Tag Archives: Anne

Protestant names: New Testament influences on women’s names

Having completed the Old Testament, we now move on to the New Testament. When Bardsley discusses the rise of what he identifies as a specifically Puritan naming system (though we have already begun to argue against this in our first post on the topic), he labels the trend “the Hebrew invasion” [1], giving the impression that it was names of Hebrew origin, specifically, that were being taken from the Bible. When we look to the New Testament, we see that this is not the case: Plenty of Greek and Aramaic names were first adopted in the second half of the 16th C. Accordingly, we divide the women’s names that we look at into those of Hebrew origin and those not.

Names of Hebrew origin

Anne: This name could be classified as either an Old Testament name or a New Testament name. In the OT, this was the name of the mother of Samuel (more often modernly transliterated as Hannah); in the apocrypha, Anne is usually identified as the mother of Mary, though she is not named explicitly in the NT. Whatever the origin and whatever the spelling, this name was always common; it was, in fact, one of the most common feminine names throughout all of Europe throughout the Middle Ages, due primarily to the early veneration of the mother of Mary. The name was so well entrenched that the Protestant turning away from the veneration of the saints did not cause any reduction in its popularity.

Elizabeth: The name of Mary’s cousin, this name, too, was popular throughout the Middle Ages. In England, the popularity of the name was maintained in the latter part of the 16th C, with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Joan: Many people may not realize that this is in fact a Biblical name, the name of a woman healed by Jesus and who later accompanied him as a disciple. She was later venerated as a saint, but it was the use of this name by many medieval queens, in addition to the “Maid of Orleans”, Joan of Arc, that helped the name maintain its place as one of the most popular women’s names throughout history.

Martha: This is the first of the names in this post which was not already in common currency by the 16th C. The name was used occasionally throughout Europe, but it shows a sharp increase in use in England and France in the 16th C.

Mary: The name of the mother of Jesus, Mary was one of the earliest adopted of all the Christian names; examples can be found in France as early as the beginning of the 9th C. The same root which gave rise to Mary is also found in the Old Testament, in the name of the sister of Moses, modernly usually spelled Miriam. While the use of Mary cannot be used to differentiate Catholics from Protestants in the 16th C, the single example of Mariam (used as a nominative form, and not to be confused with Mariam, the Latin accusative of Maria) that we have is from England in 1573.

Salome: A derivative of the same root as Solomon, Salome is a curious name to be used in any sort of venerative contexts, given that the best-known historical Salome was the cause of the death of John the Baptist. The name was never common, but we do have a single example in Dutch from 1592.

Names of other origin

The remainder of our NT feminine names are all of non-Hebrew origin.

Dorcas: Of Greek origin, Dorcas was used as a translation of Aramaic Tabitha. Both names were used in England in the second half of the 16th C; Tabitha was also used rarely in Dutch contexts.

Lois: The name of the grandmother of Timothy, the eponymous character of one of the NT books, her name was occasionally used in England after the Reformation. We have, so far, not found any non-English examples.

Lydia (entry available in next edition): Lydia, also spelled Lidia, became common in Dutch contexts in the latter part of the 16th C, but was rare in England before the 17th C.

Magdalene: Magdalene, like Lydia, was originally a locative byname, not a given name, the most famous bearer being Mary Magdalene in the NT. The name was used in German from the 15th C, but otherwise it first reaches predominance in the 16th C, with a huge upswing in popularity in French, Dutch, and English.

Phoebe: The name of a minor character in the book of Romans, Withycombe’s earliest instance of Phoebe in England is from 1566 [2], and our earliest instance in France is from two years later.

Priscilla: Our sole example of an NT name with a Latin origin, Priscilla was used by both the English and the Dutch.

Sapphira: Like Salome above, the use of Sapphira may be surprising, given the negative light in which she is found in the NT. Bardsley highlights her name, along with that of her husband Ananias, as “New Testament names, whose associations are of evil repute” (pp. 72-73), noting that “Ananias had become so closely associated with Puritanism, that not only did Dryden poke fun at the relationship in the ‘Alchemist’, but Ananias Dulman became the cant term for a long-winded zealot preacher” (p. 73). Despite these unpleasant associations, we’ll see this name again when we discuss the New Testament influence on men’s names, in our next posts.


[1] Bardsley, C.W., Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (London: Chatto & Windus, 1880).

[2] Withycombe, E.G., Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), s.n. Phoebe.


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An onomastic calendar: December

  • December 1: Anna Komnene was born in 1083.
  • December 2: Gerard Mercator died in 1594.
  • December 3: Berengar I was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 915.
  • December 4: Theobald II of Navarre died in 1270.
  • December 5: Pope Julius II was born in 1443.
  • December 6: Baldassare Castiglione was born in 1478.
  • December 7: Saint Columba was born in 521.
  • December 8: Mary Queen of Scots was born in 1542.
  • December 9: Malcolm IV of Scotland died in 1165.
  • December 10: Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa in 1510.
  • December 11: Llywellyn, last sovereign Prince of Wales, died in battle in 1282.
  • December 12: Stephen Báthory, king of Poland, died in 1586.
  • December 13: Pope Celestine V resigns the papacy in 1294.
  • December 14: James V of Scotland died in 1542.
  • December 15: Basil II, emperor of the Byzantine Empire, died in 1025.
  • December 16: Henry VI was crowned king of France in 1431.
  • December 17: William I Longsword was assassinated in 942.
  • December 18: Theodulf of Orleans died in 821.
  • December 19: Agnes, Duchess of Burgundy, died in 1327.
  • December 20: Margaret of Provence, queen of France, died in 1295.
  • December 21: Pope Honorius II was elected in 1124.
  • December 22: Stephen of Blois was crowned king of England in 1135.
  • December 23: Berengaria of Navarre, Queen of England, died in 1230.
  • December 24: Constance of Austria, queen of Poland, was born in 1588.
  • December 25: Merry Christmas!
  • December 26: Arthur III of Brittany died in 1458.
  • December 27: German mathematician Johannes Kepler was born in 1571.
  • December 28: Alaric II became king of the Visigoths in 484.
  • December 29: Thomas Beckett was murdered in 1170.
  • December 30: Vasily I of Moscow was born in 1371.
  • December 31: Eleonora Gonzaga was born in 1493.

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Nicknames in medieval Estonia

In our previous post, we surveyed the percentage of diminutive and hypocoristic forms in the Dictionary’s dataset sorted according to modern countries, and one stand-out surprise was Estonia: Over 40% of our citations are nicknames of some form! Why is it that diminutives and hypocoristics were so popular in medieval Estonia?

Well, we aren’t exactly in a position to answer the why, but we can look at the what — what are the types of nickname patterns that we see, do they differ between men and women, can we say anything interesting about these patterns vs. those in nearby countries? That’s what we will explore in this post.

First, the feminine names: Only two of the nicknames belong to women, and both come from a Middle Low German contexts. The first is, in the vocabulary we introduced, a hypocoristic, formed by taking a name and truncating it to make a pet form. The example is Barbar, from Barbara. This same diminutive also shows up in Latvia, again in MLG contexts. The second is a diminutive, formed by adding the Low German diminutive suffix -ke, to the root name Anne, to result in the form Anneke. As with Barbar, Anneke also shows up in Latvia at roughly the same time.

This leaves over 600 diminutive forms left, of which nearly 10% — 53 — are Hans, a German hypocoristic of Johannes, one of the standard Latin forms of John, and if we add variants such as Hannes, Han, Hanß, etc., the number rises significantly. From about the middle of the 12th C on, John quickly became far and away the most popular man’s name throughout Europe. In German dialects, Hans, Hanns, Hannes, etc., were often as much more popular than Johannes or Johan than these names were than the next most popular.

So, one answer to the ‘why’ is: Because Low German was a standard documentary language in late medieval Estonia, and the most popular masculine name in late medieval Low German contexts was a diminutive, so that is why there are so many diminutives in medieval Estonia. (This, however, doesn’t address the other why question, which is why the nickname forms were more common than full forms!)

Hans makes up just under 10% of the masculine nicknames; a large percentage of the remainder are covered by just a handful of other names: Cord, Kord, Kort, a Low German hypocoristic of Conrad; Hintze, Hennyng, Hennynck, Heine, from Henry; Cleys, Clauwes, Claues, Claes, Cleys, Clawes, and numerous other hypocoristics of Nicholas; Ludike and Ludeke, from Louis; and Wynyke, a diminutive of any of various names beginning with wini ‘friend’. Other less common names also give rise to hypocoristics, such as Bastian, from Sebastian; Brosius, from Ambrose; and Aßmuß from Erasmus.

So much for the ordinary, every day nicknames, your Estonian Tom, Dick, and Harry, if you will. Let’s explore some of the unusual ones!

  • Nicknames of Constantine: Coest, Kosst.
  • Nicknames of Habakukk: Habbo, Köke, Kock.
  • Nickname of Hubert: Hoppe.
  • Nicknames of Jacob: Jaeck, Jack, Jacho, Kowpy, koup.
  • Nickname of Joachim: Jachi.
  • Nicknames of Joseph: Jessa, Seppo.

One thing of note is that many of these unusual hypocoristics derive from Biblical names.

We’ll close by looking at one name which, across Europe, is one of the most prolific spawner of nicknames: Theodoric. In Estonia alone, the name rivals John in popularity, and we have seventeen different nickname forms — most of which are diminutives of hypocoristics: Tideke, Tideken, Tideman, Tidike, Tijdeke, Tijdeman, Tijdike, Tile, Tous, Tydedeynk, Tydek, Tydeke, Tydeken, Tydeman, Tydike, Tydiken, Tyman.

This will not be the last time we see Theodoric when exploring this month’s topic!


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Nicknames: Slavic diminutives

What is fascinating about diminutive suffixes is how you can trace linguistic contact and language relationships through diminutive forms. We saw that in our previous post, with the similarity between German and Dutch diminutives, and we will see it again when we look at the French diminutives -el and -in. In this post, we look at Slavic diminutives — suffixes used in Poland, the Ukraine, and the Czech Republic — which share a clear relationship with Low German -ke(n). We concentrate on the two most common suffix types: -ko and -ek for men and -ka and -ek(a) for women.

As with the German suffixes, these show up in Latin contexts at least as early as the 13th C. [1,2] But unlike some of the German diminutive forms, which for the most part were rarer than the root names, Slavic diminutives often eclipsed the root name in popularity — for example, in the Czech Republic, diminutive forms of Judith far outstrip the full form.

In what is now modern-day Czech Republic, the suffix -ka was often spelled -ca (especially in Latin contexts where k was often avoided) or with an added sibilant, either before or after the \k\, resulting in -zca, -zka, -kza, etc. Examples of this include Anka (from Anne) and Elsca, Elzca, and Elzka (from Elizabeth). Often, this suffix was added not to the full form of the name, but to a hypocoristic from — as in the forms of Elizabeth just noted. In particular, native Slavic names were often truncated before the diminutive suffix was added, as we see in the names Sdynka, Zdincza, Zdinka (from Zdeslava) and Budka, Budcza (from Budislava). As a result, it can be often difficult to identify what the root name is, which is the case with many of the masculine examples we currently have. Given their linguistic and geographic context, masculine names such as Boczko, Czenko, Daszko, Luczko, Parcko, Raczko, Steczko, and Wyrsko are almost all certainly diminutives, though as of yet we haven’t yet confidently identified the root names.

Our data from Poland, at this point, is still relatively limited, but even amongst the handful of diminutive forms that we have, we can see the influence of the Slavic construction in forms such as Ludeko (from Louis), another example of which we find in Lübeck a few years later. What we tend to see more in our limited Polish data is similarity with German suffixes, in particular one which we didn’t discuss in our previous post: -el. When we discuss German masculine diminutive suffixes, we’ll return to this!

Finally, let’s look at Ukraine. As with Poland, our data from the Ukraine is still quite limited, and yet, even amongst that limited data we have a surprisingly large percentage of diminutive forms (making up nearly 7%!) [3]. We see both the -(z)ko and -ek suffixes in this data, as witnessed by Iaczko (from Jacob), Iwanko (from John), and Muszyk (root name not yet identified), on the masculine side, and Marsucha (from Mary) on the feminine side.

One must be leery of drawing any strong conclusions from the limited data that we’ve gathered so far. Nevertheless, even in this small data set we have ample illustration of the variety of ways in which diminutives could be formed, and evidence of their popularity.


[1] Artsikhovskii, A. V., et al. Novgorodskie gramoty na bereste, Vols I-VII. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1953-78, no. 348.

[2] Moroshkin, Mikhail. Slavianskii imenoslov ili sobranie slavianskikh lichnykh imen. Saint Petersburg: n.p., 1867, p. 124.

[3] Compare that with, say, England or Spain, where diminutives make up 3%, or Sweden, where it is 4%.


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Nicknames: Feminine diminutive suffixes in medieval German

In today’s post, we take a look at an area which has an amazing diversity of diminutive suffixes used in women’s names: medieval Germanic dialects (including Dutch ones from the Low Countries, because of their close kinship with Low German suffixes).

In terms of the vocabulary that we introduced in our previous post, German feminine nicknames were, for the most part, formed by adding such diminutive suffixes, rather than creating a hypocoristic form by truncating it (there are a few exceptions, such as Els, from Elizabeth, and Greta from Margaret.) These diminutive suffixes varied by dialect and by region, making it possible to identify, sometimes with a high level precision, where a name comes from on the basis of the type of suffix that it uses. So let’s start by taking a look at the distribution of the various dialects, and their divisions into Low German, Middle (Central) German, and High (Upper) German:


Starting in the south, High German dialects are typified by diminutives formed from -lin, including variants such as Swiss -li and Bavarian -el or -l. Examples of names formed with this diminutive suffix include Aͤnnlin, Aͤnlin, Aͤndlin, and Bridlin, Elsslin, and Bettlin, diminutives of Anne, Brid (Bridget), and Elizabeth (respectively) found in Rottweil, Baden-Württemberg, in 1441. [1] From the same source, we also have Keterlin, Kaͤtherlin, Kaͤterlin, diminutives of Katherine. These particular examples, from Rottweil, are likely examples of -lin added to a hypocoristic of Katherine, but other examples, from further south and east, may involve the Bavarian or Austrian diminutive -erl plus -lin.

-lin and -lyn are typical of Middle High German; it wasn’t until the shift into Early New High German that the spelling -lein starts to appear, such as Marlein (from Mary), Grethlein (from Margaret), Ketherlein (from Katherine), and Elßlein (from Elizabeth), all found in Kulmbach in 1495. [3]

People are often surprised to find nicknames in medieval records, since there can be a misconception that the only things that made it into medieval documents were the formal forms of names. Certainly it is the case that there were probably many more nicknames in use than the documentary evidence displays. The examples we have in written records were almost certainly predated by spoken examples, perhaps by centuries. But nicknames were not wholly excluded from formal documents: If this was the form of the name that the person was known by, this would’ve been the form used to refer to him in a record. As it turns out, the suffix -lin or -lyn are relatively old: German masculine examples can be found in Latinized contexts from the 13th C, including Choncelinus 1280 and Cunzelin 1294 (from Conrad), Reinboldelinus 1286 (from Reinbald), and Volfelinus c. 1236 (from Wolf). [2] But we’ll say more about masculine nicknames in another post! Another diminutive suffix whose use can be dated to at least the 13th C is -i, in the feminine names Beli 1267 and Jutzci 1295. [2]

In Low German, -ke(n) and its derivative are typical, found also in the Low Countries, and connected to Slavic -ka. (Diminutives of -ke also stretch further north, being found in Scandinavia.) While we have more examples of this suffix used with men’s names than women’s names, this is primarily an artifact of our data (containing more men’s names than women’s), rather than reflecting anything about the reality of the use of the suffix by women. Examples of this from across the Low German-speaking spectrum include An(n)eke (from Anne), found in Estonia and Latvia, Heilka, a diminutive of some name beginning with Old High German heil, hele ‘whole’ found in the mid 12th C, and Kattryneke, also found in Latvia. In the Low Countries, we can see examples such as Saerken (from Sara), Aelken (from Alice), Neelken (from Cornelia) [4], Claerken (from Clara), Grietken (from Margaret), Mariken (from Mary), Jacomynken (a double diminutive from Jacomine, a variant of Jacoba via the form Jacoma) [5] as well as Tanneken (from Anne), a variant which we just found an example of amongst the Dutch Protestant community in London in the 16th C.

In between these, -chen is characteristic of Middle German dialects, and it is a cousin of another Dutch diminutive, -ge(n). Most of our examples of this, so far, come from the Low Countries, with names like Claertgen (from Clara), Aeltgen (from Alice), Grietgen (from Margaret), Ariaentgen and Adriaentgen (from Adriana), and Maritgen, Marijtgen, and Marrijtgen from (from Mary) [6].


[1] Mack, Eugen, Das Rottweiler Steuerbuch von 1441. Königsfestgabe des Rottweiler Geschichts und Altertumsvereins unter der Schirmherrschaft Seiner Majestät König Wilhelms II von Württemberg. (Tübingen, H. Laupp, 1917.), pp. 126-151

[2] Socin, Adolf, Mittelhochdeutsches Namenbuch. Nach oberrheinischen Quellen des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts (Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1903; Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1966), pp. 10, 31, 48-9, 52-3, 63, 174.

[3] Wilhelm Lederer, Kulmbacher Einwohner 1495, in: Geschichte am Obermain Band 3, Jahresgabe 1965/66, Lichtenfels, S. 71-81.

[4] Daniel van der Meulen, Brieven en Andere Bescheiden Betreffende Daniel Van der Meulen, 1584-1600: Deel 1, Augustus 1584-September 1585, (‘s-Gravenhage : M. Nijhoff, 1986-)

[5] Fonds Plaiser, Antwerpsch Archievenblad.

[6] van de Spiegel, Ronald & Frans van Rooijen, “Kohieren van Het Weekgeld 1573” (http://www.interphrase.nl/frans/FransWeb/Archivalia/WEEKGE.INL.htm)


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An onomastic calendar: September

Earlier this month over on Twitter, we started an #OnThisDay series, which every day highlights an individual associated with an important medieval event and gives a link to the relevant Dictionary entry for that person’s given name. Here’s a summary of the September onomastic calendar:

  • September 22: Anne of Cleves, future wife of Henry VIII, was born in 1515.
  • September 23: Yolande of Valois was born in 1434.
  • September 24: Ralph de Stafford was born in 1301.
  • September 25: Louis III of Naples was born in 1403.
  • September 26: William II of England was crowned king in 1087.
  • September 27: Ermentrude, queen of the Franks, was born in 823.
  • September 28: Gertrude, queen of Hungary, was murdered in 1213.
  • September 29: Margaret, queen of Scots, was born in 1240.
  • September 30: Yaroslav II, grand prince of Vladimir, died in 1246.

We’ll do a similar summary at the end of each month.

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The “most popular” names, for women

One of the highlights of the onomastic year is when various governments publish name popularity data for babies born in the previous year (such as the US Social Security data and the registries for England and Wales). There is something about finding out which name occupies the no. 1 spot, and obtaining another data point in a trend. Is the name becoming more popular? Is it becoming less? Can we predict what the next top-10 names will be? Which names are destined for obscurity? What makes a name like Gary seem dated?

With few exceptions [1], it is sort of popularity/trend data is difficult to come by for medieval names. In any given collection of documents, it can be impossible, sometimes, to tell when the same person is being mentioned more than once, thus making individual occurrences of a name a poor guide to the name’s popularity. (It is for this reason that we include usage info in our entries; otherwise, one might think that, e.g., Innocent was a far more popular name than it actually was.) On the other hand, even factoring in the same person being referred to on multiple occasions, or the skewing introduced by kings, saints, and popes bearing a particular name, it is still possible to get a sense of which names, overall, are more popular than others (John, we’re looking at you), and which names were rare (one single 9th C example of Ermengaude: Not a popular name).

Because new citations are entered into the database on an ongoing basis, the process of reviewing them and marking them for inclusion in an upcoming edition is also ongoing. To facilitate this, we have a script which looks at all of the entries marked as “live”, and then returns a list of those which have unreviewed citations in them. On a daily basis we run the script and review (a portion of) the entries it returns, usually between 150 and 250. We programmed this script so that when we have a new citation of a relatively rare name, we are alerted to this without having to find it by hand. On the other hand, there are certain names which one hardly needs this script to find, for they are the ones that, on the whole, are likely to have new citations every time we sit down to review for inclusion. This names, by some qualitative rather than quantitative measure, are the “most popular” ones — the ones which have the broadest spread over language, geography, and time, which come in many spelling variants or with many diminutive forms. Most of them are ones you’d expect; a few of them are perhaps unexpected — at least, they probably don’t spring to mind if you asked yourself “What are the top 10-20 medieval given names?”

So, what are these popular names? We’ll discuss the women’s names in this post, and men’s names in an upcoming post. For women, there are seven names that I check on a daily basis, regardless of whether I am working in that part of the alphabet that day or not. They are:

If I wanted to round this list out to a nice ten, I’d add Agnes, Cecilia, and Mary, though on the whole these names are not as popular as the others.


[1] English parish registers from the 16th C are one. Because of the detailed birth/christening info they provide over a multi-decade span, it is possible to do trend analyses of name popularity. Scott Smith-Bannister, Names and Naming Patterns in England 1538-1700 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997) is an excellent example of this, for those who are interested.


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