Tag Archives: English

Mystery Monday: Rody

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Here’s an unusual 16th C feminine name!

Rody

It’s one of those names that feels like a diminutive, but a diminutive of what? If it were a masculine name, we could hypothesize a connection with <Ralph, but as a feminine name, it’s quite perplexing. Have you found any examples of the name? Or have any thoughts of what it might represent? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Pregyon

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Sometimes it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense that in the 16th C, the naming pool across England was relatively uniform and predictable. After all, going through parish register after parish register filled with Johns, Williams, Thomases, Roberts, Margarets, Janes, Elizabeths, and Alices can (dare we say it!) get a bit tedious sometimes (no, no, we don’t really mean it. Names are NEVER tedious and boring).

Sometimes, though, you get a name that reminds you that there was regional variation, and this variation can be seen most clearly in the liminal places — in the counties bordering the Welsh marches, in the Scottish border lands, and, in the case of today’s Mystery Monday name, in the far reaches of Cornwall.

Today’s name is a masculine one that shows up in a Cornish parish in 1562, 1577, and 1593. (All marriage records, so it’s unlikely to be the same person, but the third could be the son of the first.)

Pregyon

We’ve not found any examples of the name outside of Cornwall, and it isn’t clear at all what the origin of the name is, other than that it’s at least plausible that it’s ultimately of Cornish origin. Do you have any suggestions? Seen the name, or something like it, elsewhere? Please share in the comments!

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Kings, Queens, and Bible Figures…or Not

It’s very easy for people with a dabbling interest in modern baby names to look at recent trends in Anglo-American naming practices (e.g., in the last century or so), compare them with what they know of modern-but-not-so-recent trends (e.g., in the 19th C or so), often taken from their own genealogical history, and then make sweeping pronouncements about “how people chose names for their children” or “what names people could name their children” before modern times. Sometimes these claims are influenced by data going even further back; everyone who knows a bit about names knows about Puritanisms like “Fly-Fornication” and “Bestiality” (oops, wait, that one’s a Pratchettism, not a Puritanism).

But it’s a mistake to think that because things changed between the 19th and the later 20th C, that everything before the 19th C was the same. Or even that because things changed in the 16th C, everything from the 16th to the 19th C was the same, and that everything before the 16th C was the same.

Today I came across someone claiming that in historical England, the only options were to name kids after kings, queens, and Bible figures. While it’s certainly true that some popular names were also the names of kings and queens (but there, the other of influence probably goes the other way: Kings and queens were given the names they were because they were common/popular, not that those names became common/popular because they were born by a king or queen) and that some popular names were also the names of important Biblical figures, this claim is problematic in a number of ways.

The first is that it overlooks a substantially-sized group of names that were quite common throughout English history: Names of non-Biblical saints, like Agnes, Margaret, Ursula, Katherine, and Cecilia, which were a particularly generative source of names for women. But even if we include that under “Bible names” (interpreting that to broadly cover “religious” names in general, rather than strictly to narrowly cover only names found in the bible), there are still numerous names — some enormously popular — that do not fit any of these categories.

Some years ago, now, we did two posts on the “most popular” women’s names and men’s names; now, these posts covered not only England, but all the names found on these lists were quite common in England. Let’s take a look at them.

Amongst the feminine names, Alice is a standout counterexample. While there were a few minor continental saints with this name, as well as an empress and a queen consort of Cyprus, these saints were not venerated in England and there’s no reason to think that the two royal women would have had any influence on the popularity of the name outside of their own lands. Yet, Alice was, and continues to be, enormously popular in England, with examples from as early as the second half of the 12th century. Another name on the list, Ellen, shows a similar trajectory: A handful of minor saints with local influence, none of whom were English, and one minor queen consort of a country other than England. And yet, we see this name in England from the early 12th C as well, it’s popularity influenced by the appearance of the name in medieval Arthurian romances (yes, medieval people named their children after literary characters, just as modern people do!).

Turning to the masculine names, Charles was never as popular in England as it was on the continent prior to the post-medieval English kings named Charles, but the name was used, despite there being no biblical, royal, or saintly connection. Another name that cannot be called biblical, royal, or saintly in England is Robert, a name whose popularity in England was driven by the Norman conquest. Sometimes, people just adopted names because they were a part of the changing cultures/fashions/fads of the times. Now, there was a minor (non-Biblical) 13th C English saint named Roger, and that might have contributed to an increase in the popularity of that name, at least in the region where the saint lived. But the name was already in use a century earlier, so the saint cannot have been the driving force (and, again, it’s more likely that a saint has a name because it was popular, rather than that the name was popular because it was given to a saint). A curious name is Walter: It is perhaps the most popular name in medieval Europe (not just medieval England) which was never the name of a saint or a ruler. This didn’t prevent it from often being in the top 5 most popular men’s names in 16th C English parish registers.

Now, these are just some of the most popular names, across all of Europe and a thousand-year-plus timespam. If we look more specifically just at England, and to some of the “not amazingly popular, but not totally unique” names, what we find there is that the number of non-religious, non-royal names proliferates. Such names include:

Feminine

Masculine

If we moved on to names that are found rarely, we’d have an even larger swathe of names to pick from.

So, yes, certainly names of kings and queens and saints (saints more so than Bible figures more generally) were popular names in England; but they were by no means the only choice of names available to medieval English people.

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Names of Twins: 16th C Warwickshire

One thing that’s really fun about baptismal registers is seeing the incidence of twins being baptised, and what their names are. (A friend once did a study of a number of Welsh registers, and found that male twins were disproportionately baptised Thomas, which is an interesting comment on the transparency of the meaning to ordinary people at that time.) Because readers of this blog are likely to also be iterested in what twinsets are being named, we thought we’d do a short post on the names of twins found in the Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, parish register.

Between 1558 and 1600, 26 pairs of twins were baptised: 7 were both girls, 7 were both boys, and 12 were mixed. The pairs were named:

Girl 1 Girl 2 Boy 1 Boy 2 Year
Ales John 1573
Alicia Margeria 1565
Anna Richardus 1561
Anna Thomas 1561
Anne Ales 1582/3
Anne ffrancis 1584/3
Christopher Thomas 1579
ffrancis Jone 1573
ffrancis John 1576
Elizabeth Margret 1578
Isabell Mary 1575/6
Jana ffranciscus 1563
Johannes Richardus 1594/5
Johannes Robertus 1561
Johannes Thomas 1564
Jone John 1589
Jone Mary 1584/5
Judith Hamnet 1584/5
Katerina Johannes 1566
Katherine William 1585
Katherine Anthony 1575
Margareta Maria 1568
Margret Thomas 1574
Maria Henricus 1591
Peter Thomas 1577
Richardus Thomas 1595

Those who know their literary history will spot a famous pair of twins in the list…

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Mystery Monday: Jey(e)s

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today’s name is a super exciting mystery, because we came across our first instance of it only a week or two ago, and since then we’ve found numerous other examples, all in the same immediate context. The name is Jeys or Jeyes, and it appears a number of times in the marriage and baptismal registers of Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire.

Jeys

We’ve not found this name in any other context, and the first example we found, the temptation was strong to say “it’s a misreading of/variant of Joys“, a name which was never popular but never entirely absent in 16th C England. But swapping e for o is very strange.

The parish registers are a mixture of English and Latin, but Jey(e)s only occurs in English contexts. This gives us a route of inquiry because we can compare the given names found in the Latin to see if there is a similarly obscure name that Jeys could be the vernacular of. The Latin names give us an immediate clue, in that the both registers also includes examples of the name Jodoca — the very name which is the Latin root of Joys. So, here we have a vernacular name that is one letter off from Joys, a vernacular form of Latin Jodoca, which is also found in the register.

The temptation to say that Jey(e)s is a Warwickshire vernacular of Jodoca is now even stronger…but gut feelings and temptations do not good scholarship make. We would love to have some clear evidence, either within Warwickshire or elsewhere, that Jey(e)s is a vernacular of Jodoca, and hence a variant of Joys. Do you have any evidence? Or other data that would support this hypothesis? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Hanwetta

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

If anyone ever thought the penchant for Anglo-American parents to randomly make up names for their children was a modern one, then they’ve never looked at medieval names. There are some times when you’ve got a hapax legomenon where you wonder if you’ll ever be able to do anything more than shrug your shoulders and write “Obscure” for the etymology.

Today’s name is definitely one of those. So obscure, it doesn’t look or sound like anything else that we have in our data; so obscure, if you google four it, you get five hits, of which one is a false positive (googlebooks has misread some 17th C German fraktur), two are 18th C London newspapers that you have to create an account to log in to see, one is a login website, and the final one actually contains the name but in an entirely obscure way. (At least, this is what happens when we google: Maybe you’ll find something else! If you do! Please share with us!

The name is Hanwetta, and it’s a 14th C name found in an English poll tax. There’s always the possibility that the name has been mistakenly transcribed from the original manuscript, but it’s hard to even think of what it might possibly be an error for.

Hanwetta

So what do you think? Are we doomed to obscurity? Or do you have any light to shed? Please share in the comments!

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Publication announcement: “Names Shakespeare Didn’t Invent: Imogen, Olivia, and Viola Revisited”

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new paper by a member of our team. Our editor-in-chief Dr. Sara L. Uckelman’s paper “Names Shakespeare Didn’t Invent: Imogen, Olivia, and Viola Revisited” is now available online from Names. Here’s the abstract:

Just as Shakespeare’s plays left their indelible stamp on the English language, so too did his names influence the naming pool in England at the beginning of the 17th century and beyond, and certain popular modern names are often described as inventions of Shakespeare. In this article, we revisit three names which are often listed as coinages of Shakespeare’s and show that this received wisdom, though oft-repeated, is in fact incorrect. The three names are Imogen, the heroine of Cymbeline; and Olivia and Viola, the heroines of Twelfth Night. All three of these names pre-date Shakespeare’s use. Further, we show in two of the three cases that it is plausible that Shakespeare was familiar with this earlier usage. We conclude by briefly discussing why these names are commonly mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare’s imagination, and the weaker, but not mistaken, claims which may underlie these attributions.

This paper shows the benefit of a large-scale cross-cultural data like the Dictionary collects and publishes; it is easy to be mislead by the data when you focus only on a single culture, resulting in the drawing of incorrect conclusions. When the net is cast wider, then we can obtain a more accurate picture about which names Shakespeare actually coined, which he merely introduced into England, and which were already in use in England before him, but were, perhaps, popularised by his use of them.

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