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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!

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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.

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