of the things we often do when faced with a name that doesn’t provide us with any easy starting points is to just plug it into google and see what comes up.

Well! That was certainly an interesting exercise with this name. Google certainly thinks it’s a name, as many of the first page of hits were to various name related websites, none of which had any information about the name at all (some of them didn’t even know if it was masculine name or a feminine name!) but our favorite was a website dedicated to Kabalarians, who have this to say about the name:

Nizul

(For the record, absolutely none of this is true).

Sometimes, when dealing with an unknown name, providing no information is better than providing false information. But perhaps one of you recognise the name and can help us identify it? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!

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Solution Saturday: Iesmonda/Jesmonda

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 solution is for a 16th C Italian feminine name that we had two variants of. As it turned out, we actually had a third — but hidden under a different header name! But Gismonda, Gismunda, and Iesmonda are all variants of the same name, Gismunda, and all the citations will be together in the same entry in the next edition.

The name gained its popularity in Italy as the result of Boccaccio’s Decameron. If you haven’t ever read the Decameron, what better time than during a modern-day plague to read it?

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The Tiffany Problem

To set the scene: you’re reading a book that takes place in medieval times. It reads as well-researched, and though it might not be perfectly accurate, no detail in it so far has taken you out of the story. There hasn’t been any looking up from the pages to make skeptical eye contact with some imaginary camera, like a character in a tv show. So far, all is well, or at least, convincing.

As you’re reading, you come to, say, a banquet. There’s a famous lady in attendance, and you are going to meet her. She appears on the scene. And her name is . . .

Tiffany.

Wait, what? No way there’s a Tiffany in this book! Not when there are other women running around with convincing names like Blanchefleur, Isolde, and Ermentrude. And not when we in our modern times have Tiffany & Co. Jewelry and the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a friend named Tiffany!

You, dear reader, have stumbled into what fantasy author Jo Walton coined as the Tiffany Problem. Tiffany is actually a medieval name that goes back to the 12th century! We even have an entry for it in the Dictionary here! Tiffany comes from Theophania, which itself is another name for the Christian holiday Epiphany. It was common for people in England to name their daughters Tiffany, or some variation, if they were born or christened near the holiday. But in our modern perception of the medieval world, Tiffany just doesn’t fit.

In other words, the Tiffany Problem describes the tension between historical fact and the average, everyday person’s idea of history. So even though authors may research carefully and want to include historically accurate information in their book—like a medieval character named Tiffany—a popular audience likely won’t buy it. And it’s not just limited to names, or books!

Take, for example: medieval people and bathing—did they do it? Many people would say, no, they did not.

However, the average medieval person was pretty into bathing! People who lived during the middle ages often had their own wooden baths, and if they didn’t, they would bathe in a nearby water source. They even used soap and would sometimes scent their bathwater with herbs! Medieval people also washed their hands before and after meals because they knew eating dirt and grime was bad. Not to mention what a big deal bathhouses were across Europe! Bathing was a leisure activity, a communal one, and usually a daily one. So yes, medieval people bathed [1]!

Another example: If a book or TV show or movie takes place in old-timey Europe, all the characters would be white, right?

Wrong! There were people of color in Europe! Just because we tend to perceive the European past as white, doesn’t mean it actually was, à la Tiffany Problem. If you take a good look at the art produced throughout pre and early modern Europe, and if you dig deeper to find the unseen or hidden art that actually depicts black and POC individuals, you’ll find a significantly more diverse representation of life in Europe during these times. For a more in-depth look at people of color in European art, check out this blog!

And if you want more than just art to illustrate (get it?) this point, let’s skip to a little later in the timeline and talk about what the docks of 19th century England looked like. English sailors making the voyage to India had to go around the Cape of Good Hope—an extremely dangerous journey, during which many sailors died.

Undermanned, the surviving sailors needed to refill their crew for the return voyage, and who did they use to do it? Locals from the docks in South Asia. But it was a one-way trip for these green seafarers.

Once back in England, the European mariners would leave their inexperienced South Asian crewmembers on the docks to fend for themselves and hire experienced sailors for the next voyage (and repeat). So, there were lots of non-white people left on the docks who took up whatever work they could with their experience [2].

To conclude, here’s one last example! To set the scene (again), you’re reading a book set in Victorian England—a scandalous one. You come to a chapter that describes someone looking saucy and doing something a bit risqué. Are you picturing it?

Next question: are nipple piercings part of your picture? Probably not! But nipple piercings were having a moment in 1800s England (and France, too)! Women and men got themselves the piercings to be both trendy and titillating (pun intended). But you couldn’t really put that in a book that’s trying to be and be seen as historically accurate. . . could you [3]?

The next time you encounter TV, movies, or books set in pre-20th century Europe that has people of color present (or cleanliness standards), maybe think about the Tiffany Problem before brushing it off as inaccurate. Maybe it’s time we start to change our perceptions, and open up to accurate, if sometimes zany, historical facts and occurrences!

Notes:

[1] https://going-medieval.com/2019/08/02/i-assure-you-medieval-people-bathed/

[2] https://medium.com/swlh/the-tiffany-problem-when-history-makes-no-sense-703b86522627

[3] https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/a3wgez/the-titillating-rise-of-nipple-piercings

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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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The Battle for Claude

The year was 1546. A man named Chappuis wanted to name his son “Claude” after one of his relatives. Unfortunately for Chappuis, he lived in Calvin’s Geneva, where “Claude” happened to be the name of a local saint highly honored by Catholics. 

This probably wasn’t a coincidence when Chappuis’s relative was named “Claude,” as the Catholic practice of naming children after local saints was very common in the area, but Chappuis didn’t seem to care much about the name’s saintly connection. He was more interested in honoring his family heritage.

Chappuis took the boy to a local pastor to be baptized. The pastor was Protestant, but as Chappuis had no explicit intention of actually honoring the local saint, he likely did not expect this to be an issue.

How wrong he was.

The pastor agreed to baptize the child, calmly began the ceremony, and pronounced over the boy, “I baptize you in the name of Abraham.” Horrified, Chappuis physically grabbed his son back from the pastor. His community joined him in anger, and a large group followed Chappuis out of the church.

Hypolite Rivet, a very powerful man in the community, took Chappuis’s side. He argued that the pastor had no right to name the child, as that decision was up to the parents and godparents.  Chappuis’s struggle also reached the heart of a woman named Nevet, who was the wife of one Claude Vouvrey. 

Before the Reformation, Nevet had been a midwife, so she may have performed baptisms in the past. She accompanied the angry group to Chappuis’s home, where she reportedly baptized the child as Claude. Nevet later denied this before the consistory, which presented her only with remonstrances and an order to serve her own husband. 

Chappuis appeared before Calvin’s consistory later that month. He claimed that his son Claude had been cheated of a proper baptism, as the pastor had, for some indecipherable reason, stopped speaking before finishing his sentence: “I baptize you in the name of Claude in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” 

The consistory was angered by Chappuis’s insistence on the name “Claude.” Chappuis argued that it was his right to name his own child. He said that if he were denied this right, he would refuse to give the child his proper baptism for another fifteen years. 

Calvin took the case before the Small Council at the end of the month. He argued so passionately about the importance of regulating names that some magistrates considered him overzealous. 

Still, the Council took his side. It sentenced Chappuis to a few days in prison, as well as remonstrances, a public confession, and fines– a punishment far exceeding Nevet’s. 

Furthermore, the Council officially decreed that though parents could choose their children’s names, they may only select names that come from the Bible. That November, the Council allowed Calvin to write a public list of prohibited names. The name “Claude” was officially banned. 

Before the Reformation, “Claude” was Geneva’s third most popular name among both boys and girls. After the Reformation, the name “Claude” was practically nonexistent. Before the Reformation, about 50% of children were given saints names, while the other half were given biblical names. After the Reformation, about 3% of children were given saints names, while 97%  were given biblical names. 

Parents chafed against this restriction, partially because they felt it infringed on their rights as parents, but also because it infringed on the honor of their heritage. The names they were prohibited from using were the names of their fathers, their godmothers, and even themselves. 

In fact, the officer of the consistory, the very man who likely brought Chappuis before the Council, leading to his imprisonment over the name he chose for his son… was none other than Nevet’s husband, Claude. 

Read more about this case and other fascinating stories about the conflict between Calvin’s consistory and parental wishes in this great article by Jeffrey Watt on JSTOR.

Watt, Jeffrey R. “Calvinism, Childhood, and Education: The Evidence from the Genevan Consistory. The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 33, pg. 439-456. 

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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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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

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The Quest for Arthurian Manuscripts

One of the projects I’ve been working on this summer is creating a spreadsheet of Arthurian names and the manuscripts in which they’re used. Wikipedia was helpful in listing Arthurian character names and stories, but we found it a little harder to track down the manuscripts in which a given story might exist.

Enter ArthurianFiction.org. Created for a project led by Bart Besamusca from 2004-2008 at Utrecht University, this website provides a searchable database of Arthurian manuscripts. Obviously, I couldn’t wait to check it out.

There are three different types of searches you can do in this database, and each provides many filters to sort your results. 

The first is the Manuscript search. Here, you can find a list of manuscripts and their locations. You can filter by physical qualities of the manuscript, such as presence of illustrations, leaf size or quantity, or, my personal favorite, narratives contained within. 

You can also search for Narratives, either by their length or origin, or even by the manuscript in which they appear. This will give you a list of the Arthurian stories that meet your criteria. 

Finally, you can search for Persons, which allows you to filter by creative type, gender, or manuscript to help you find real people who contributed to the Arthurian texts. 

Since my team already has a list of the stories we want to study for names, we mostly stick to the Manuscripts tab. This is an example search I made for the project last week.

The names Loholt, Dindrane, and Claudas are all mentioned in the story “Perlesvaus,” so I went to the Manuscripts tab, and scrolled down to the Narratives filter. When I typed in “perlesvaus,” it indicated I had found eight results. 

I clicked to see my results, and the database gave me this list of manuscripts that contain the story of Perlesvaus. 

I clicked on the first result, a manuscript from the library Bürgerbibliothek in Bern. It gave me the shelfmark and some information about its date of origin, as well as some info further down the page about the other contents of the manuscript and what bibliographies have cited it in the past. 

The database has a field for linking to a digital facsimile of the manuscript, but this one was blank. In my experience, though, you can’t give up hope of finding an online manuscript that quickly. Because this project is from 2008, it is not completely up to date. This may occasionally influence the actual manuscripts found, but the most frequent error I noticed was a lack of links to digital versions– many have been uploaded in the last ten years or so. 

But that’s all right, because the database gave me enough information to look for a digital version myself. I typed the library and shelf number into a basic Google search, and it took me right to the manuscript page on the Switzerland’s virtual library website. Not only did this page have some more detailed information missing from the Arthurian database’s entry, it had a link to an online text!

Links to digital facsimile and top of a page for of Composite Manuscript: Garin le Loherain, Perceval, Chroniques, Parthenopeus de Blois, Durmart le Gaulois etc., French

Not all of the manuscripts I google like this have digital versions, but it’s definitely worth a try– it worked out for this manuscript!

Overall, the Arthurian Database has been extremely helpful for us in tracking down manuscript options for specific narratives. It’s not completely up to date, so outside research is still necessary, but it provides a great starting point. Although it doesn’t contain every Arthurian text we are seeking, it contains a great deal. I have a much easier time finding manuscripts for the stories catalogued on this website than when I search for manuscripts on my own. 

Check out the Arthurian Database for yourself here. It’s a great website for research– or for fun!

Besamusca, Bart. “Arthurian Fiction in Medieval Europe: Narratives and Manuscripts.” Arthurian Fiction, 2008, http://www.arthurianfiction.org/.

Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 113: Composite Manuscript: Garin le Loherain, Perceval, Chroniques, Parthenopeus de Blois, Durmart le Gaulois etc., French (https://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/bbb/0113).

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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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