Tag Archives: Arthur

How medieval is “Your Medieval Name”?

There’s a meme (due to www.abbeytournament.com) that’s been circulating around Facebook sporadically recently, allowing people to generate their “medieval name” according to their day. You’ve probably seen it:
Your Medieval Name
The first time it came up in a group that a couple DMNES staff are members of — a group not devoted to either the Middle Ages or to names — one editorial assistant put out a cry for “HALP”, and another swooped in with documentation. Now every time that meme comes around, we’re reminded of that thread, and finally decided to make a blog post out of it!

So, how medieval is “Your Medieval Name”? Actually, pretty medieval!

The feminine names are almost all good solid choices for late medieval England or France:

  • Milicent – Yes, medieval!
  • Alianor – Yes, medieval!
  • Ellyn – Yes, medieval!
  • Sybbyl – Yes, medieval!
  • Jacquelyn – Yes, medieval!
  • Catherine – Yes, medieval!
  • Elizabeth – Yes, medieval!
  • Thea – Possibly medieval but we’ve not found any evidence for it yet.
  • Lucilla – Sort of medieval: R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain I: Inscriptions on Stone — Epigraphic Indexes (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1983), RIB 1288 and 1271, note one Iulia Lucilla in a first- to fourth-century British inscription (in this name, Lucilla appears as a cognomen), and another Romano-British inscription mentioning a woman known only as [L]ucilla.
  • Mary – Yes, medieval!
  • Arabella – Yes, medieval: E.G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). s.n. Arabel(la) has a 13th C Latin example of the name.
  • Muriel – Yes, medieval: A variety of forms can be found in P.H. Reaney & R.M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (London: Routledge, 1991).
  • Isabel – Yes, medieval!
  • Angmar – Um, no.
  • Isolde – Yes, medieval!
  • Eleanor – Yes, medieval!
  • Josselyn – Yes, medieval, but not as a feminine name.
  • Margaret – Yes, medieval!
  • Luanda – Um, no.
  • Ariana – Not medieval: It’s a modern Italian form of the Greek name Ariadne, found in mythology, and in the Greek and Byzantine empires.
  • Clarice – Yes, medieval!
  • Idla – Possibly medieval. It appears that this googlebook has a Polish example of the name, but we have not been able to get more than a snippet view, to be able to confirm the date and context.
  • Claire – Yes, medieval!
  • Rya – Um, no.
  • Joan – Yes, medieval!
  • Clemence – Yes, medieval!
  • Morgaine – Yes, medieval, but only used in literature, and not by real people.
  • Edith – Yes, medieval!
  • Nerida – Definitely not.
  • Ysmay – Yes, medieval: Withycombe (op. cit.) has an example of this spelling.

The masculine names don’t fare quite so well.

  • Ulric – Yes, medieval!
  • Baird – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name. It is derived from Old French baiard or baiard ‘bay-colored’.
  • Henry – Yes, medieval!
  • Oliver – Yes, medieval
  • Fraden – Possibly medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • John – Yes, medieval!
  • Geoffrey – Yes, medieval!
  • Francis – Yes, medieval!
  • Simon – Yes, medieval!
  • Fendel – Not medieval to my knowledge, either as a given name or a surname.
  • Frederick – Yes, medieval!
  • Thomas – Yes, medieval!
  • Arthur – Yes, medieval!
  • Cassius – More Roman than medieval.
  • Richard – Yes, medieval!
  • Matthew – Yes, medieval!
  • Charles – Yes, medieval!
  • Reynard – Yes, medieval!
  • Favian – Sort of medieval, if you take it as a variant of Fabian.
  • Philip – Yes, medieval!
  • Zoricus – Not medieval to our knowledge, but it could possibly turn up at some point in future research.
  • Carac – Not medieval
  • Sadon – Not medieval
  • Alistair – Medieval, but not as the nominative form of the name, only as the genitive.
  • Caine – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Gawain – Yes, medieval!
  • Godfrey – Yes, medieval!
  • Mericus – More Roman than medieval.
  • Rowley – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Brom – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Cornell – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.

All the surnames are fine for 14th-16th C English, except these:

  • Cabrera – This is Spanish, and would only have been used by women; the masculine form is Cabrero.
  • Coastillon – Not quite sure what this is but it looks like a misspelling of some French place name.
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An onomastic calendar: August

  • August 1: Justinian I became sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire in 527.
  • August 2: Pope Severinus died in 640.
  • August 3: Saint’s day of Olaf II of Norway.
  • August 4: Berengar II of Italy died in 699.
  • August 5: Alexander I Jagiellon was born in 1461.
  • August 6: Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, died in 1221.
  • August 7: Otto I of Germany was crowned in 936.
  • August 8: Conrad Lycosthenes, humanist and ecyclopedist, was born in 1518.
  • August 9: Arnold Fitz Thedmar, London chronicler, was born in 1201.
  • August 10: Eleanor, the maid of Brittany, died in 1241.
  • August 11: Mary of York was born in 1467.
  • August 12: Christian III of Denmark was born in 1503.
  • August 13: Alfonso XI of Castille was born in 1311.
  • August 14: Duncan I of Scotland was murdered in 1040.
  • August 15: Carolingian military leader Roland died in 778.
  • August 16: Philippa of Clarence, Countess of Ulster, was born in 1355.
  • August 17: Cesare Borgia became the first person to resign a cardinalcy in 1498.
  • August 18: Saint Clare of Montefalco died in 1308.
  • August 19: Catherine of Bohemia was born in 1342.
  • August 20: Stephen I of Hungary was canonized in 1083.
  • August 21: Philip II of France was born in 1165.
  • August 22: Saint Columba sees the Loch Ness monster in 565.
  • August 23: William Wallace was executed for treason in 1305.
  • August 24: Italian painter Lavinia Fontana was born in 1552.
  • August 25: Anna of Saxony married William of Orange in 1561.
  • August 26: Thomas Bradwardine, logician, mathematician, and archbishop died in 1349.
  • August 27: Arthur II, Duke of Brittany, died in 1321.
  • August 28: Saint Augustine of Hippo died in 430.
  • August 29: Hungarian poet Janus Pannonius was born in 1434.
  • August 30: Amalasuntha became queen regent of the Ostrogoths in 524.

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An onomastic calendar: March

  • March 1: Louis the Pious was restored as Holy Roman Emperor in 834.
  • March 2: Dirk VI becomes count of Holland in 1121.
  • March 3: Dutch theologian Gijsbert Voet was born in 1589.
  • March 4: Saint Adrian of Nicomedia was martyred in 306.
  • March 5: David II of Scotland was born in 1324.
  • March 6: Ferdinand Magellan arrives in Guam in 1521.
  • March 7: Emperor Constantine declares Sunday a day of rest i n321.
  • March 8: Urraca of León and Castile died in 1126.
  • March 9: Saint Frances of Rome died in 1440.
  • March 10: Agnes Blannbekin, Austrian mystic, died in 1315.
  • March 11: Marie de France, Countess of Champagne, died in 1198.
  • March 12: Cesare Borgia died in 1507.
  • March 13: The bones of St Nicephorus were interred in Constantinople in 874.
  • March 14: Catherine Cornaro, queen of Cyprus, sold Cyrpus to Venice in 1489.
  • March 15: On this day in 44BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March.
  • March 16: On this day in 1485, Anne Neville, queen consort of England, died.
  • March 17: The feast of Saint Patrick.
  • March 18: Edward the Martyr, king of the English, died in 978.
  • March 19: Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286.
  • March 20: Cecily of York, daughter of Edward IV, was born in 1469.
  • March 21: St. Angela Merici was born in 1474.
  • March 22: Ferdinand II commissioned Amerigo Vespucci in 1508.
  • March 23: Margaret d’Anjou was born in 1430.
  • March 24: Harun al-Rashid died in 809.
  • March 25: Blanche of Lancaster was born in 1345.
  • March 26: Conrad II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1027.
  • March 27: Rachel Akerman, Austrian poet, was born in 1522.
  • March 28: Saint Theresa of Ávila was born in 1515.
  • March 29: Arthur I of Brittany was born in 1187.
  • March 30: Saint Quirinus of Neuss died in 116.
  • March 31: Francis I of France died in 1547.

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Arthurian Names: Kay/Kai/Cai/Cei


Sir Kay is the son of Sir Hector, and the foster-brother of Arthur. He, along with Bedivere, is one of the earliest characters to appear associated with Arthur in the literary cycles, appearing in early Welsh poems such as the Welsh Triads and Culhwch ac Olwen. His name appears in a variety of forms in the various sources. In English he is Kay or Kai, in French romances the name is spelled Keu, and in Welsh, his name is Cei or Cai. These last forms, the earliest ones, give clue to the origin: Cai is a Welsh form of the Roman praenomen Gaius (see entry in next edition), also spelled Caius. The origin of this praenomen is uncertain, but it may be related to Latin gaudere ‘to rejoice’. So with this name we have seen names of Celtic origin (Arthur, Gawain, Guinevere), Germanic origin (), and Greek origin (Elaine, Hector), and now we’ve a name of Roman origin. (It won’t be the last!)

The name was never common, but it was used in England, particularly in areas with strong Welsh and Breton connections; Reaney & Wilson s.n. Kay mention one Britius filius Kay from 1199.

It is not clear to what extent the relationship between Kay/Cai/Keu etc. and Gaius/Caius was recognized medievally — i.e., the extent to which occurrences of Gaius can be taken as examples of the influence of Arthurian legends. In fact, the extent is probably very minimal, especially given other more likely routes to the name, such as the various minor New Testament characters, saints, or popes. In Italy — which is where our current single example comes from — the influence of Julius Caesar, Pliny the Elder, and Tacitus, all of whose praenomina were Gaius on the Renaissance likely contributed to the use of the name more than the Arthurian character.

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Arthurian names: Arthur

By Unknown - International Studio Volume 76, via http:/www.bestoflegends.org/kingarthur/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4366920

By Unknown – International Studio Volume 76, via http:/www.bestoflegends.org/kingarthur/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4366920

We kick off this month’s topical discussion with a consideration of the name of the person without whom we wouldn’t have this topic: Arthur himself. Without Arthur, no Arthurian literature, no Arthurian names, no interesting patterns of adoptions of these names.

Origin: The origin of the name is uncertain, but it is perhaps derived to Old Breton arth, from Proto-Celtic *artos, in turn related to Greek ἄρκτος ‘bear’; certainly the name was later associated with this word retrospectively. An alternative origin which has been suggested is the Roman gens Ar(c)torius; if this is correct, Arthur would not be the only Roman name ‘naturalized’ into a Welsh or Celtic context. Other Arthurian names of ultimately Roman origin are the name of Arthur’s seneschal Kai or Cai (from Gaius, also spelled Caius) and Emrys (from Ambrosius).

Usage: Withycombe s.n. Arthur has a nice overview of the historical occurrences of the name, both in connection with the Britonic ruler and not:

The earliest recorded example of the name Arthur occurs (as Arturius) in Adamnan’s life of St. Columba, where it is the name of an Irish prince killed in 596; the earliest mention of King Arthur is in Nennius (fl. 796).

In England, the name shows up used by ordinary people in Domesday Book, and while “never very common, Arthur is most often found, in the Middle Ages, in counties bordering on Celtic districts, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Somerset, for example” (Withycombe). The Celtic connection shows up again in the use of the name across the channel in Brittany, where Arthur Duke of Brittany, the nephew of King John, had a Breton mother; and never forget that Henry VII’s elder son Arthur Tudor was a Welshman.

Our examples in England are primarily from the 16th C, with one lone 12th C Latinization. The name was Latinized both Art(h)urus and Art(h)us, with the latter spelling influencing the Italian form Artusio. We also have examples from France and Scotland, and, in unprocessed data, we have the unusual spelling Aearthur in Wales in 1204. The name spread beyond the core center of Britonic influence: In unprocessed data we also have one 16th C Portuguese example of Artur. Perhaps most interesting is the single example of Arthuze we have (also in unprocessed data), from France in 1549. This is a feminine name, derived from Arthus following standard French methods of feminization.

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Monthly topic: Arthurian names

One of the highlights of the onomastic year — whether you’re a medievalist or not — is when the US Social Security’s baby name data for the previous year is published. A perusal of the lists is always good for an evening of laughs, but also as an insight into the contemporary psyche as evidence by what people name their children after. Perhaps one of the most indicative of patterns is the importation of names from popular culture — movies, TV shows, books, etc. What is particularly interesting is not the phenomenon itself, but just how old that phenomenon is: People have been naming their children after literary figures for millennia. We see this with the popularity in England of the Biblical names that show up in the mystery plays, we see it in the 16th C with the revival of names from classical mythology, and we see it especially with the perennial popularity of names from the Arthurian cycles.

And that is going to be our focus this month: We’ll take a tour through Arthuriana from the most well-known names to some of the least, looking at their origin and their patterns of usage. First up: Arthur himself.

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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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