Tag Archives: English

Everything old is new again

There are a host of brilliantly clever and amusing little bots on twitter, from those that generate poetry (some better, some worse) to ones who tweet gruesome medieval deaths. We recently discovered an excellent onomastic one, Neural Names, “a bot who posts a new name generated by a neural network every 30 minutes”. Check it out — the bot is good. Almost every single name it tweets is alausible 21st C Western name (sometimes more likely American than British, but not surprising given that it’s located in Standard) and the few that aren’t you could easily see in a bad fantasy novel.

But what we’ve been enjoying doing is combine through the autogenerated names to find out which ones are not new creations, but can be found in historical records. We thought we’d share a few of our finds here today!

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The return of -cock and -kin

Over a year ago we discussed two unusual English diminutive suffices, -co(c)k and -kin. At the time, we said of -co(c)k:

This suffix was never common, and we don’t currently have any examples in our data, but look forward eagerly to the day when we do!

Well, now we do! So we thought we’d devote a post to revisiting these suffices.

We have recently been working through the 1379 poll tax of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which is delightful in that not only has a number of given names recorded in diminutive form, but also — despite being recorded in Latin — a surfeit of vernacular matronymic and patronymic bynames based on diminutives. In addition to adding the given name citations directly to the Dictionary’s database, we have also been adding the evidence from the bynames to the body of the relevant entries. This data will be available in the next edition.

-kin first. To our previous examples of -kin, we can now add diminutives of William Wilke, Wilken, Wilkin, Wilkyn, and Wylkyn. The -kyn spelling is favored in this dataset; we also have Adken, Adkyn, Atkyn, Attkyn (from Adam), Jonkyn (from https://dmnes.org/name/John”>John), and Perkyn (from Peter). The suffix was not exclusive to men; our final example, Malkyn, is a diminutive of Mary.

And, *drum rolls*, our two new examples of -cock! Adcok is another diminutive of Adam and Wilkoc is another reduction of William.

These are not the only diminutive suffices we find in this dataset, and they are certainly not the most common ones. We will set about exploring the nicknames of Yorkshire in a future post!

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Typical women’s names in early 14th C England

We’re currently working records from manorial court cases in England between 1250 and 1550 (namely, this source), and are now in the 1320s and 1330s.

One of the things that I love about court cases is how ordinary the names are; these are ordinary people, living ordinary lives. They are not royalty, they are not clerics, they are nothing that would mark their names out as unusual. So what were the typical women’s names in England at this time? Here are the ones we’ve come across so far (all in their Latin nominative forms; the actual vernacular form may have been quite different):

Margareta and Margeria, Johanna, Cecilia, Amicia, Alicia, Malota, Milisanta, Agnes, Juliana, Matilldis and Matilda, Dyonisia and Dionisia, Isabella, Emma, Athelina, Beatrice, and Katerina.

Aren’t they lovely?

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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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