Tag Archives: Arthurian names

Searching for Arthurian Manuscripts: German Edition

One of the projects my fellow interns and I have been working on is making a list of names in Arthurian literature and finding relevant manuscripts. A couple weeks ago, my fellow intern Adelia made a post about the website arthurianfiction.org. This website has been invaluable when we’re looking for manuscripts. However, the information isn’t always the most up-to-date. However, when it comes to German manuscripts, I found the website handschriftencensus.de. Unfortunately, the website is entirely in German.

Now, if you’re like me and don’t speak a lick of German, that might be discouraging. But not to worry! I’m going to go through how I’ve been using it to find manuscripts. A huge perk of learning how to use this site is that you don’t have to look through a bunch of German-language websites to find the manuscript you want. If you can find the manuscript on the Handschriftencensus website (literally “manuscript census”), it often includes a link to any digitization.

On the front page of the website, you will see the following header:

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You’ll see that I’ve highlighted the section titled “Verzeichnisse” (“Directories”). If you hover over this, you’ll see the following options:

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Here you want to click on the option “Autoren/Werke” (“Authors/Works”). This will bring you to a long page that has all works in alphabetical order. The title of each is often in the format Author’s name: Name of work. Next to each title is a number in parentheses followed by the word “Eintrag” or “Einträge” (“Entry”/”Entries”). This tells you how many manuscripts the Handschriftencensus has on record for each work. As an example, we’re going to look at Gottfried von Straßburg’s Tristan.

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Since I knew the title of the work that I was looking for, I used Ctrl+F to search for the word “tristan.” If you are using a Mac, this might be Command+F instead. In parentheses next to the title, it says “30 Einträge,” which lets us know that there are 30 entries on the site. When we click on the name of the work, it brings us to a page with all the manuscripts listed.

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The entries are color-coded depending on if they are a more complete manuscript or a fragment of one. From here, I’m clicking on the entry “Berlin, Staatsbibl., mgf 640” to go to the information page. The information page appears as follows:

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As you can see, I have certain words highlighted. The first of these, Aufbewahrungsort, tells us where the manuscript is located and under what shelf mark.

The next, Inhalt, tells us what the manuscript contains. In the case of this manuscript, there are several different works within it. When there are multiple works, the Handschriftencensus lists in which part of the manuscript each work can be found. I’ve underlined in red the relevant portion of this manuscript.

The third, Entstehungszeit, tells us when the manuscript was written. This manuscript has a specific year, 1461, but often the year is an approximation. You might see something like “2. Hälfte 14. Jh.,” “2. Drittel 13. Jh.,” or “um 1300.” If the entry says “um 1300,” this means it was written around the year 1300. If it says “13. Jh.,” this means it was written in the 13th century. “Hälfte,” “Drittel,” and “Viertel” mean “half,” “third,” and “quarter,” respectively. Put this together and you get that “2. Hälfte 14. Jh.” means the second half of the 14th century, or 1350-1400.

The final one, Abbildung, is where any relevant links are put. For this manuscript there is a hyperlink on the word “Codex,” which will bring us to a digitization of the manuscript.

All screenshots and highlights are my own.

Busch, Nathanael, and Jürgen Wolf. Handschriftencensus, Philipps-Universität Marburg, 2017, http://www.handschriftencensus.de/.

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In Search of Yfaine

As a research intern this summer with Dr. Uckelman this summer, I’m working on a couple projects! For the Mystery Names project, my fellow interns and I are going through the Mystery Monday blog post comments and DMNES Twitter replies to determine if the collective onomastic power of the internet has shed light on the names! For the Arthurian Names project, we’re cataloging names from medieval romances and the manuscripts they appear in.

Recently, I came across a name that combined both of these projects: Yfaine. I stumbled on this 13th century feminine name on a routine investigation into Mystery Monday comments. Sadly, there was only one response across the board—not enough to count the name as solved. But I wasn’t ready to give up on Yfaine just yet! It reminded me too much of the name Yvain, a masculine moniker recurring in Arthurian tales.

Reaching out to Dr. Uckelman, I wondered whether the two names could be connected. Yvain is a variation of the Welsh name Owain, which repeatedly appears in Arthurian literature. So, Yvain (and variants) would have been in use by the date we have for the source of the Mystery Name Yfaine.

Another part of my reasoning for the connection is that “f” and “v” sounds are both fricative, created using similar mouth positions, and there’s evidence of these letters being relatively interchangeable in Old French, the language of our source [1].

Also, according to Dr. Uckelman, Old French names were feminized by adding an “-e” to the end. Therefore, conventionally at least, Yvain becoming Yfaine is possible, through the assimilation of “v” to “f,” plus the feminizing “-e” at the end.

To investigate this possibility, we tried to find examples of the character Yvain’s name spelled as “Yfain” (still masculine, but demonstrating the “v” to “f” sound change), as well as “Yvaine” (a feminine version of Yvain), but had no luck. It seems that the name Owain, though it has many variations—including Yvain—does not have a variant with an “f.”

We didn’t give up hope, though! Dr. Uckelman was struck with the thought that the letters “-in-” in Yfaine could be a misreading of “-m-,” so the name is actually “Yfame,” a variation of “Euphemia,” for which we have an entry in the Dictionary here. We even have a source in Old French from 1296, lining up nicely with our Mystery Name!

We’re on the lookout for manuscripts that could confirm this line of thought! If anyone out there has any ideas, other examples, or finds such a manuscript, we would greatly appreciate you sending them our way!

[1] http://www.french-linguistics.co.uk/pronunciation/french_fricatives.shtml


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The Quest for Arthurian Manuscripts

One of the projects I’ve been working on this summer is creating a spreadsheet of Arthurian names and the manuscripts in which they’re used. Wikipedia was helpful in listing Arthurian character names and stories, but we found it a little harder to track down the manuscripts in which a given story might exist.

Enter ArthurianFiction.org. Created for a project led by Bart Besamusca from 2004-2008 at Utrecht University, this website provides a searchable database of Arthurian manuscripts. Obviously, I couldn’t wait to check it out.

There are three different types of searches you can do in this database, and each provides many filters to sort your results. 

The first is the Manuscript search. Here, you can find a list of manuscripts and their locations. You can filter by physical qualities of the manuscript, such as presence of illustrations, leaf size or quantity, or, my personal favorite, narratives contained within. 

You can also search for Narratives, either by their length or origin, or even by the manuscript in which they appear. This will give you a list of the Arthurian stories that meet your criteria. 

Finally, you can search for Persons, which allows you to filter by creative type, gender, or manuscript to help you find real people who contributed to the Arthurian texts. 

Since my team already has a list of the stories we want to study for names, we mostly stick to the Manuscripts tab. This is an example search I made for the project last week.

The names Loholt, Dindrane, and Claudas are all mentioned in the story “Perlesvaus,” so I went to the Manuscripts tab, and scrolled down to the Narratives filter. When I typed in “perlesvaus,” it indicated I had found eight results. 

I clicked to see my results, and the database gave me this list of manuscripts that contain the story of Perlesvaus. 

I clicked on the first result, a manuscript from the library Bürgerbibliothek in Bern. It gave me the shelfmark and some information about its date of origin, as well as some info further down the page about the other contents of the manuscript and what bibliographies have cited it in the past. 

The database has a field for linking to a digital facsimile of the manuscript, but this one was blank. In my experience, though, you can’t give up hope of finding an online manuscript that quickly. Because this project is from 2008, it is not completely up to date. This may occasionally influence the actual manuscripts found, but the most frequent error I noticed was a lack of links to digital versions– many have been uploaded in the last ten years or so. 

But that’s all right, because the database gave me enough information to look for a digital version myself. I typed the library and shelf number into a basic Google search, and it took me right to the manuscript page on the Switzerland’s virtual library website. Not only did this page have some more detailed information missing from the Arthurian database’s entry, it had a link to an online text!

Links to digital facsimile and top of a page for of Composite Manuscript: Garin le Loherain, Perceval, Chroniques, Parthenopeus de Blois, Durmart le Gaulois etc., French

Not all of the manuscripts I google like this have digital versions, but it’s definitely worth a try– it worked out for this manuscript!

Overall, the Arthurian Database has been extremely helpful for us in tracking down manuscript options for specific narratives. It’s not completely up to date, so outside research is still necessary, but it provides a great starting point. Although it doesn’t contain every Arthurian text we are seeking, it contains a great deal. I have a much easier time finding manuscripts for the stories catalogued on this website than when I search for manuscripts on my own. 

Check out the Arthurian Database for yourself here. It’s a great website for research– or for fun!

Besamusca, Bart. “Arthurian Fiction in Medieval Europe: Narratives and Manuscripts.” Arthurian Fiction, 2008, http://www.arthurianfiction.org/.

Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 113: Composite Manuscript: Garin le Loherain, Perceval, Chroniques, Parthenopeus de Blois, Durmart le Gaulois etc., French (https://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/bbb/0113).

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Arthurian names: Ambrose/Emrys

By Anonymous, C15th - Original MS held by Lambeth Palace Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9510186

By Anonymous, C15th – Original MS held by Lambeth Palace Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9510186

Our most recent post in our monthly topic focused on the character Merlin, and in particular the form of his name given to him by Geoffrey of Monmouth: Merlinus Ambrosius. Having concentrated on the Merlin/Myrddin forms in that post, in this one we now take up the issue of Ambrosius, and its connections to the Welsh name Emrys.

Monmouth is the first to give Merlin the epithet Ambrosius, and this element is distinctly non-Celtic: It is a Roman nomen ultimately deriving from Greek ἀμβρόσιος ‘immortal, divine’. The most famous historical Ambrose is the 4th C church doctor Aurelius Ambrosius, better known modernly as St. Ambrose of Milan. While Ambrose was never a popular name, it was used throughout Europe. The use of the name almost certainly is due to the fame of the saint, and not due to the Arthurian connections via Monmouth.

Merlin is not the only Ambrosius to appear in connection with the Arthurian myths, nor is St. Ambrose the only historical Ambrosius who has a second name associated with the word aurelius. In the 6th C De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, the historian Gildas mentions a 5th C Romano-British war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus; in Welsh histories, he is known as Embreis Guletic (Guletic being a form of gweldig ‘lord’). A 9th C Historia Brittonum, often attributed to Nennius, confuses this person with the boy who became Merlinus, resulting in Monmouth’s conflation of the names into Merlinus Ambrosius [1].

So what about this Welsh form of the name, Emreys or Embreis in Old Welsh and Emrys in modern Welsh [2,3]? We have no non-literary examples of the name used by people in the Middle Ages. It does show up in a place-name associated with the Arthurian character: Dinas Emrys, a post-Roman hillfort where, according to the Historia Brittonum, a young Merlin prophesied to Vortigern that the white dragon of the Saxons, would be conquered by the red dragon of the Welsh [*].

References & Acknowledgements

[1] Hutson, Arthur E., British Personal Names in the Historia Regum Britanniae (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1940), pp. 58, 119.

[2] Bartrum, Peter C. Welsh Classical Dictionary (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 1993).

[3] Bromwich, Rachel. Trioedd Ynys Prydein. (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1978).

[*] Many thanks to Dr. Heather Rose Jones for sharing her research on the medieval usage of Emrys.

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Arthurian Names: Merlin/Myrddin

We couldn’t cover names from Arthuriana without covering the name of arguably the most important character, bar Arthur himself: Merlin. This character owes his existence to Geoffrey of Monmouth, who named him Merlinus Ambrosius (Welsh: Myrddin Emrys). We’ll devote two posts to his name, considering both the Latin and Welsh forms of the first name in this post and then Latin and Welsh forms of the second name in the next post.

The root of Merlin’s given name lies in the city of Carmarthen, which was originally a 2nd C Roman fort named Maridunum or Moridunum ‘fort by the sea’. Later forms of the name were influenced by Old Welsh *Morddin, which developed into merddin and myrddin, and then Welsh caer ‘fort, fortified settlement’ was added. In the 12th C (Geoffrey was writing around 1136), the city’s name was recorded variously as Caermerthin, Cairmerdin, and Kaermerdyn. Geoffrey took these names, and interpreted the second element as a personal name, Merdin or Myrddin. [1] On this point, Hutson delightfully comments:

The fact that Geoffrey connects Merlin with Caermarthen is evidence that Geoffrey is probably eponymizing again [2].

He goes on to explain that

The shift from Merdinus to Merlinus has been explained by Lot as an attempt to avoid an unpleasant association with the French merde, and this seems a good reason [2].

There is little to no evidence that Myrddin was ever used as a personal name as a result of Arthurian influence, before modern times. Merlin, on the other hand, was sporadically used in England in the 13th and 14th C, with examples such as Ralph filius Merlin 1202, Jon Merlini c1210, Henry Merling 1327, and John Merlyn 1347 [3]. By the 14th C, the name had also made it to the Netherlands, in the spelling Merliin [4]. The name can also be found in Germany, but there it is not entirely clear that the Arthurian character is the root. When used by women, Merlin can be a diminutive of Margaret (see this post for a discussion of the suffix.), and it can also be a derivative of Middle High German merle ‘thrush’.

Next post, we’ll pick up Ambrosius/Emrys.


[1] Hywel Wyn Owen & Richard Morgan, Dictionary of the Place-Names of Wales, (Gomer, 2007): s.n. Carmarthen.

[2] Hutson, Arthur E., British Personal Names in the Historia Regum Britanniae (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1940), p. 59.

[3] Reaney & Wilson s.n. Merlin.

[4] De rekeningen van de grafelijkheid van Holland uit de Beierse periode, Serie I: De rekeningen van de tresorier en de dijkgraaf van de Grote Waard, Deel: 1393-1396. (Den Haag: Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis, 1997).

[5] Bahlow, Hans, Dictionary of German Names, tr. Edda Gentry (German-American Cultural Society, 1994 ISBN: 0924119357), s.n. Merl(e).


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Monthly topic for April, and a milestone

Due to a combination of not having gotten through all that many names last month — after all, we haven’t even discussed Merlin! — and having received a number of votes to continue with it, this month’s topic is going to again be Arthurian names! If you’ve missed any of the ones we’ve covered so far, here’s a list:

We’re also well on our way to the publication of the next edition possibly by the end of the week. With 45,000 citations of over 1850 names, this edition will mark our 1st anniversary. Our first edition had just over 20,000 citations of slightly more than 1,000 entries, so in a year we have nearly doubled in size. Quite the target for next year if we’re to replicate this!

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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: Ector

The Sword in the Stone competed with Robin Hood for the place of “my favorite Disney movie” as a child, but in The Sword and the Stone, Wart’s foster-father Ector had no competition for the place of “favorite minor character”. He was just so funny! (I think the song “Scrumps” was my first exposure to drunkenness.) His name is the focus of today’s post.

Ector or Hector is the name of two Arthurian characters; in addition to Arthur’s foster-father, there is a younger half-brother of Lancelot known as Ector or Hector de Maris, whose stories can be found in the early 13th C Middle French Vulgate cycle.

The presence of this name in the Arthurian legends is a testament to the diversity of the origins of the names. While many of them come from Celtic, usually Breton or Welsh, origins, we’ve already seen one (Lancelot) that is likely of Germanic origin, and others show the influence of the Roman occupation on Celtic Britain (we’ll see some of these in future posts!). Hector adds a new lingual origin to the mix: Greek. The name is identical with Greek Greek Ἕκτωρ, of uncertain origin but possibly derived from Greek ἔχειν ‘to have, hold’. The Greek hero Hector was himself well-known throughout the Middle Ages, accounted as one of the Nine Worthies. As a result, it can be difficult to attribute use of this name medievally specifically to Arthurian sources, since there is good reason to think that many instances of the name harken back to the Greek hero. This is particularly the case with examples from 13th C England and 16th C Italy, both of which periods and places are noteworthy for the fad of reviving classical Greek names. And indeed, it is no surprise we we have examples of Hector in both contexts: In England, we have examples of Hector from 1161×1184 (see the next edition), 1190, and 1222 (Reaney & Wilson, s.n. Hector), while in Italy early 16th C examples can be found in both Rome and Naples, in addition to other examples from the 14th C on. The name also shows up in France in the 14th-16th C, and Germany in the 15th C. It was never popular, but there is no doubt that its use is directly attributable to the legendary figures, both Greek and Arthurian.


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Arthurian names: Elaine

By Unknown - From The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Painting known to be in family since at least 1887., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14728406

By Unknown – From The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Painting known to be in family since at least 1887., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14728406

There are a number of different characters named Elaine in the various stories, including Elaine of Astolat, Elaine of Benoic, Elaine of Corbenic, Elaine of Garlot, Elaine of Listenoise, Elaine the Peerless, and Elaine the Younger. Elaine of Astolat, aka Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, is probably the best known; her tale is told in the early 13th-century Mort Artu, written around 1210. The other well-known Arthurian Elaine is Elaine of Corbenic, the mother of Galahad by Lancelot.

Elaine is a form of Ellen, a name which was rare in France before the advent of the Arthurian tales, and was never common even after. The spelling Elaine is not a typical development from Latin Elena; instead, it was influenced by Welsh forms of the name. A 12th century legend identified Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, as a daughter of “King Coel of Colchester”, sometimes identified with Coel Hen of Welsh legend. Despite the lack of factual basis for any of these legends, the name was popular in Wales.

French forms of the name include, variously, Helaine, Elayne, and Helayne. These -ai- or -ay- spellings are specifically associated with the Arthurian character, as opposed to Latin (H)elena or vernacular English forms such as El(l)en, the use of which probably is due more to Saint Helena than to the Arthurian characters. If we exclude the ‘standard’ spellings and focus on spellings with -a-, we find that, for whatever reason, Elaine’s name was not taken up with the same popularity as some of the other Arthurian names. In particular outside of France, the only -ai- or -ay- spelling that we have is Elayn, which is found in Latin contexts in Suffolk in 1381.


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Arthurian names: Gawain

Taking a request from the audience, in this post post we consider Gawain, the name of a son of King Lot of Orkney and a nephew of Arthur. Under the name Gwalchmei he occurs in some of the earliest Welsh mythologies, and after Chrestien de Troyes picked up the story, calling the character Gawain, he became incredibly popular in French Arthurian cycles.

The origin of the name is disputed. The first element is Old Welsh gwalch ‘hawk’, but the element -mei is uncertain, and the later forms of the name ending in -wain and the like perhaps show influence of Old Welsh gwyn ‘white’. In any case, Gwalchmei itself is rare outside of literature: It is the Old French influenced forms that spread around Europe. The name, perhaps influenced by Gaelic gabhann ‘of the smith’, survives today in the form Gavin; because this is the most common spelling under which the name is used today in English-speaking contexts, it is the spelling we have picked for our header name.

This name was never as popular as some of the others, but it is relatively wide spread. In England and Scotland, we have a variety of English and Latin examples from the 16th C; the most common forms are Gawen and Gawyn. In unprocessed data, we have an unusual form, Gouen, in 14th C Yorkshire. On the continent, our examples are earlier: In France, we have a Latin genitive form Galweni from 1164, and a variety of Middle French forms in the 14th C, including the dialectically interesting Gauvaing. The name also moved quite far east, with Gawin, Gawinus, and Waliwan all occurring in 14th C Silesia. In Italy and Spain, the internal l was retained, as can be seen in the forms 13th-14th C Latin genitive forms Galvanei and Galvagni from Italy; Gualvanus and the diminutive Gualvaninus, two names from early 14th C Imola in our unprocessed data; and the 16th C Catalan nominative form Galvany from Valencia.


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