Tag Archives: Alice

Typical women’s names in early 14th C England

We’re currently working records from manorial court cases in England between 1250 and 1550 (namely, this source), and are now in the 1320s and 1330s.

One of the things that I love about court cases is how ordinary the names are; these are ordinary people, living ordinary lives. They are not royalty, they are not clerics, they are nothing that would mark their names out as unusual. So what were the typical women’s names in England at this time? Here are the ones we’ve come across so far (all in their Latin nominative forms; the actual vernacular form may have been quite different):

Margareta and Margeria, Johanna, Cecilia, Amicia, Alicia, Malota, Milisanta, Agnes, Juliana, Matilldis and Matilda, Dyonisia and Dionisia, Isabella, Emma, Athelina, Beatrice, and Katerina.

Aren’t they lovely?

Leave a comment

Filed under dictionary entries

Ealce: A variant of Alice?

Here’s another question that recently lead someone to this blog:

Is Ealce another spelling for the name Alice?

The answer is “probably not — but we can see why you might think so.”

Alice was a popular name in England from the 12th century onwards, appearing in a variety of spellings in Middle and Early Modern English. Quite a few of the vernacular forms drop the second vowel, resulting in spellings such as Alce, Alls, Als, and Alse. Less common are variants which swap the initial A for E, such as Elyce, Ellisone (both in data awaiting processing), Elis, and Ellis; and all of these may be forms of Elizabeth rather than of Alice.

But to date, we have found only one variant of the name which starts with Eal-, and that not until the early 17th century (the spelling Eales is found in a parish register from Chester-le-Street in 1616). The combination of the dropping of the second vowel along with the extremely rare conversion of the initial vowel make it unlikely that Ealce is a form of Alice (though, knowing what we do about names and variant spellings, we are hesitant to discount the possibility entirely).

It is, however, a legitimate name — just one independent of Alice! Ealca or Ealce is an Old English name, deriving from ealh ‘temple, sanctuary’, and probably a short form of any of the various names beginning with this element, such as Alcwin. We do not have any definite examples of this name being used, but we do have evidence for its use deriving from place names; the place Awkley or Auckley, recorded in 1278 as Alkelaye, in 1316 as Alkeleye, and c1500 as Aulkeley, can be decomposed into this personal name plus Old English leah. [1] Regarding the personal name, SOURCE notes:

it cannot be denied that we find traces of a mythological person of the name Ealce, etc., see Middendorf, s.v. On Low German territory, in the neighborhood of Osnabrück, the geographical names Alke Krug and Alk Pool are found close to an ancient heathen place of worship. The same deity or deities seem to be mentioned by Tacitus in the Germania, c. 43: “Apud Naharvalos antiquae religionis lucus ostenditur. praesidet sacerdos mulierbri ornatu, sed deos interpretatione Romana Castorem Pollucemque memorant. a vis numini, nomen Alcis (var. Alces vel. Alci).”

So, it is a name, albeit not clearly the name of an actual person, as opposed to a mythical god, and likely not a variant of Alice.


[1] J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer, and F. M. Stenton, The Place-names of Nottinghamshire: Their Origin and Development, English Place-Name Society (Cambridge University Press, 1940), p. 6.

1 Comment

Filed under dictionary entries

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

While the top 100 boy’s names were all relative homogeneous amongst the groups that we looked at, the girl’s names are much more varied. We’ve noted in the previous groupings how rare names of Biblical origin are compared to the boy’s names; that’s not the case for this group of names in which names of Biblical origin are equal first with names deriving from surnames. This just goes to reinforce the great diversity in feminine names!

So let’s look at those Biblical names first. Sadie (52) is of American origin, originally a nickname of Sarah (58). Sarah itself is a relatively late spelling; the intrusive -h wasn’t found before the 16th C in England. Gabriella (54) is not a Biblical name, but it is a feminine form of one. While it’s masculine counterpart was used moderately commonly, the feminine form was rare outside of Spain and Italy in the Middle Ages. Madelyn (59) and Madeline (90) are two of the many variant spellings of Magdalene, originally a byname meaning ‘from Magdala’. One might view Madelyn as a prototypical ‘modern’ spelling with the y replacing i-e. And yet, Madelyn can be found in England in 1598. It’s actually Madeline that would be an atypical spelling, medievally! We include Genesis (65) in this list not because it is a Biblical name but because it is a name with Biblical origins. The penchant for naming children after book chapters is definitely a modern one! Returning to more traditional names, Eva (75) is a Latinized form of the name; it was never especially common, but it can be found in the Czech Republic, England, France, and Italy. The spelling Naomi is a post-medieval one; before the 17th C, the usual English (and French) form was Noemy or Noemi (77). Lydia (81), like Magdalene, could also be classified as a surname, given that it was originally a locative byname referring to a kingdom in Asia Minor. The name has historically been quite popular amongst Dutch-speaking communities, particularly Protestant ones. Isabelle (94) could also perhaps go into the names of French origin; you’ll struggle to find any Isabelle in the Old or New Testaments — but you’ll find plenty of Elizabeth‘s, and Isabelle derives from an Old Provençal form of that name. Similarly, one might expect to find Gianna (96) under the Italian names, but we have included it here as it is a feminine form of John. Both it and Giana can be found from the 13th C on.

It’s an eclectic group of surnames that turn up in this group. First we have the locatives: Kaylee (61) can be from either the French Cailly or the Lancashire Cayley. Hailey (64) is either from Hailey in Oxfordshire, or a descriptive for anyone who lives near a clearing filled with hay. Peyton (72) is the name of cities in both Essex and Suffolk, and Ashley (85) ‘clearing filled with ashes’ is the name of many medieval English placenames. In this subgroup we can perhaps also include Kylie (66). The origin of this name is disputed, and certainly we have no evidence that it was used in the Middle Ages. However, it is sometimes considered to be a feminine form of Kyle, which itself was a medieval placename, in Scotland. Next we have the occupationals, with Piper (68), of Old English origin and found from at least the 12th C on, and Taylor (76), of French origin, and also found from the 12th C on. The last four are all Irish patronymics in origin. Kennedy (57) is a an English form of Cennétig or Cinnéide, a rare name in Ireland used in the 12th and 14th C, and which first shows up in Scotland in the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214). Mackenzie (73) is an English or Scottish form of the patronymic byname mac Coinnich ‘son of Coinneach’. An earlier form of Coinneach, Cainnech, was used in Ireland between the 6th and 11th C. Quinn (97) is an English form of Irish Cuinn, the genitive (possessive) form of Conn, a masculine name used from the 10th to 16th C. Reagan (99) is also an anglicized form, of the masculine name Riacán used from the 9th to 12th C.

The next two biggest groups are those of Latin and Greek origin. The former kicks off with a name we’ve discussed before: Despite what many modern baby name websites nad books might say, Stella (51) is not a modern name, but can be found in 15th and 16th C Italy. Lucy (55) is a vernacular English form of a popular saint’s name, Lucia, though even in England Luce was the more typical form than Lucy. Bella (74) can be a pet form of any of various names including Isabella and Jacobella, but it can also be simply the Latin word for ‘beautiful’. The root of Ruby (83) is the gemstone name, but the name of the gem itself derives from Latin rubeus, rubea ‘red’. This is another name which many people consider to be a modern coinage which is not. With imperial roots, it is no surprise that Julia (89) has had a long history of use from classical Rome to the modern era. Some people credit Shakespeare with the introduction of the name into England, but this is false; the name was already in use there by the 13th C. Vivian (95) as the name of two early saints, but despite this the name was rarely used by women medieval. We have one late-period Italian example. Clara (98), on the other hand, enjoyed steady, if not excessively popular, usage throughout Europe.

Turning now to the Greek names, we’ve see two variants of Arianna (56), as well as one of Khloe (100). Maya (69) and Aurora (79) are two names of Greek origin (though Maya actually has more than one origin!) for which we have not yet found any evidence of medieval usage — though this is not to say that we won’t! Melanie (80) has also already shown up on this blog before, when we discussed names deriving from the color black. It was only rarely used medievally, in significant contrast to Katherine (84), one of the most popular women’s names of all time. Next, we have Alexis (86); a name which was found in the Middle Ages, but which was exclusively masculine. Its use as a feminine name is modern. Finally, we have Cora (88); we haven’t yet found an instance of the root name, but it gave rise to diminutive forms which are witnessed, including Corella and Corina.

There is but a handful of names of German origin. Mila (53) is a feminine form of Milo. The masculine form was quite common, but the feminine form was almost unused. Caroline (62) is a diminutive of Carol, a feminine form of Charles. We haven’t found any medieval examples of Caroline, but the diminutive forms were much more common than any of the full forms, with both French Charlotte and Italian Carlutia found in the late period. French-influenced Aubree (78) does not have the same origin that Aubrey has; the root name is Germanic Alberada or Alberadis. Alice (87) is an English form of a name that was popular throughout Europe in many different variants and diminutives; Alyssa (93) is one such, and while we haven’t yet found an explicit medieval instance of it, we would not be surprised to do so.

Next we have a group of names which have medieval roots as words, but were not used as names before the 19th C. The word Hazel (63) is Old English in origin, and you can read the entry for it in the Middle English Dictionary here. Autumn (67), on the other hand, is from an Old French word, used in Middle English from the 14th C. Medieval names were not generally taken from the stock of ordinary words; but one exception to this is the rise of virtue names such as Faith (91) in the 16th C. Serenity (71) is a modern coinage (it derives from Latin Serena); this word was not used in Middle English and only imported into English later.

Two names have long historical lineages but need to be classified as uncertain in origin. The usual tale of Eleanor (60) is that it’s from the phrase alia Aenor ‘another Aenor’, but this is unlikely given the early examples of the name, many of which include a -d-. Annabelle (92) has been in use in Scotland since the 12th C, and appears to be either a variant of or a misspelling of Amabel.

Brianna (82) is a feminine form of Irish Brian, and another name people point to as a modern coinage. However, Briana occurs as a name of a character in a 16th C Spanish romance, Espejo de Principe y Cavalleros. This poem was translated into English in 1578 and published under the title of The mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood: wherein is shewed the worthinesse of the Knight of the Sunne, and his brother Rosicleer, sonnes to the great Emperour Trebetio: with the strange loue of the beautifull and excellent princesse Briana, and the valiant actes of other noble princes and knightes. Now newly translated out of Spanish into our vulgar English tongue, by M.T. On an onomastically unrelated note, the “M.T.” here is one Margaret Taylor, the first woman to translate a Spanish romance into English and the first woman to have published a romance in English.

As the month draws to a close this is probably our last post in this series (perhaps until next year?), and it only seems fitting that we end with a name which in a sense epitomizes modern-day American naming practices, and which has no medieval roots whatsoever: Nevaeh (70), which is simply ‘heaven’ spelled backwards.

We hope you enjoyed this tour of the medieval roots of popular modern names!

Leave a comment

Filed under monthly topic

Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 26-50 for girls

Just as the top 26-50 boy’s names continued the strong showing of Biblical names, the girl’s top 26-50 continue the trend of being much more diverse in origin. In fact, we will see in this a handful of names which do not have any medieval European origins at all.

The biggest class of names in this group are those of Latin origin. Natalie (no. 27) derives from Latin natalis ‘of, related to birth’. Its use as a name comes from the phrase dies natalis ‘day of birth’, i.e., Christmas day, the day of the birth of Christ. The name was thus used for pepole who were born or baptised on or near Christmas day. It was never a common name, medievally. Aria (no. 29) is identical with a Latin word for ‘open space, park; courtyard; empty space’; while we haven’t found any conclusive examples of this word being used as a medieval name, there was a masculine St Ario and a related Latin feminine name Arria, which was used in the classical Roman era and also in early France. Camila (no. 43) is a variant of Camilla, the feminine form of a Latin cognomen, which was used in 16th C Italy. Claire (no. 49) is a French form of Latin clara ‘clear, bright, shining’, the name of an influential 13th C saint. The name was not much used before the 13th C, but the saint’s importance caused it to spread throughout Europe in the 14th and 15th C. Violet (no. 50) is another Latin name by way of French: it adds the French diminutive -et to Latin viola, the name of type of flower. The name was moderately popular in Scotland in the 16th C.

Next up are the names of Greek origin. The root of the name Alexa (no. 32) is the same as the prototheme of Alexander but while the masculine name was quite popular, the feminine variants are much more rare. While researching this post, we found our first example, from early 16th C Barcelona. Look for an entry on this name in an upcoming edition! We saw a variant spelling of Zoe (no. 33) in the previous post on women’s names; this spelling is the more typical spelling. Penelope (no. 34) came into use in the Middle Ages due to the fad for adopting names of classic mythology from the 16th C. Ariana (no. 46) is, strictly speaking, an Italian form of a Greek name (Ariadne). It’s a difficult name to determine if it was used medievally, since the Latin word Ariana was used not as a name but as an adjective to describe a woman as adhering to the Arian heresy! To date, we have no clear evidence that Ariana was used as a given name in the Middle Ages.

We have more Biblical names in this group than in the previous one, but still not as many as in the comparable boy’s group. The first, Lillian (no. 26) is included in the group because it is, originally, a diminutive of Lily which was itself, medievally, a nickname of Elizabeth and not related to the flower name. Hannah (no. 28) is a common modern variant of Hebrew Anna, but the aspiration of the initial vowel and the addition of the extra -h at the end was quite a late development, with Anna (no. 44), the standard Latin form, being far more common. Leah (no. 36) is a curious name: Given it’s context as the name of a relatively important Old Testament character, one would expect to find examples of it used amongst the Protestants. So far, we have not yet found any, and Withycombe s.n. Leah indicates that the name came into use in the 17th C.

In this group of names, we have our first Arabic names! One of them, has a long history of use in Europe: Layla (no. 30) was found in Arabic records in al-Andalus (Andalucia) between 700 an 1200. These same records don’t include Aaliyah (no. 48), so we are uncertain about its use in Arabic contexts in Europe.

The remaining names are rather eclectic. There are two names of Germanic origin: Allison (no. 39) is an English and French diminutive of Alice, deriving from Adelaidis while Skylar (no. 42) is not a given name at all, in origin. It is a phonetic rendering of Dutch schuyler ‘scholar’, used as a descriptive byname in the Middle Ages. Then we have two names which were originally place names: Brooklyn (no. 31) is like Skylar, a phonetic rendition of an originally Dutch place name, Breukelen. Paisley (no. 45) is a place in Scotland, which in the 18th C gave its name to the distinctive Persian textile pattern that was produced there. Two further names are best classed as miscellaneous: Nora (no. 41) can be a diminutive of a variety of names, including Eleanora, Honora, Dianora, or even perhaps Gunnora. Ellie (no. 47) too can be a diminutive of Eleanora, but also of Ellen.

Finally, we have one name of Irish origin: Riley (no. 35) is an English version of Early Modern Irish Raghallaigh, the genitive (possessive) form of Raghallach, a masculine given name used in the 13th C; one name of Old English origin: Audrey (no. 37); one name of New World origin: Savannah (no. 38), originally deriving from Taíno, the language spoken by the Taíno people of the Caribbean; and one name of modern origin: Samantha (no. 40) can be dated to the 17th C, but so far no earlier examples are known.

1 Comment

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

An Onomastic Calendar: April

  • April 1: Eleanor of Aquitaine died in 1204.
  • April 2: Baldwin I of Jerusalem died in 1118.
  • April 3: Edward the Confessor was crowned king of England in 1042.
  • April 4: Francis Drake was knight for circumnavigating the world in 1581.
  • April 5: Isabella of Hainault, queen of France, was born in 1170.
  • April 6: Raphael, the Italian painter, died in 1520.
  • April 7: Empress Mathilda becomes Lady of the English in 1141.
  • April 8: Barbara of Hesse, Duchess of Württemberg-Mömpelgard, was born in 1536.
  • April 9: Lorenzo dei Medici died in 1492.
  • April 10: Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of Henry IV of France, died in 1599.
  • April 11: Stephen IV of Hungary died in 1165.
  • April 12: Antonio de Sangallo, Italian architect, was born in 1485.
  • April 13: Paul the Deacon, monk and historian, died in 799.
  • April 14: Abraham Ortelius, cartographer, was born in 1527.
  • April 15: Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452.
  • April 16: Adelaide del Vasto, queen consort of Jerusalem, died in 1118.
  • April 17: Bernard, king of the Lombards, died in 818.
  • April 18: Lucrezia Borgia was born in 1480.
  • April 19: Pope Leo IX died in 1054.
  • April 20: Pope Boniface VIII founded Sapienza Universita Roma in 1303.
  • April 21: Saint Anselm of Canterbury died in 1109.
  • April 22: Our editor in chief, Sara Uckelman, was born.
  • April 23: Dagobert III was crowned king of the Franks in 711.
  • April 24: William the Silent was born in 1533.
  • April 25: Sancho IV the Brave, king of Castille, died in 1295.
  • April 26: Simonetta Vespucci died in 1476.
  • April 27: Ferdinand Magellan died in 1521.
  • April 28: Edward IV of England was born in 1442.
  • April 29: Saint Catherine of Siena died in 1380.
  • April 30: Amalasuntha, queen of the Ostrogoths, died in 534/535.

Leave a comment

Filed under dictionary entries

Patronymic bynames in medieval Western Europe

Today’s topic is one suggested to us via conversations on twitter, sparked by this fascinating map (found here) of the meanings of the most popular surnames in different European countries. I pointed out that as a surname ‘Martin’ means ‘child of Martin’, rather than ‘of Mars’ (a reasonable approximation of the etymology of Martin, the given name). It’s a minor point, but an important one, because it illustrates how one and the same element can have different semantic content in different contexts.

This sparked questions about why in some cultures you’d find, e.g., Martin while in others it would be Martins and in others Martinson, all to represent the same concept, ‘child of Martin’. While strictly speakings bynames are beyond the scope of the Dictionary, bynames which are derived from given names are close enough to our purview that we thought it would be interesting to devote a blog post to the topic.

Let’s begin with some vocabulary. Relational bynames are ones that indicate the bearer’s relationship to someone else. The most common type of relational byname is the patronymic, i.e., one indicating the bearer’s father’s given name. But other types of relational bynames can be found, including ones indicating the bearer’s mother (matronymics), or involving the relationships ‘wife/husband of’, ‘brother/sister of’, ‘niece/nephew of’, ‘grandchild of’, ‘foster child of’, and even more complex relationships such as ‘maternal great aunt’. (These latter ones are of course, much more rare, because only in very specialized circumstances would this information be of importance!) Because patronymics are the most common, we focus on them; some of what we say generalizes to matronymics, but not much further.

Patronymic bynames can be divided into two types: marked and unmarked. A unmarked patronymic or matronymic uses the parents’ given name unchanged (i.e., it is not marked in any way to distinguish it from the semantic form it takes as a given name). Marked forms, on the other hand, modify the given name either by changing its grammatical case or by adding a word indicating the relationship the bearer of the byname bears to the person named in the byname, or both. We call relational bynames which change the case of the given name but do not specify the relation in question implicitly marked, and ones which do specify the relation explicitly marked. With this terminology in hand, we can look at the development of patronymic bynames over the millenium after the fall of the Roman empire.

With the fall of the Roman empire came the fall of the tria nomina Roman naming system with its praenomen, nomen, and cognomen. Documents from the 7th C on tend to refer to people simply by their given names, with further descriptive information provided in special contexts, for example, clerical or regnal office. These are particularly found in witness lists to charters and diplomas, when it was important to specify, implicitly, why an individual was a suitable witness. To take a very early example, a Latin charter from around 499 (DCEL-2, charter III) is witnessed first by Chlodoveus, king of the Franks, and his queen Chlotildis, and then by:

  • Theodericus filius ejus, Rex
  • Chlodomiris Rex, filius ejus
  • Childebertus Rex, filius ejus
  • Clotarius Rex, filius ejus
  • Theodechildis filia ejus carissima

Other early examples from France include Clotarius filius Clodovei (DCEL-2, charter XXIX, dated 560), Drogo Dux Burgundiorum, filius Pipini Ducis (DCEL-2, charter CCXIV, dated to 691), Aengilbaldus filius Hildiboldi (DCEL-2, charter CCLVII, dated to 704).

This is typical of what you see in the early period: Latin records using explicitly marked patronymics, in the form of filius + the father’s name in the genitive case. Sometimes the father is indicated pronominally, as Arnallus Arnalli de Lerç et Arnallus filius ejus, “Arnal [son] of Arnal, of Lerç, and Arnal, his son” (CDCB-XV, charter MMCCVII, dated to 1090) — so in fact we have here an explicitly marked patronymic with a pronominal reference, and an implicitly marked patronymic, and evidence of three generations of men named ‘Arnal’. A similar pronominal example is seen in a Hamburg charter from 1183, which has Ernestus de Zelezen et filius eius Ernestus (HambUrk-vol1 charter CCLVII). Two other standard examples are found in another charter from the same source: Vergotus filius Dasonis and Hasso filius Heinrici (charter CLXXXVIII, dated 1149). Similar examples are easy to find by flipping through pretty much any charter book from this period. Also by this period we see evidence of the explicit marker, filius, being dropped: Petrum Rigualdi, Bernardum Guifredi, Arnallum Gaucefredi de Palera, Bertrandum Poncii de Melian, and Guillelmum Raimundi de Espasen (CDCB-XV, charter MMCCVIII, dated 1092) were the sons of Riguald, Guifred, Gaucefred, Ponce, and Raimund, respectively.

Thus in Latin records, we see marked patronymics, both implicit and explicit. Due to the fact that Latin is a strongly case-based system, unmarked patronymics are not found, because they simply do not make grammatical sense. It is only in the vernacular, in particular, languages which have gradually lost the explicit cases, that unmarked patronymics are found. Even languages that shed most of their cases often retained distinct genitive forms — for example, in English, we have both John (nom.) and John’s (gen.) — and in these contexts we can find both marked and unmarked patronymics.

With this background and terminology in hand, let’s survey the different patterns of patronymic bynames that can be found across European vernaculars.

Old English: The most common type are explicitly marked patronymics, putting the father’s name in the genitive case and using sune, sune ‘son’ or dohtor, dohter ‘daughter’. Examples: Osferð Oggoddes sune (972×992), Ælfelm Ordelmes sunu (c. 1060), Wulfeh Ordeges suna (973×987) [Tengvik, p. 161]. A less common form added -ing to the root name, e.g., Dudding ‘son of Duda’ [Reaney & Wilson, p. xix].

Middle and Early Modern English and Scots: All three types of bynames can be found in Middle and Early Modern English: Unmarked patronymics, such as Thomas Richard 1276; marked implicit patronymics, such as William Ricardes 1327; and marked explicit patronymics, such as Murdac Richardesson 1359 [Reaney & Wilson, s.nn. Richard, Richardson]. The explicitly marked forms, especially those found in the north, are often attributed to Scandinavian influence, but there is no reason not to credit the surviving influence of the Old English patterns. In the Lowlands of Scotland, the vernacular there developed out of English, and used the same types of patronymic constructions.

Old, Middle, and Early Modern Irish: Exclusively explicitly marked patronymics, using mac ‘son’ or ingen (OIr/MIr)/inghean (EMIr) ‘daughter’. Examples: Aneislis mac Domnaill (1049), Dobhailen, mac Gormghusa (885), Gormlaith ingen Donncadha (861), Rois, ingen Concobuir, mic Concobuir (1472) [Irish Annals].

Welsh: Both unmarked and explicitly marked patronymics occur. In unmarked forms, the father’s name is simply appended to the child’s name, without any modification; as a result, patronymic bynames in Welsh are often mistaken, by those who don’t know about the unmarked patronymic construction, as examples of double given names. However, multiple references to the same person can make it clear that, e.g., Jenkin Owen and Jenkin ap Owen are variants of the same name. In marked forms, the father’s name occurs unchanged after the relevant word for ‘son’ or ‘daughter’, with one type of exception. The name doesn’t change its grammatical case, but it can ‘inherit’ the end of the word for ‘son’, ap or ab. The final bilabial stop (voiced or unvoiced) sometimes attaches to the beginning of the next word, and this is the origin of modern surnames Price (ap Rys), Bevan (ab Evan), Bowen (ab Owen), etc. Sometimes in 16th C English contexts, one can find hybrid forms, such as ap Price [Hughes, passim].

French: Old French distinguished two cases, the nominative and the oblique. Marked patronymics were formed using the oblique case, either with or without the preposition de ‘of’; but from the modern perspective, most French patronymics end up looking unmarked. This is because the use of the preposition de was much less common than simply using the oblique form (though in the 1292 census of Paris, one can find bynames such as de Lorenz, de Nicole, de Nichole, de Remy, and de Touz-Sainz alongside the more common pattern without de); and, more importantly, while in other languages, it was the nominative form of the name that became the fossilized form when the case system disappeared (as happened in English), in French, it was the oblique that eventually eclipsed the nominative. As a result, Wautier, Simon, Rogier, and Jehan are the ‘expected’ forms of the names, when in fact it is Wautiers, Simons, Rogiers, and Jehans that are the nominative forms. But by the time Middle French comes around, it was the oblique that had become the default form, so that, e.g., Martin would be the form used in both Jehan Martin ‘Jehan [son] of Martin’ and Martin Jehan ‘Martin [son] of Jehan’.

Spanish and Portuguese: These two linguistic contexts can be grouped together due to their strong similarities, regardless of whether we’re looking at Galician, Castillian, Catalan, Portuguese, or other. The vast majority of the vernacular bynames in these regions were marked but implicit. Many modern day familiar surnames of Iberian origin reflect this: Sánchez from Sancho, Rodríguez from Rodrigo, López from Lope, Hernández from Hernando, González from Gonzalo, Gutiérrez from Gutierro, Martínez from Martín, etc. (All of these can be found in late 16th C records [Catalogo].) In Portuguese similar constructions can be found, such Guonçallvez from Guonçllo, Anrriquez from Annrrique, and Fernandez from Fernão. Some instances of unmarked patronymics can be found, e.g., Dinis, Duarte, Francisco, and Felipe. Quite rarely, a combination of a grammatically marked form with an explicit preposition can be found, e.g., de Lopez, d’Allvarez or d’Allvariz, and de Çesar (these all come from [Livro]).

Italian: Italian patronymics are, compared to some cultures, gloriously simple. You take the father’s name (or the mother’s name) unmodified, and place di ‘of’ before it, as is exemplified with these names from early 15th C Florence: Antonio di Donato di Nuccio da Chascia, Antonia di Nanni, Buonaghuida di Martino, Giovanni d’Andrea di Maso funaiuolo, Piera di Giovanni da Monteaghuto. Occasionally, the word for ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ is included, as can be seen in the name Simona figliuola di Simone de Bardi [Herlihy & Klapisch-Zuber].

German: Medieval German retained a strong case-based system throughout the Middle Ages, distinguishing the nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. Despite this, the most common type of patronymic byname in German contexts is the unmarked patronymic. Examples involving the addition of -sohn can be found, but they are much, much rarer. In the 15th and 16th centuries, an interesting pattern can be seen amongst women’s names: Women occasionally use as their byname their husband’s or father’s full name, but with a feminine or possessive suffix on the end, e.g., Allet Petter Schelhornyn, Katterina Crista Puffanyn, Margreth Ulrich Rottmundin, Helena Wilhelm Rumlin, Anna Fricz Ditterichs, Anna Kuncz Heßin, Kun Mertten Flinderin, Katterina Herman Schneiderin, and Kun Fricz Fruppassin [Nurn1497].

Dutch: In contrast with German, where explicit markers for ‘daughter’ and ‘son’ are rare, the default Dtuch (including Flemish/Belgian) patronymic is explicit. For example, one sees Aelbertssoen more frequently than Aelberts, Aerntssoen and Aerntszoon rather than Aerts, Claessoen and Claiszoon rather than mere Clais [Smit, passim]; nevertheless, the implicitly marked and the unmarked versions can be found, in lower frequencies.

Scandinavian: Just as we can dump all the Iberian languages together, so too can we treat the Scandinavian languages (Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and their regional dialects) in one group: Far and away the most common type of patronymic is the marked explicit patronymic, with some variation of the word for ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ followed by the father’s given name in the genitive case. Exceptions to this pattern are rare; when they occur, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the word for ‘son’ has been omitted, resulting in an implicitly marked patronymic, or whether the name has simply been abbreviated in written contexts.

We haven’t even touched on the constructions found in Eastern Europe, such as Polish, Czech, Hungarian, etc. Perhaps we can devote a future post to these!


[Catalogo] Luis Romera Iruela and M. del Carmen Galbis Díz, editors. Catalogo de Pasajeros a Indias Durante los Siglos XVI, XVII y XVIII, volume V (1567-1577). (Ministerio de Cultura, 1980.)

Herlihy, David and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Census and Property Survey of Florentine Domains in the Province of Tuscany, 1427-1480. Machine readable data file. Online Catasto of 1427 Version 1.1. Online Florentine Renaissance Resources: Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1996.

Hughes, H. Seymour, The Registers of Llantrithyd, Glamorganshire. Christenings, 1597-1810; Burials, 1571-1810; Marriages, 1571-1752 (London: Mitchell and Hughes: 1888).

[Irish Annals] (1) Donnchadh Ó Corráin, ed., “Annals of Tigernach” (WWW: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork, Ireland, 1996) [URL: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100002/%5D; (2) Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Mavis Cournane, ed., “Annals of the Four Masters, Volume 1” (WWW: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork, Ireland, 1997) [URL: http://www.uccre.ie/celt/published/G100005A/%5D; (3) Donnchadh Ó Corráin & Mavis Cournane, “The Annals of Ulster” (WWW: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork, Ireland, 1997) [URL: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100001A/%5D.

[Livro] Livro do lançamento e serviço que a Cidade de Lisboa fez a ed Rei Nosso Senhor no ano de 1565; documentos para a historia da Cidade de Lisboa. (Lisboa: Câmara Municipal, 1947-48).

Smit, Johannes Gradus, Bronnen voor de economische geschiedenis van het Beneden-Maasgebied: Tweede deel, Rekeningen van de Hollandse tollen, 1422-1534 (Den Haag: Instituut voor Nederlandse geschiedenis, 1997).

Tengvik, Goesta, Old English Bynames (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksells Boktryckeri-A.-B., 1938).


Filed under Uncategorized

Nicknames: Latinate diminutives in -el, -et, -in, -on, -ot

In this post, we look at a collection of diminutive suffixes: -el, -et, -in, -on, -ot, and their feminine forms. Withycombe calls them French [1], and while their use in England was certainly strongly influenced by the invading Normans, the suffixes ultimately derived from Latin, and as a result can be found throughout Romance-speaking areas. These diminutive suffixes were used individually but also in combination with each other, as in the name Mathelin, a French diminutive of Matthew formed by adding -el and then -in, or in Arthurian Lancelot, formed from Lance by addition of -el and -ot.

Many common modern names reflect the use of one or more of these suffixes. For example, Marion and Alison, now often considered independent names in their own rights, derive from Mary and Alice with the addition of -on. Another familiar modern name, Colin, shows the use of -in added to Colas, a French hypocoristic of Nicholas; Col(l)ette is constructed in a similar fashion from Nicole). Harriet derives from Harry, an English spelling of the French pronunciation of Henry, while Charlotte is a feminine form of Charlot, a French diminutive of Charles; the Italian cognate is Carlotta. The same suffix added to Elias gives Eliot.

The suffix -ot was quite popular in feminine names in both England and France between the 14th and 16th C, when we can find names such as Agnesot (from Agnes), Clarote (from Clara), Em(m)ot (from Emma), Harriot (like Harriet), Margot and Marguerot (from Margaret), Mariot (from Mary), Ph(e)lippote (from Philipa). In England, Wil(l)mot was an incredible popular diminutive of Willelma in the 16th C.

In our earlier survey of where diminutive forms are the most popular, we saw that Portugal and Spain were among the regions with the lowest percentage of nicknames. What we do see in Iberia are diminutives formed by these suffixes. In Spain, the most common suffixes are -ino/-ina and -ot (for men) and -eta (for women), with examples such as Angelina (from Angela), Blanquina (from Blanche), Bernardino (from Bernard), Francina (from Frances), Huguet (from Hugh), Johanot (from John), and Loreta (from Laura). We have only two diminutives from Portugal — not enough to draw any conclusions from — and both are examples of Joaninus, an early 13th C diminutive of John.

Finally, we comment on the use of these suffixes in Italy, in particular in one data set from Imola in 1312 [2]. This dataset has 2165 men bearing a total of 734 distinct name forms, and 326 women bearing a total of 174 distinct name forms; in this data set, nearly half of the names are hypocoristics or diminutives. There are 35 distinct diminutive suffices in the data, ranging from suffixes which appear only once to one which has 105 instances. 26 are used by men, 9 by women, and one is used by both men and women. Seven of the suffixes are compound, as in the examples of Mathelin and Lancelot above. In four cases, the first suffix is -(l)in-, being compounded with -ella, -ell(i)us, and -ucius; two of the remaining three have the same second suffix, -ellus, being compounded with -in- and -con-. As a result, the data shows a strong preference for compounding with -lin- and -ellus, with only one compound suffix containing neither of these (Bertholloctus, from Berthold); and this is the only example of this compound. The penchant the Italians had for stringing together diminutive suffixes results in some rather short names having excessively long nicknames. The most amusing example of this is Ugo, an Italian form of Hugh. The root name is about as short as you can get, but take a look at the variety (and length) of the nicknames!

  • Ugetus
  • Ugucio
  • Ugutio
  • Ugollus
  • Uguitio
  • Ugutius
  • Ugolinus
  • Ugezonus
  • Ugozonus
  • Uguzonus
  • Ugucionus
  • Ugoçonellus
  • Uguçonellus
  • Ugilinellus
  • Ugolinellus
  • Ugolinucius
  • Ugolinutius
  • Ugolinellius
  • Ugunzuyellus
  • Uguitionellus

These examples put paid to the idea that the nickname is a shorter, easier-to-use form of the name!


[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. xxxii.

[2] Uckelman, Sara L., “Given Names in Early 14th-Century Imola”, article in preparation.

Leave a comment

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic