Tag Archives: Aidan

Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 51-100 for boys

At this rate, we’re probably going to only make it through the top 100 before the month is out. One thing that has been interesting about each group of names that we’ve looked at is how consistent the relative popularities of different name types have been, with Biblical names being the most common amongst the boys’, and relatively unrepresented amongst the girls. We’ll see that trend continue as we move down to the top 51-100 of the boy’s names, and thus even if we don’t investigate any further, we would not be surprised to see this trend trickle even further down the list. But let’s see what else we can find!

As we noted, the Biblical again dominate this group, but this time we start to see the influence of non-English spellings on American names. Firs we have two variants of John: Evan (67), a medieval Welsh form, and Ian (76), modernly generally treated as a Scottish form but medievally actually found in the Low Countries, Germany, and Eastern Eruope. Then we have two Spanish forms: Jose (80) and Mateo (85) (this is, of course, also an Italian form!). Amongst the standard English forms of the names we have but two New Testament names — Thomas (no. 51) Nathaniel (97) — compared to a wide range of Old Testament names: Aaron (52); Eli (53); Jeremiah (55); Josiah (57); Jordan (60); Adam (73); Asher (83); Zachary (88); Ezra (92); and Elias (100).

Of these names, a few deserve extra note. First, neither Jeremiah nor Josiah are typical medieval spellings: before 1600, both were more commonly spelled with the Greek influenced form -ias. This is exactly where Elias (as opposed to Elijah) comes from, and if you check out the variants of Zachary, you’ll find -ias forms there as well. Second, we lack entries for Eli, Ezra, and Asher: This is a reflection of the fact that these names were rarely used by Christians until the 17th C, being more commonly used by Jews — and so far, our coverage has a distinct dearth of Jewish records. Third, it is debatable whether Jordan should be considered in this list. Certainly, most people associate the name with the Biblical river Jordan. And this association is ancient and honorable: The name was popular in the Middle Ages particularly amongst those who had been on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and brought back water from the Jordan River to baptise their children. However, it is unlikely that this was the original root of the name; instead, the root appears to be an Old German name Jordanes. (The complications surrounding the name are why we don’t yet have an entry for it, despite the fact that we have examples from England, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, from the 11th C to the 16th!)

We then have a slew of given names that were not originally given names, but surnames — and if we collect all four groups, locative, occupational, patronymic, and descriptive, together, they outnumber the Biblical names. The place names are almost all English in origin: Colton (59), Brayden (61), Lincoln (66), Easton (78), Brandon (82), and Bentley (93). The one exception is Xavier (90), an Old Spanish form of a Basque place name deriving from etxe berri ‘new house’ or ‘new home’. The occupationals are all medieval English: a Parker (72) maintained a park or game preserve; Chase (74) was a name for a hunter, someone who chases; a Cooper (77) made barrels while a Tyler (81) lay tiles and a Sawyer (94) sawed wood. A Ryder (98) is one who rides out, and this specific spelling is not modern, but can be found in the 16th C. In our patronymics group we have already seen a variant of Jaxson (84) in an earlier post. Hudson (65) is ‘son of Hudd‘ — a pet form of either Hugh or Richard. Nolan (71) could also be put under the “Irish” heading below: It derives from the Irish clan byname Ó Nualláin, which in turn derives from Irish nuall ‘noble, famous’. There are two descriptive: Cameron (56), from Irish camshron ‘bent nose’ and Blake (96), which has two equally plausible, and contradictory origins: It can be from both Old English blǣċ ‘pale, bright, shining’ and blæc ‘black, dark’. Finally we have Carson (89), a Scottish surname of uncertain origin. Early forms include Carsan, Acarson, and Corsan, and it may have been originally a place name.

The next biggest groups are the names of Greek and Latin origin. For the former, there is Nicholas (62), popular throughout Europe; Angel (64), concentrated in Italy and Iberia; Jason (86) and its nickname Jace (75), which we could also place in the Biblical names category above, and if we had any medieval examples of the name we probably would have — modernly, the Greek hero rather than the obscure New Testament character is the more likely root of the name; and Theodore (99), a rare name medievally and one easily confused with forms of Theodoric. In the second group, we have the imperial Adrian (58), especially popular in the Low Countries; lordly Dominic (68), also spread throughout Europe; saintly Austin (69), this form an English contraction of the larger Augustine; and Leo (91), which is equally derivable from the Latin and the Greek.

This leaves us with six names, half of which are Irish: Connor (54) is an English form of the Irish name Conchobhar, which was popular in Ireland from the 8th to the 16th C; Kevin (79) is an English form of the early Irish saint’s name Cáemgen used in the 6th and 7th C. The name was not otherwise used, until it was revived in the modern period, but the place name Caisleáin Caoimhghin was recorded in English in a variety of spellings throughout the Middle ages, including Castelkevyn in 1308 and 1547, Castle Kevin in 1590, Castlekevin in 1542, and Castrum Kevini in 1343; and Ayden (87) is a variant of Aiden, which we’ve discussed earlier in this series.

What is most surprising about this group of names is that we have but one name of German: Robert (63), which had held sway for centuries as one of the most popular names. We also have a name of Welsh that we discussed in detail a few months ago as part of our Arthurian names series: Gavin (70). Last in the group we have one name which is purely modern: Kayden (95). The most tenuous connection that we can make from this name to the Middle Ages is via the Scottish surname Cadenhead, originally the name of a place at the head of the Caldon or Cadon Water in Selkirkshire. But this is at best a retrospective connection.

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Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 11-25 for boys

Having covered the top 10 in our previous two posts, we now go through the names in a bit quicker fashion. In this post we cover names 11-25 from the boy’s list, grouping them together according to origin.

Biblical: Elijah (no. 11) is almost unheard of in the Middle Ages in this form — instead, it was the form Elias, influenced by the Greek spelling of the name, that was extremely common, particularly in England and France, giving rise to the English vernacular Ellis. Daniel (no. 12) was used throughout Europe from a relatively early period, but it wasn’t until the 16th C that it became popular. The Old Testament is definitely the favored part of the Bible for this group of names, with four more drawn from there. David (no. 18) has enjoyed widespread popularity, showing up as the name of early Welsh and Anglo-Saxon saints and of two 14th C kings of Georgia (the country, not the state). The name was especially popular in Wales where it gave rise to a plethora of nicknames, of which Dio would be a fun alternative to re-introduce into modern use. Joseph (no. 21) is rather like Daniel: Found throughout Europe but never especially popular. Unlike Daniel, however, it didn’t enjoy a boost in use by the Puritans, likely for the same reasons that Mary was not especially preferred. Gabriel (no. 22) is a strange one; it shows up in France and Italy from the 14th C, but was almost unheard of before then, and it was not common in England at all until the 16th C. In contrast, Samuel (no. 23) was for the most part more popular in England then elsewhere.

Moving on to the New Testament, two of the gospel writers are featured: Matthew (no. 15) and Lucas (no. 16). The former was rare before the 12th C but afterwards became quite common all over Europe, and in a wide variety of forms. Lucas is the Latinized form of the name, but it was also found in the vernacular, being the spelling used in the Wycliffite translation of the Bible into English from 1395. Lucas was also the preferred Middle French spelling, and a handful of examples in Spanish and German are also known.

Irish: Aiden (no. 13) is an anglicized form of Old and Middle Irish Áedán/Early Modern Irish Aodhán, which is traditionally identified as a diminutive of the O/MIr áed ‘fire’. Áedán was a popular name in early Ireland, and the plethora of saints named this (including one who went as a missionary to northern England and founded the monastery of Lindisfarne, not far from where the DMNES headquarters are located!) has contributed to the revival of the name in the 20th C. We do not yet have any examples of the name in the Dictionary, but that is because of some of the unique problems that the main sources for Irish names — the Irish annals — present in our contexts. We’ve got a blog post brewing on that topic, as we may have figured out at least part of a solution recently.

Surnames: In this category we have three surnames, one originally deriving from a place name, one from a patronymic byname, and one from an occupation. While all of these names have medieval roots, none of them were used as given names in the Middle Ages. Logan (no. 14) derives from a number of places known by this name, the most important being Logan in East Ayrshire, Scotland. Jackson (no. 17) quite literally means ‘son of Jack’, with Jack being a diminutive of John found in England from the 13th C. The surname of occupation Carter (no. 24) derives from Latin carettarius, Old North French caretier, Middle English cart(e) (of Scandinavian origin) + -er, or Old French charetier, all meaning ‘charioteer, carter’, or the like. The byname arrived in England with the Normans and the Danes.

Miscellaneous: The three that don’t fit in any other category are an eclectic mix. First there is Oliver (no. 19). Many people have suggested is related to Latin oliva ‘olive’ but this hypothesis is not well supported. A more plausible alternative is that it is a gallicization of Scandinavian Olafr, which arrived in France with the Vikings. Indeed, the first examples we see are in France and England in the 12th C, about when you’d expect the Northman name pool to have become the Norman name pool. The name was also much less common in places that were not significantly influenced by the Vikings.

Next we have Jayden (no. 20), the first name in this list that has no identifiable medieval origins of any kind. The name came into use in the US in 1994, and its origins before that are murky.

Finally, Anthony (no. 25) is the only name on the list of Roman origin. It was the name of a Roman gens, and is itself possibly of Etruscan origin. One might expect that names of Roman inheritance to be most popular in Italy — and indeed we have a number of Italian examples — but the popularity of the 4th C Saint Anthony ensured that the name spread widely throughout Europe.

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