Looking into history: modern and classic forms of medieval names

A number of the girls names that show up in the ONS lists for 2018 are ones where there are a variety of different spellings for an individual name, some of which are modern, some of which are medieval. In this post, we explore some names that fit into this category.

  • No. 12 name Charlotte was originally a Middle French feminine form of a diminutive of Charles. While feminine forms of Charles were never as common in the Middle Ages as masculine forms, we can still find quite a variety, including Carla (560), Carlotta (2340), Carlota (2499). Karolina (701), Carolina (1013), Caroline (1013), Charlene (2340), Carolyn (5666) are other feminine diminutive forms, though this we are not sure if they were used medievally or not. Similarly, popular modern spellings Karla (1649) and Carol (4684) don’t appear to have been used medievally.

    Modern diminutives Charlie (745), Charley (767), and Charly (4684) are now often used as a unisex name, though even a couple of decades again, they were primarily only masculine. The variants Charleigh (1887), Charlee (2674), and Charli (4684) are pretty strongly coded as feminine, and the modern diminutives Lottie (63), Carly (1234), Carrie (1649), Cari (1887), Loti (2187), Lotti (2187), Lotte (2674), Carlie (3985), Carley (4684), Karli (4684), Lotta (4684), Kari (5666), and Karlie (5666) have pretty much always been primarily feminine.

    Like many other popular names, there are a number of modern compounds, including Lottie-Rose (1711), Charlotte-Rose (2340), Charlee-Rose (5666), and Charlie-Rose (5666); Lottie-Mae (1887), Lotte-Mai (2674), and Lottie-May (3985); Lottie-Rae (2901); Lottie-Grace (3178); Lottie-Anne (5666); and Carla-Maria (5666) and Lottie-Marie (5666).

  • No. 15 is a name that beautifully indicates how trends change over time; to my ear, Florence or Florance (4684) is the name of my grandparents’ generation; to my daughter, it’s a name of her generation! I have to wonder how the name was read in 16th C England — was it fresh and new and modern, or was harkening back to medieval French and Spanish romances?

    I would’ve thought that Florence was enough of a name by itself; but, no, the modern compounds Florence-Rose (3178); Florence-May (4684) and Florence-Mae (5666); and Florence-Ivy (5666) show up in the ONS data. The diminutive Flo (2090) is also modern.

  • The name coming in at no. 16 is a modern diminutive: Evie. This can be a nickname for Eve or for Evelyn, a variant of Aveline. Many people are surprised to find out that Eve was moderately common in the Middle Ages, thinking that the ill reputation of the Biblical character would prevent religious Europeans from naming their children after her. But you’d be surprised what sorts of names people gave their kids…

    Unsurprisingly, there are a number of modern compounds using this diminutive — Evie-Rose (560); Evie-Mae (602), Evie-May (1436), and Evie-Mai (1711); Evie-Grace (952); Evie-Rae (1649) and Evie-Rey (5666); Evie-Jane (2499) and Evie-Jean (5666); Evie-Leigh (2901), Evie-Lea (3985), and Evie-Lee (5666); Evie-Marie (3985); Evie-Louise (4684); and Evie-Ann (5666). The variants Eevee (2187), Evee (2674), Eevie (2901), Eviee (3178), Evy (3985), Evi (4684), and Evey (5666) are also modern.

  • Evelyn itself shows up (in this spelling) as name no. 19. Medieval forms of the name almost all retained the initial A-, which makes me wonder when the shift to E occurred (probably in the 16th C; that’s when all the vowels shifted in English!) It does mean that the wealth of variations of the name in the ONS data are pretty much all modern, including Evelina (574), Evalyn (701), Eveline (920), Evelynn (920), Evelin (1035), Evelyne (1083), Avleen (1526), Avalyn (2340), Evelynne (2499), Evlyn (2499), Evaline (3985), Evalina (4684), Evelyna (4684), Avaline (5666), Avalynn (5666), Evalyne (5666) Eveleen (5666), Evelinne (5666), and Evleen (5666) — but Aveline (3178) is medieval! — and especially including the compounds Evelyn-Rose (1272), Evelyn-Grace (3985), and Evelyn-Louise (5666).
  • The name coming in at no. 21, Phoebe, has its roots in the Greek New Testament, but it was quite rare before the Protestant reformation in the 16th C, where it was occasionally used in France. Variants such as Pheobe (1887) and Phoebie (2674) and compounds like Phoebe-Rose (1711); Phoebe-Grace (2499); Phoebe-Rae (2499); Phoebe-Mae (2674) and Phoebe-May (3985); Phoebe-Louise (4684); and Phoebe-Leigh (5666) are modern, while Phebe (2901) is reflective of Middle French orthography.
  • Name no. 22 brings us to an immense category of names: Nicknames of Elizabeth. There are so many of these, in addition to so many variants of the full name itself, that we’ll look at the full forms separately from the diminutives, and just focus on those here. How many modern nicknames of Elizabeth are found medievally? The ones in the following list in bold are all variants we’ve found before 1600: Elsie (22), Eliza (39), Betsy (145), Elise (216), Libby (248), Elisa (350), Betty (408), Elsa (437), Elissa (729), Beth (864), Elsi (1035), Lisa (1083), Betsie (1136), Elyse (1170), Bessie (1272), Elizah (1526), Elysia (1526), Elisia (1649), Liza (1711), Betsi (1887), Elis (1887), Eliz (1977), Betsan (2187), Eliska (2187), Libbie (2187), Elissia (2499), Elyssa (2499), Bettie (2674), Elyssia (2674), Lizzie (2901), Bess (3178), Beti (3178), Elsey (3178), Elysa (3518), Lissie (3518), Elize (3985), Elize (3985), Ellise (3985), Ellissia (3985), Ellsie (3985), Elyza (3985), Betsey (4684), Elysse (4684), Ilsa (4684), Lizzy (4684), Ellesse (5666), Ellisia (5666), Ellysia (5666) Elys (5666), Elza (5666), Elze (5666), Iliza (566), Ilse (5666), Lise (5666), Lissy (5666), and Liz (5666). It’s funny how even when a name has been in pretty much continuous use for more than a thousand years, you can still pick out trends in the diminutives.

    (None of the compounds are medieval, of course: Elsie-Mae (527), Elsie-May (720), Elsie-Mae (1314), Eliza-Mae (1788), Eliza-May (3178), Libby-Mae (3518), Betsy-Mae (3985), Betsy-May (4684), and Eliza-Mai (5666); Elsie-Rose (761), Eliza-Rose (1788), Betsy-Rose (3518), Elsa-Rose (4684), Betty-Rose (5666); Elsie-Rae (1136) and Betsy-Rae (4684); Eliza-Grace (2187), Elsie-Grace (2499), and Elsa-Grace (5666); Betsy-Lou (3178), Elsie-Lou (3518), and Betty-Lou (5666); Elsie-Jo (3985); Elsie-Marie (3985) and Lisa-Marie (4684); Elsie-Jayne (4684); Elsie-Leigh (4684) and Elsie-Lee (5666); Elsie-Ann (5666); and Elsie-Louise (5666).)

  • Name no. 24, Alice, is definitely a classic name, with roots going all the way back to the 9th C (and probably even earlier). It’s popularity means there’s a wide variety of spellings both medievally and modern — of the following ONS forms, beyond Alice itself, the ones in bold are all medieval: Heidi (86), Alicia (195), Aliza (211), Alyssa (229), Alessia (268), Alisha (274), Alicja (314), Alys (497), Alyssia (519), Aleeza (523), Alisa (602), Alesha (701), Alissa (778), Alesia (1083), Alizah (1170), Ailsa (1343), Alysia (1436), Alison (1490), Alissia (1526), Alisia (1711), Alysha (1788), Alise (1887), Allie (1887), Aleesha (2090), Allison (2090), Ailish (2340), Alessa (2499), Aleesa (2674), Alizay (2674), Alyza (2674), Eilish (2901), Ally (3178), Alaiza (3518), Alaysia (3518), Alecia (3518), Aliz (3518), Alyzah (3518), Eilis (3518), Elicia (3518), Aleasha (3985), Aleezah (3985), Aleezay (3985), Aleisha (3985), Alizeh (3985), Allyssa (3985), Alicija (4684), Alishah (4684), Allyson (4684), Aleida (5666), Aleysha (5666), Allyssia (5666), Alycia (5666), Alysa (5666), and Alyse (5666). (There are also quite a number of medieval forms that are not included in the above list!)

    None of the following compounds are medieval: Alice-Rose (2340), Alyssa-Rose (3518), Alissia-Rose (4684), and Alyssia-Rose (5666); Alessia-Maria (3985); Alicia-Mae (3985), Alice-Mae (4684), Alice-May (4684); and Alice-Grace (5666).

  • Name no. 32 is Mathilda, whose medieval variant forms go all the way from Mechthyldis to Mold. Of the modern variants found in the ONS, the ones in bold are also medieval: Matilda (31), Tilly (163), Tillie (587), Matylda (1059), Mathilda (1111), Matilde (1111), Tilda (1977), Mathilde (2187), Maude (2499), Maud (2674), and Matlida (5666). Unsurprisingly, none of the compounds are medieval: Tilly-Rose (1649), Matilda-Rose (2340), Tillie-Rose (3518); Tilly-Mae (2187), Tillie-Mae (2674), Tilly-May (3518), Tillie-Mai (3985), Matilda-May (5666), and Tilly-Mai (5666); Tillie-Ann and Tillyanna (both jointly 5666); and Tillie-Marie (5666).
  • The other name that Evie can be a diminutive of first shows up in the ONS data at no. 33, Eva. This particular spelling was most commonly found in Latin contexts in the Middle Ages, but other variants, including Eve (183), show up in the vernacular, and we can also find the Latin form Ewa (1887) and the diminutive Evita (5666). But forms like Ieva (1526), Evaa (3518), and Evah (5666) and compounds like Eva-Rose (1136); Eva-Maria (1788), Eva-Marie (3518); Eva-Grace (2187); Eva-Mae (2340), Eva-May (2499); Eva-Rae (3985); Eva-Louise (4684); Evaleigh (4684), Evalie (4684); Eva-Jean (5666); Eva-Lily (5666); and Eva-Noor (5666) are (all together now!) distinctly modern…
  • We said we’d treat Elizabeth and its variants separately from its diminutives, and we first run into this name at no. 47: Elizabeth (47). Other ONS forms include (those in bold are also medieval spellings) Elspeth (745), Elisabeth (864), Elisabeta (2090), Elsbeth (2187), Elisheva (3178), Elizaveta (3178), Elisabetta (3985), Elizabete (3985), Elzbieta (4684), Elisabella (5666), and Elisaveta (5666). Looking for an unusual form of Elizabeth for a future child? Check out the DMNES entry for many variants not shown here!

And this takes us through the classic names found in the top 50 girl’s names!

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Mystery Monday: Hengelestas

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 mouthful of an early Italian feminine name:
Hengelestas

Context makes it clear that it is a feminine name, but beyond that, we’re stumped. There’s nothing quite like plugging something into a search engine and getting exactly zero hits — on top of not finding it in any of the standard resources! (Unfortunately, the “standard” sources on Italian are patchy in their historic coverage, so the latter is at least unsurprising.)

We’re happy to entertain any suggestions! Let us know in the comments if you’ve got any ideas.

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Looking into history: modern and medieval patterns

In this post we continue our tour of the ONS baby name data for England/Wales 2018, specifically the girls’ names.

As we noted in our previous post, moving outside the top 10, we start to get a wider variety of names, including names that have long medieval traditions and names that illustrate common modern naming patterns.

Among the latter is the penchant for naming children after flowers and plants, which we find in the names Poppy (11), Poppie (614), Poppi (1977), and the compounds Poppy-Rose (936); Poppy-May (1343), Poppy-Mae (1887), Poppy-Mai (2674), and Poppie-Mae (5666); Poppy-Rae (1649); Poppy-Louise (2674) and Poppie-Louise (5666); Poppy-Ann (3178); Poppy-Grace (3985); Poppy-Leigh (3985); Poppy Lou (3985); Poppy-Jane (4684); Poppie-Rae (5666); and Poppy-Marie (5666). But while the name is modern, the word is certainly medieval — it is from Middle English popy, popie, from Old English popiġ, popeġ, popæġ, which ultimately takes its origin from Late Latin papaver, and it was occasionally used in England as a byname.

Other modern flower and plant names include Ivy (14), Ivie (815), and its compounds Ivy-Rose (306); Ivy-Grace (902); Ivy-Mae (902), Ivy-May (1136), and Ivy-Mai (4684); Ivy-Rae (972); Ivy-Leigh (1788) and Ivy-Lee (5666); Ivy-Jean (2674) and Ivy-Jane (2901); Ivy-Willow (2901); Ivy-Belle (3518); Ivy-Marie (3985); Ivy-Alice (4684); Ivy-Ann (4684); Ivy-Beau (4684); Ivy-Lou (4684); Ivy-Louise (4684); Ivy-Blu (5666) and Ivy-Blue (5666); and Ivy-Rain (5666); as well as Willow (20) or Wyllow (5666) and its compounds Willow-Rose (864), Willow-Grace (1200), Willow-Mae (2090), Willow-Rae (2187), and Willow-Jade (4684); Daisy (28), Daisie (826), Daisey (3985), and Daisee (5666), and their compounds Daisy-Mae (574), Daisy-May (886), Daisy-Mai (1526), and Daisie-Mae (5666); Daisy-Rae (1711); Daisy-Anne (3518); Daisy-Leigh (3518); Daisy-Rose (3518); Daisy-Lou (4684); Daisie-Grace (5666); and Daisy-Belle (5666); Holly (56), Hollie (158), Holli (5666), and their compounds Holly-May (2674), Hollie-Mae (3518), Holly-Mae (4684), and Hollie-Mai (5666), Hollie-Rose and Holly-Rose (both jointly 3518); Jasmine (75), Yasmin (321), Jasmin (657), Yasmine (778), Jazmin (1136), Jazmine (1234), Yasmina (1393), Jasmina (1788), Yasmeen (2187), Yazmin (2187), Jasmeen (3518), Jazmyn (3518), Jasmyn (3873), Yasemin (3985), Jazzmin (5666), and the compound Jasmine-Rose (4684); Hazel (179); Primrose (213); Blossom (365); Meadow (378); Fern (427); Juniper (478); Rosemary (596), Rosemarie (2187), Rose-Marie (3518), Rosie-Marie (3985); Saffron (602); Dahlia (767), Dalia (990), and Daliah (3518); Heather (952); Azalea (1136); Bluebell (1136) and Bluebelle (1526); Delphine (1694); Camelia (1711) and Camellia (3985); Tigerlily (1887), Tiger-Lilly (4684), and Tiger-Lily (5666); Lilac (3178); Lotus (3518); Maple (3985), Posey (3985); Rhoda (3985); Dalya (4684); Cedar (5666); and Forest and Forrest (both jointly 5666). Then there are names like Aster (1887) which could be either a flower name, or the Latin word for ‘star’. (Either way, we haven’t found any examples of it used in the Middle Ages as a name.)

Not every flower name is purely modern, though — Violet (53) shows up in 16th C Scotland (though the spellings Violette (1586) and Violett (4684) aren’t witnessed…yet), and forms of Viola (815) were scattered throughout Europe (though the compounds Violet-Rose (1887), Violet-Rae (3985), Violet-Grace (4684), Violet-May (4684), Violet-Ivy (5666), and Violet-Vienna are purely modern.) We haven’t found any examples of Violeta (3178) or Violetta (3178) yet, but suspect it’s only a matter of time until we do some place in Italy. Viola and Violet are Latin in origin, but the Greek root of the flower name, Yolanda (3985) was also used as a name in the Middle Ages! The Latin word for flower, flor or flos, was also itself used as a name; of the modern variants found in the ONS data, we’ve only found Flora (323) medievally; while none of Fleur (342), Florrie (843), Flossie (2340), Flori (3518), Florie (3518), or Florina (3985) have yet turned up in our data, as you can see by inspecting the entry for the name, we’ve found quite a few very similar variants! The Welsh form Fflur (1887) would, however, be atypical of medieval naming patterns.

We can’t complete our discussion of this pattern without discussing two medieval names that look like flower names but aren’t (originally). The first is name no. 13, Lily, which was originally a nickname of Elizabeth. There is little doubt that the similarity to the flower is part of why the name continues to be so popular in modern times, even if the connection with its original root name has been lost. In addition to the no. 13 spelling, the ONS also has variants Lilly (67), Lillie (189), Lilia (408), Lili (587), Lillia (990), Lilli (2340), Lilla (2901), Lilya (2901), Lilliah (3178), Liliya (3518), Liliah (3985), and Lile (5666), and compounds Liliana (177), Lillian (330), Lilian (540), Lilianna (843), Lilliana (1013), Lilly-Ann (1314), Lily-Ann (1586), Lilly-Anne (1887), Lillianna (1977), Liliane (2499), Lily-Anne (2499), Lillie-Ann (2901), Lilyana (2901), Lilien (3518), Lilyanna (3518), Lillie-Anne (3985); Lily-Anna (3985), Lilly-Anna (4684), Lillyanna (5666), Lillyanne (5666), Lilyann (5666), and Lilyanne (5666); Lily-Rose (363), Lilly-Rose (472), Lillie-Rose (1111), Lilia-Rose (3985), Lilyrose (3985), Lillia-Rose (4684), and Lilley-Rose (5666); Lily-Mae (467), Lilly-Mae (545), Lilly-May (657), Lily-May (729), Lillie-Mae (791), Lily-Mai (1436), Lilly-Mai (1887), Lillie-May (2499), Lillie-Mai (3178), Lillymay (3985), and Lilymay (5666); Lily-Grace (1272), Lilly-Grace (2187), and Lillie-Grace (2674); Lily-Rae (1586), Lilly-Rae (2187), and Lillie-Rae (2340); Lilly-Marie (3518), Lily-Marie (3518), and Lillie-Marie (3985); Lilly-Jane (3985), Lily-Jane (3985), Lilly-Jayne, Lilly-Jean, and Lily-Jayne (all jointly 5666); Liliarna (4684) and Lilliarna (5666); Lily-Belle and Lilybelle (both jointly 4684); Lillie-Jo (5666); Lilly-June (5666); Lilly-Louise (5666); and Lily-Ella (5666). (Geez. Whoever knew there were so many ways to combine Lily and Anne into one name?).

And the other name is Rose [yes, we know the link doesn’t work yet; it will be available in the next edition], which everyone thinks is from the name of the flower, but is actually of Germanic origin (though the similarity of the name to Latin rosa ‘rose’ influenced later spellings, and, as will Lily, contributed to the continued popularity of the name). In the ONS data, the diminutive Rosie comes in the most popular, at no. 26, with Rose itself being no. 55 and Rosa at no. 156. Both of these latter spellings are found in the Middle Ages, though the variant Roza (1526) is not typical of medieval spellings (we’ve found one instance of Roze in 16th C France). And while we haven’t yet found Rosie, Rosy (2340), or Rosey (3178), we have found Rosye! The diminutive Rosella (2901) is also medieval. Looking at the compounds, Rosanna (574) is — perhaps surprisingly — a medieval name, occurring once in London in 1222 (we haven’t yet finished the entry for this name); the spellings Roseanna (972), Roseanne (1977), Rosie-Ann (3518), Rose-Anne (4684), Rosie-Anne (4684), Rosanne (5666), and Roseann (5666), most influenced by the flower name, are more modern. Other compounds, such as Rosie-Mae, Rosie-May (both joint 1314), and Rosie-Mai (2499); Rosabella (1649), Rosabelle (2090), and Rosabel (5666); Rosie-Rae (3518); Rosie-Grace (4684); Rosie-Jane (4684); and Rosie-Louise (5666), and the diminutives Rosina (1343), Rosetta (2340), and Rozina (5666) are all modern as far as we can tell.

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Looking into history: The ONS baby names data for Wales/England 2018

<sings> It’s the most wonderful time of the year!</sings>

It’s the time of year that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) releases their data on names given to babies born in England and Wales in 2018! (Girls names here; boys names here).

Previously we’ve looked in detail at the US social security baby names data, devoting a whole month to the topic (starting here) in 2016, but in the past we’ve only looked at the top 10 in the English/Welsh data.

In the next series of posts, we’re going to dig deeper into the insular data. While the US Soc Sec data only goes down to the top 1000th name, the English/Welsh data contains every name given to at least three children of the same sex in the previous year. For girls, this is over 7350 distinct names, going all the way down to the joint 5666th most popular names. For boys, it’s more than 6100 distinct names, going down to the joint 4749th most popular names. (As always, the girls’ naming pool is more diverse than the boys’!)

What sorts of names can be found? So many… In this post we’ll focus on the top 10 girl’s names, pull ingspelling variants from lower down as comparative data, but in following posts we will explore the wealth of material these names provide.

Girls’ names

  1. No. 1 is Olivia, a name with a long (pre-Shakespearean!) heritage. Variant Olive (a good medieval form!) comes in at no. 120, and variants Alivia and Elivia (not so medieval) at no. 602 and no. 4684, respectively, and there are also a number of compound forms (all modern!) involving the name: Olivia-Rose (365), Olive-Rose and Oliviarose (both jointly 4684); Olivia-Grace (670); Olivia-Mae (1200), Olivia-May (1864), and Olivia-Mai (2674); Olivia-Rae (1711); Olivia-Louise (2674); Olivia-Jade (3985); Olivia-Lee (3985) and Olivia-Leigh (4684); Olivia-Jane, Olivia-Jayne, and Olivia-Jean (all jointly 4684); Olivia-Marie (4684); and Olivia-Hope (5666). Oliwia (355) shows characteristics of Slavic orthography, but we have not yet found the name in eastern Europe before 1600
  2. No. 2 is Amelia, a name which has become far more popular in modern times than it ever was medievally, despite its long medieval history. Less popular variants that turn up in the ONS data include Amelie (80), Emelia (256), Emelie (1526), Amilia (2499), Amila (2674), Ameila (3985), Amelya (3985), and Amela (4684), Amelja (5666), which are plausible medieval variants, and Ameliah (2499), Amellia (3985), Amelle (4684), Amellie (4684), Amilee (5666), and Amillia (5666), which are not.

    It is also found in a couple of purely-modern compounds, including Amelia-Rose (254), Emelia-Rose (2090), and Amelie-Rose (3985); Amelia-Grace (778), Emelia-Grace (3518), and Amelie-Grace (5666); Amelia-Lily (1526), Amelia-Lilly (2499), and Amelia-Lillie (4684); Amelia-Mae (2090), Amelia-May (2340), Amelia-Mai (3985); Amelia-Rae (2674); Amelia-Jane (3178) and Amelia-Jayne (4684); Amelia-Jade (3985); Amelia-Leigh (4684); Amelia-Hope (5666). Melia (1371) and Meliah (5666) are perhaps also variants of this name.

  3. No. 3 Ava is distinctive because it is amazingly recalcitrant to both spelling variants and diminutives — both medievally and modernly! While our entry for the name contains many instances of the diminutive Avelin(a), this is not really considered a “nickname” of Ava anymore, even if grammatically it is a diminutive. (In fact, from the 12th or 13th C on, it’s likely that even medieval people distinguished these as separate names). Modernly, we have the variants Avah (1343) — with the addition of the excrescent ‘h’ being thoroughly modern — and Aeva (4684), and it does show up in a few compounds, including Ava-Rose (256) and Avah-Rose (5666); Ava-Grace (455); Ava-Mae (513), Ava-Mai (902), and i>Ava-May (990); Ava-Marie (1200); Ava-Leigh (1314), Ava-Lea (5666), and Ava-Lee (5666); Ava-Rae (1393); Ava-Louise (1887); Ava-Lily (1977), Ava-Lilly (3178), and Ava-Lillie (5666); Ava-Jade (3518); Ava-Jayne (4684) and Ava-Jane (5666); Ava-Anne (5666); Ava-Belle (5666); Ava-Jae (5666); and Ava-James (5666).
  4. Modern name Isla clocks in at no. 4; we haven’t found any evidence for it used in the Middle Ages, though there is a similar sounding name Islana, one of our Mystery Monday names from 2017. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a popular element in modern compounds, including Isla-Rose (282); Isla-Mae (729), Isla-Mai (1788), and Isla-May (1887); Isla-Rae (778) and Isla-Rai (5666); Isla-Grace (1059); Isla-Marie (2901); Isla-Jane (4684), Isla-Jayne (5666) and Isla-Jean (5666); Isla-Jo (4684); Isla-Lily (4684); Isla-Louise (4684); Isla-Bleu (5666) and Isla-Blu (5666); and Isla-Savannah (5666). Iylah (920), Ila (1586), Islay (2187), and Aisla (2499) can perhaps be counted here as variants, though with modern coinages it can often be hard to tell when two names are variants of each other and when they are independent.
  5. No. 5 Emily is not the same name as Amelia above, even though their variant forms are similar enough that they are easily confused! The fanciful form Emilia (34) shows Latin influences, and resembles medieval Italian forms, while Francophone Emilie (328) and Slavic Emilija (826), Emiliya (3518), and Emilya (5666) were probably used in the Middle Ages, we just haven’t found any examples yet. The variant Emely (3985) is quite similar to how the name shows up in Chaucer. The variants Emilee (1887),Emilly (2340), Emili (2499), Emeli (3518), Emile (3606), and Emillie (3985) are, however, distinctly modern; while it’s not clear whether Emila (5666) is a modern or possibly medieval form.

    This name too is found in many modern compounds, including Emily-Rose (680), Emilia-Rose (1272), and Emilie-Rose (4684); Emily-May (2499) and Emily-Mae (2674); Emily-Jane (2901); Emilia-Grace (3178), Emily-Grace (3985), and Emilie-Grace (5666); Emily-Rae (3985); Emily-Anne (5666); and Emily-Louise (5666).

  6. Two years ago, no. 6 name Mia was no. 10; we don’t have anything to add to our analysis of the name from then! Just as the name itself appears to be modern, so are variants like Mya (126), Myah (494), Miya (536), Miah (806), Miyah (1013), Myia (4684), and all the compounds using it, including Mia-Rose (419), Mya-Rose (1526), Myah-Rose (3518), Miya-Rose (3985), and Miyah-Rose (4684); Mia-Grace (990); Mia-Louise (1977); Mia-Mae (2674), Mya-Mae (3985), Mya-May (4684), Mia-Mai (5666), and Mia-May (5666); Mia-Lily (3518); Mya-Rae (3718) and Mia-Rae (3518); Mia-Leigh (3985); Mia-Ann (5666); Mia-Bella (5666) and Miabella (5666); Mia-Jane (5666); Mia-Marie (5666); Mya-Jade (5666).
  7. There is no disputing that classic Isabella, no. 7, has a long and venerable history. One of the most popular feminine names in medieval England and France, the name was also used in Iberia and Italy and crept into Scotland and Switzerland via English and French influence. Of the many variants that are found in this modern data set, the ones in bold are also medieval spellings that occur in our data set: Isabelle (30), Isabel (138), Isobel (145), Izabella (370), Izabela (767), Isobelle (1083), Isobella (1136), Isabela (1436), Izabelle (1526), Isabell (1649), Izabel (2090), Izabele (2674), Izabell (3158), Izzabella (3518), Issabella (4684), Ishbel (5666), and Ysabella (5666) (and many of the ones that aren’t bolded, we have very similar spellings).

    The following compounds are all modern: Isabella-Rose (729), Isabelle-Rose (2674), Isabel-Rose (3985), Izabella-Rose (4684); Isabella-Grace (2499); Isabella-Mae (2499), Isabella-May (5666), and Isabelle-Mae (5666); Isabella-Hope (3985); and Isabella-Rae (4684). Similarly, the diminutive forms Izzy (864), Izzah (2340), Izzie (2901), Izza (3985) are a more modern development (the common medieval diminutive being Ibot(t)(a)).

  8. No. 8 Sophia is another enduring name, with a long heritage and a beautiful meaning. As with Isabella, many of the variants in the ONS data are also found medievally, including Sophie (17), Sofia (29), Soffia (3178) and Sophya (5666). We haven’t yet found Zofia (237), Sofija (1083), Sofie (1788), Sofiya (2901), Sofya (3985), or Zsofia (4684) but wouldn’t be surprised to one day find a pre-1600 example of any of these. The variants Szofia (2901) and Szofi (5666) are rather more unlikely to be medieval.

    But compounds such as Sophia-Rose (902), Sofie-Rose (1788) and Sophie-Rose (3178); Sophia-Grace (1526) and Sofia-Grace (3985); Sophia-Maria (2674) and Sofia-Maria (3178); Sophia-Mae (3518), Sofia-Mae (4684), Sophia-May (4684), and Sophie-Mae (5666); Sophie-Leigh (3518); Sofia-Louise (3518), Sophie-Louise (3985), and Sophia-Louise (4684).

  9. Beautiful no. 9 name Ella gets its modern popularity from the number of other names ending in \-ella\, of which it can be used as a nickname. (It is also sometimes treated as a nickname of Ellen and Eleanor). Despite this, it was never a common name in the Middle Ages; we have a single example from Germany. It’s also not a name that engenders many variants; Elle (507) and Aela (2901), Aella (3518) are perhaps, but may also be distinct coinages. Ellah (4864) and Elah (5666) are definitely variants, following the modern practice of sticking -h on the end of any feminine name ending in -a. Ela (478) could possibly be medieval; but given the derth of examples we have, we cannot confirm.

    It should be no surprise that none of the compounds using the name are medieval either, whether Ella-Rose (268) and Ellarose (4684); Ella-Mae (680), Ella-May (1200), and Ella-Mai (1649); Ella-Rae (1136) and Ella-Ray (5666); Ella-Grace (1234); Ella-Louise (1490); Ella-Marie (1788); Ella-Jade (3985); and Ella-Jane (3985).

  10. No. 10 name Grace is another classic, one of the few virtue names which is found outside of England before the 16th C. The nicknames Gracie (73), Gracey (2187), and Gracy (5666) are modern, as are the compounds Gracie-Mae (408), Gracie-May (761), Gracie-Mai (1035), and Graciemae (5666); Gracie-Rose (1788); Gracie-Leigh (1977), Gracie-Lee (3178), and Gracie-Lea (3985); Gracie-Anne (3178) and Gracie-Ann (5666); Gracie-Rae (3178); Gracie-Jane (3985) and Gracie-Jayne (5666); and Gracie-Loui (3985). We can probably include here both Gracelyn (5666) and Gracelynn (5666) as modern diminutives or compounds.

Moving outside the top 10, we start to get a wider variety of names, including names that have long medieval traditions and names that illustrate common modern naming patterns. We’ll take a look at some of these different patterns amongst the feminine names in the next in the next post in this series!

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What’s really in a name? Onomancy in the Middle Ages (Part 2)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a two-part guest blog by Dr. Joanne Edge. Dr. Edge’s PhD research focused on “onomancy”, a type of medieval magic based in a person’s name, a topic we thought would be of interest to readers of the blog!

Part 2 is below; you can read Part 1 here.

What’s really in a name? Onomancy in the Middle Ages (Part 2)

Dr. Joanne Edge, Latin Manuscripts Cataloguer at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

On first impressions, onomancy might seem pretty ridiculous. How can the numbers that correlate to the letters of someone’s name tell you anything about them? To answer this, we need to consider various modes of medieval European thought. The first issue to note is that, since the late Roman Empire, divination had been condemned alongside magic as illicit, and, from at least the time of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) was against orthodox Christianity for three reasons. Firstly, divination went against the idea of man’s Free Will; secondly, it was counter to the notion of Divine Providence (that only God can know the future); and finally, it worked via the agency of demons – whether the operator knew it or not. So, divination was decidedly illicit in a Christian context; though whether those doing it knew that is another matter.

BL MS Royal 6 E.VI

A magician practices geomancy while demons watch. London, BL MS Royal 6 E VI, f. 535v.
Photo © The British Library

Setting aside these theological objections, what gave this method of divination its agency? Let’s first take names. The debate over whether names were signifiers or whether they contained some essence of the bearer had been lively since at least ancient Greece, with a discussion of the meaning of names in Plato’s Cratylus (written c.360 BCE). Written as a dialogue between Cratylus and Hermogenes, here is what it says about names:

Cratylus, whom you see here, Socrates, says that everything has a right name of its own, which comes by nature, and that a name is not whatever people call a thing by agreement, just a piece of their own voice applied to the thing, but that there is a kind of inherent correctness in names, which is the same for all men, both Greeks and barbarians.1

Later Neoplatonic philosophers of the third to the sixth centuries CE held that an individual’s name contained an essence of the bearer. So, in the Neoplatonic tradition, names were much more than signifiers: someone’s name said something about them.

Numbers, too, held great significance in mainstream scholastic thought. Ancient number-theory was transmitted to the Middle Ages largely via Plato’s Timaeus which conceived of numbers as the building-blocks of nature. Here he describes the creation of the world:

So god placed water and air between fire and earth, and made them so far as possible proportional to one another, so that air is to water as water is to earth; and in this way he bound the world into a visible and tangible whole. So by these means and from these four constituents the body of the universe was created to be at unity owing to proportion; in consequence it acquired concord, so that having once come together in unity with itself it is indissoluble by any but its compounder.2

Following the Neoplatonists, fifth-century thinkers such as Augustine and Macrobius emphasised the importance of numbers in creation, and from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth centuries, there was a revival of Augustinian study, which placed number theory at its centre.3

So, far from an illogical method of working out the future, onomancy’s agency was grounded in the authority of Plato, Augustine and high medieval scholasticism. Anxieties about the future – and especially around death and dying – meant that medieval manuscripts contained a variety of predictive methods, and onomancy – in the form of the Sphere – seems to have been the most popular. There are several possible reasons for this: it was relatively short, and therefore a handy space-filler; and its diagram made it look authoritative. But perhaps the most convincing explanation is that provided by Jean-Patrice Boudet, that the Sphere‘s corruption in translation, as copyists and translators tried to find the ‘correct’ version, meant that multiple examples carried on being copied together in a bid to discover the original.4

Notes

[1] Plato, Cratylus, in Plato in Twelve Volumes vol. XII, trans. Harold N. Fowler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1921), p 383.

[2] Plato, Timaeus V:32, in Plato, Timaeus and Critias trans. H. D. P. Lee (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), p. 44.

[3] Russell A. Peck, “Number as a Cosmic Language”, in Essays in the Numerical Criticism of Medieval Literature, ed. Caroline D. Eckhardt (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1980), p. 16.

[4] Jean-Patrice Boudet, Entre science et nigromance: astrologie, divination et magie dans l’occident médiéval (XIIe-XVe siècle) (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2006), p. 43.

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Mystery Monday: Galgethel

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.

How about something different this week? We’ve got an Irish name!

Galgethel

Many of the records that we have from medieval Ireland were not written by native Gaelic speakers, but rather by Anglo-Norman scribes trained in Latin, which means that sometimes their manglings of Irish names are…interesting. Interesting enough that ferreting out what the possible native name behind the Latinised form can be quite challenging! There’s also nothing quite like googling for an unusual name form and finding only half a dozen hits — three instances of the source that we got the name from, one of our own blog posts where we mentioned the name in passing, and two “historycarnival” pages citing that same blog post.

Do we have any Irish experts amongst our readers? Do you recognize this name, or at least have a guess what it might represent? Please share in the comments!

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What’s really in a name? Onomancy in the Middle Ages (Part 1)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a two-part guest blog by Dr. Joanne Edge. Dr. Edge’s PhD research focused on “onomancy”, a type of medieval magic based in a person’s name, a topic we thought would be of interest to readers of the blog!

Part 1 is below; Part 2 is here.

What’s really in a name? Onomancy in the Middle Ages (Part 1)

Dr. Joanne Edge, Latin Manuscripts Cataloguer at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

What can our names tell us about our fate? According to some modes of medieval thought, quite a lot. Here, I will describe a divinatory practice called onomancy. Onomancy – haplological for onomatomancy – means ‘divination by names’, and, if surviving manuscript numbers are any indication, the most common form of divination in the later Middle Ages.1 Divination is an ancient and cross-cultural phenomenon. Benedek Láng provides a succinct definition: it is ‘the procedure of foretelling the future and discovering hidden knowledge through the interpretation of signs’.2 There are many forms present in medieval sources, which fall into two categories – ‘active’, or set up (such as dice throwing); and ‘passive’, or spontaneous (such as omens and portents). Onomancy falls into the first category, along with other types of divination such as geomancy (drawing dots), chiromancy (palm-reading) and bibliomancy (randomly opening books, usually the Bible).

To demonstrate how onomancy works, I will use the example of the most commonly-occurring variety in medieval manuscripts, the Sphere of Life and Death or Sphere of Pythagoras. Here is an example from a manuscript produced in England c. 1375, now Oxford Bodleian Library MS Digby 46. The Sphere is most often used to predict whether a sick person will live or die, but is also used for any question about an individual requiring a yes/no answer. The six-line verse at the bottom of the page instructs the operator to take the name of the sick person and convert the letters of their name into numerical equivalents (which are found in the two outer rims of the diagram). You add these up into a total. Add the number of the day of the moon on which they first fell sick (a number between 1-30), and the number of the planetary weekday (each day has a corresponding number, usually located in or next to the diagram). These three numbers are added into a grand total and divided by 30. If the remainder is in the top hemisphere, the person will live, if in the bottom, they will die. The three columns of numbers indicate whether recovery or death will be quick, medium or slow.

MS Digby 46, f. 107r

A Sphere of Pythagoras. Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Digby 46, f. 107r. Photo: © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The Sphere is first attested in a Greek papyrus made in the fourth century CE, but it probably has much older roots. It was translated, and the earliest surviving example in Latin dates from around 805 CE.3 However, there was an inherent problem with translation into Latin. Every Greek letter has a corresponding number, but not every Latin letter does. This led to confusion as medieval Latin translators and copyists tried to find the ‘correct’ original and ascribed numbers to letters without any rationale. The result was that multiple versions of the Sphere survive with different number-letter correlations and different remainders in the centre. Another problem was posed by non-Latin letters like K and W. Most Spheres leave these out, but the copyist of a physician’s almanac, now London British Library MS Harley 5311, made in 1406, added:

Note that if there is a double letter taken from another language it should not be two numbers but one, so for William first V and then I should be used and so too of the rest.4

So, using a Sphere was not an exact science, and there was plenty of space for ambiguity.

BL MS Harley 5311

Physician’s folding almanac containing a Sphere. London, BL MS Harley 5311, leaf J. Photo: © The British Library Board

The Sphere was not the only onomantic method circulating in medieval manuscripts. Here is an experiment found in at least four manuscripts of English provenance produced in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries:

If you want to know who will die first, a husband or wife, calculate their names, and find out the numbers of the letters and divide by nine. If the number is even the wife will lead the husband to the grave. If odd the husband will be buried by the wife.5

It is not difficult to imagine why such knowledge might have been desirable to either party in a marriage!

Yet more onomantic texts survive from the later Middle Ages, such as the Victorious and Vanquished, which pits two values against one another. This was used for working out which of two generals or parties might succeed in a battle or duel.6 But by far the most commonly-surviving onomantic method is the Sphere.

Read Part 2 here.

Notes

[1] For an overview of onomancy see Joanne Edge, Nomen omen: The Sphere of Life and Death in England, c.1200 – c.1500, Ph.D. thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London (2015).

[2] Benedek Láng, Unlocked Books: Manuscripts of Learned Magic in the Medieval Libraries of Central Europe (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008), p. 123.

[3] Cologne, Erzbischöflichen Diözesan-und Dombibliotek: MS 83.II, f. 218v.

[4] My translation. London, British Library MS Harley 5311, leaf I.

[5] My translation, Oxford, Bodleian Library MS 177, f. 1v.

[6] On this tract see Charles Burnett, “The Eadwine Psalter and the Western Tradition of the Onomancy in Pseudo-Aristotle’s Secret of Secrets”, Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 55 (1988), pp. 143–67.

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