Tag Archives: English

Ealce: A variant of Alice?

Here’s another question that recently lead someone to this blog:

Is Ealce another spelling for the name Alice?

The answer is “probably not — but we can see why you might think so.”

Alice was a popular name in England from the 12th century onwards, appearing in a variety of spellings in Middle and Early Modern English. Quite a few of the vernacular forms drop the second vowel, resulting in spellings such as Alce, Alls, Als, and Alse. Less common are variants which swap the initial A for E, such as Elyce, Ellisone (both in data awaiting processing), Elis, and Ellis; and all of these may be forms of Elizabeth rather than of Alice.

But to date, we have found only one variant of the name which starts with Eal-, and that not until the early 17th century (the spelling Eales is found in a parish register from Chester-le-Street in 1616). The combination of the dropping of the second vowel along with the extremely rare conversion of the initial vowel make it unlikely that Ealce is a form of Alice (though, knowing what we do about names and variant spellings, we are hesitant to discount the possibility entirely).

It is, however, a legitimate name — just one independent of Alice! Ealca or Ealce is an Old English name, deriving from ealh ‘temple, sanctuary’, and probably a short form of any of the various names beginning with this element, such as Alcwin. We do not have any definite examples of this name being used, but we do have evidence for its use deriving from place names; the place Awkley or Auckley, recorded in 1278 as Alkelaye, in 1316 as Alkeleye, and c1500 as Aulkeley, can be decomposed into this personal name plus Old English leah. [1] Regarding the personal name, SOURCE notes:

it cannot be denied that we find traces of a mythological person of the name Ealce, etc., see Middendorf, s.v. On Low German territory, in the neighborhood of Osnabrück, the geographical names Alke Krug and Alk Pool are found close to an ancient heathen place of worship. The same deity or deities seem to be mentioned by Tacitus in the Germania, c. 43: “Apud Naharvalos antiquae religionis lucus ostenditur. praesidet sacerdos mulierbri ornatu, sed deos interpretatione Romana Castorem Pollucemque memorant. a vis numini, nomen Alcis (var. Alces vel. Alci).”

So, it is a name, albeit not clearly the name of an actual person, as opposed to a mythical god, and likely not a variant of Alice.


References

[1] J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer, and F. M. Stenton, The Place-names of Nottinghamshire: Their Origin and Development, English Place-Name Society (Cambridge University Press, 1940), p. 6.

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Nature names: Sun, stars, and sky

Let’s turn our attention from the trees and the forests up to the heavens! In this post we consider names with linguistic roots in the celestial.

Stars

We’ve talked about Stella on the blog before, as an example of a name which many people think is modern, but which has actually been in use since at least the 15th C. It’s identical with the Latin word for ‘star’.

The origin of the Biblical name Esther is disputed, but one possible origin is the Persian word for ‘star’. This is a canonical example of a Protestant name, coming into use in the 16th C in French, Dutch, and English contexts.

The sun

Old Breton sul ‘sun’ (related to Latin sol) was a common prototheme in compound Breton names. We have examples of Sulhoiarn, Sulwal, and Sulwored (coming out in the next edition), as well as the monothematic name Sulon.

Next we have another Biblical name, Sampson, deriving from a Hebrew word for the sun. This name was surprisingly popular in France and England in the 12th century, though it was used sporadically in other times and places.

In this context let’s include names relating to dawn and sunrise: Orienta and Aurisma are both found in early 9th C France, and have etymological connections with dawn.

The heavens

The heavens generally are the root of two masc/fem pairs of names of Latin origin: Celeste and Celestus, and their derivatives Celestina and Celestine

Gods and goddesses

Lastly, we have two names which are connected to celestial phenomenon via the name of a god or goddess. The popular Welsh name Llywellyn derives from two god names, the second being the name of a sun god perhaps related to Apollo. The feminine name Tamar has two distinct origin; the examples we have so far represent the Biblical name of Hebrew origin, but the name also occurs in Georgia as the name of a sky goddess.

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Nicknames of Richard (in English)

In our recent post on Peggy we gestured that you could derive Dick from Richard by a similar process. But we received a request to expand on this, so, here we are!

We’re focusing on English nicknames in this post, but you can see a selection of diminutive forms in other languages in the entry for the name. For as popular the name was, it was surprisingly nickname free, in comparison with other names of similar popularity where we have many different and disparate diminutive and hypocoristic forms attested.

So, you start off Richard and lop off the end, to create the hypocoristic form Rich. The Middle English pronunciations of the root name encompassed a pronunciation with a hard \k\, which is how you get Rick as well as Rich. Since Dick is the one we’re interested in, we’ll set aside Rich and all the diminutive forms we can get from that.

The step from Rick to Dick and Hick comes easily, as they are rhyming forms. In fact, Withycombe, s.n. Richard, notes that these were “among the earliest of this kind of rhyming nickname, the first example noted being a record in 1220 ‘quidam Dicke Smith. Dick itself was sometimes augmented with a diminutive suffix, such as -el, -et, or -on, as found in, e.g., Dicun 1206, Dycket 1296, 1219 (and it’s diminutive Dikelin 1275), all from Reaney & Wilson s.nn. Dicken, Dicketts, Diggle. Similar diminutives of Rick can also be found, with Rikelot 1191-2, Ricot 1327, and Ricun 1274 (R&W s.nn. Richard, Richings).

We will end with a curiosity: A nickname that we know is a form of Richard but which we don’t really know how it came to be such, is Hud(de). Both Withycombe and Reaney & Wilson (s.n. Hudd) reference Bardsley’s examples of one Ricardus dictus Hudde de Walkden 1346 and another Ricardus de Knapton et Cristiana hud-wyf 1379. Hudd is usually more often a nickname of Hugh.

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Why is James a form of Jacob?

Today’s question is another one that probably everyone who has spent any time thinking about names has thought about at one time or another — just how exactly do you get James as a variant of the name Jacob?! The only letters they share are Ja-, which from a modern point of view is a pretty tenuous connection.

The answer is…it’s actually pretty straightforward!

The standard Latin form of the name was Jacobus, but in Italy, southern France, and Switzerland, the -b- became -m-, e.g., Jacomus, eventually giving rise to the Italian form Giacomo and the Provencal and Catalan form Jacme. Very rarely, Jacomus became James in Old French, and when that form of the name got imported into England (early 13th C examples of James in England can be found in the records of King John), it supplanted the more common Old and Middle French forms Jaques and Jacques. This is why you tend to see James only in insular contexts; over on the continent, the Langue d’Oil forms retaining -c- dominated.

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Why is Jack a nickname of John?

Continuing our series of posts where we answer questions we’ve received (usually via FB), here we devote a post to the question of why Jack is a nickname of John and not Jacob. After all, the only letters that Jack and John have in common are J- — not much of a connection! For answering this question, we can do no better than quote Withycombe, s.n. Jack. We’ve added a few extra comments [in brackets]:

[Jack], the commonest pet-name for John, has caused a good deal of difficulty owing to the natural assumption that it must be derived from the French Jacques and should therefore logically represent James rather than John. The problem was cleared up by E. W. B. Nicholson in a little book entitled The Pedigree of Jack and of Various Allied Names (1892). He showed that there is no recorded instance of Jack, Jak, Jacke, or Jakke ever being used to represent Jacques or James, and that no statement in favor of the French connexion has been produced from any early writer. He then proceeded to elucidate and illustrate with examples the development of Johannes [the standard Latin nominative form] to Jehan [the standard Old and Middle French oblique form] and Jan [the standard Middle Dutch form], whence, by addition of the common suffix -kin [a uniquely English suffix], we get Jankin, which as a result of French nasalization becomes Jackin [this is the same nasalization that gets us Harry from Henry], and was finally shortened to Jack. There was a similar development from Jon to Jock (the Scottish form of the name).

Not much to say beyond that! Except that we do not have access to Nicholson’s little book ourselves, and would dearly love a copy. If anyone has one they could spare…

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How do you get Peggy from Margaret?

We recently answered a few questions about how certain nicknames/name forms came to be associated with their full forms over on FB. These comments seemed to generate enough interest that we figured we’d expand on them here in a couple of posts.

First up is a question that has probably puzzled a lot of English speakers at some point or another — just how did Peggy come to be a nickname of Margaret? Or Dick from Richard, Bob from Robert, Ted and Ned from Edward, etc.? In this post we’ll focus on Peggy and Margaret, but the same pattern of development happened for all these names. (We’ll make use of the terminology for nicknames that we introduced here).

So, how does Margaret become Peggy?

Margaret is the radiconym; take it and cut the name down to the first syllable, and you get Marg. In certain dialects, that r is going to be very lightly pronounced, giving us Mag. Magge (pronounced with two syllables) can be found in England as early as 1200, and not much later after that, you can find that hypocoristic form augmented with a diminutive suffix: Magota 1208 (this is a Latin form and would’ve been Magot in the vernacular). (We’ll give you three guesses as to why this name is no longer popular today….). By the end of the century, there are examples of the -a- shifting to -e-, e.g., Megge 1254, 1275, 1279, etc. You can also see it in Megota 1309 (also Latinized).

So that gets us Meg. From there, Peg is straightforward: It’s a rhyme.

The shift from something like Magge, Megge, or Pegge to Maggie, Meggie, or Peggy comes in the 16th C with the Great Vowel Shift — what used to be an unstressed schwa sound shifts to \ee\. And then eventually the spelling caught up, but that happened late enough that we don’t have any specific data. (Yet.)

References

Reaney & Wilson, s.nn. Dick, Dicken, Dicketts, Madge, Maggot.

Withycombe, s.nn. Edward, Margaret, Robert.

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Mystery Monday: Josine/Josina

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.

16th century England is an interesting place and period when it comes to names. On the one hand, the primary naming pool was shrinking at such a vast rate that by the early part of the next century, fully 1/4 of the men in some data sets were named John. On the other hand, we have discussed before about the rise of Protestant names during the second half of that century, with a wealth of new virtue names and newly introduced Biblical names. But this period was also a period of invention, of newly coined names that are in many cases wholly opaque as to origin — not unlike the late 20th and early 21st centuries in both England and America! Some of these names we may never be able to establish any definitive origin to. Today’s name may be one of them:

Josine/Josina

In this case we aren’t even sure of the right choice of header. The documented form of the name is Josina, but ordinarily this would indicate the importation of a Latin form into a vernacular context, and that we would expect to find a vernacular form like Josine earlier on. On the assumption that we can find other examples of this name before the end of the 16th C, we’ve taken Josine as our tentative header form. But if this name is a genuine new coinage, it may have been coined directly in the vernacular with the terminal -a. Is it a diminutive of Josia, used by a woman? Is it a form of Joseph? The only way to know would be to find more examples of the name in more contexts. Have you found any examples of this name? Please share!

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