Tag Archives: English

Mystery Monday: Nodia

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 C English mystery names are loads of fun, because they are the most rare. Today’s name is found in a parish register from St. Antholin, so we have clear gender information — masculine — but no other clue as to the origin, and it’s certainly not a name we’ve found in any other context!

Nodia

Do you have any thoughts as to the origin of this name? Or found any other examples of it in your own research? Please share in the comments!

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Looking into history: Unexpected finds

In this post, we take a look at some of the names in the ONS girls’ names data from England and Wales (up through the first 300) which may surprise some people by turning up in the Middle Ages.

First up is no. 41 Imogen — historically thought to have first appeared post-1600 as a typo in a Shakespearean play, the name has an alternative history, dating back to medieval Germany.

Ancient Greek name Penelope (no. 48) came into use in England in the 16th, part of a fad for classical names. (Nickname Penny (no. 198) is more modern, though.)

No. 65 Ada has an old-fashioned feel to it — but did you know it’s roots go back at least to the 9th C in France?

Biblical names Lydia (no. 130), Leah (no. 136), Esther (no. 173), Naomi (no. 178), Rebecca (no. 186), Tabitha (no. 204), Lois (no. 215), and Rachel (no. 323) became popular amongst French, Dutch, and English Protestants in the 16th C, as did virtue names like Faith (no. 135). Interestingly, Hope (no. 139) is a virtue name that we haven’t yet found any pre-1600 examples of, though Esperanza from Latin sperantia ‘hope’ is found in 15th-16h C Spain and Italy (but not in the ONS data!)

Modern name Ottilie (no. 164) is a variant of medieval Odile, popular in France especially in the diminutive form Odelina.

No. 169 Laura first became popular after Petrarch as the poetic name for his love; it spread from Italy to France, Italy, and England over the 14th and 15th centuries.

Here’s a surprising one: Maia (no. 176). The DMNES entry is still in draft form, but we have two Low German examples from the 16th century; variant Maja (no. 192) is not an unreasonable alternative medieval spelling.

French-origin name Amy (no. 189) was popular in England from the 14th C onwards.

No. 196 Alba occurs in Catalan in the early 16th C.

Golden name Aurelia (no. 212) was used in Renaissance Italy. While name no. 361 Sapphire is generally interpreted as a gem name, when the medieval form Sapphira was used in 16th C England, it was more likely in reference to the New Testament character.

Did you know that Alana (no. 216) is a medieval name? It’s the Latin feminine form of Alan, and appears rarely. (Variants that add extra ls or ns or hs, such as Alannah (no. 472), Alanna (no. 650), Allana (no. 1788), Alanah (no. 1887), and Allanah (no. 3178) and compounds like Alana-Rose (no. 2901) and Alana-Rae (no. 5666) are not generally medieval.)

Nickname Effie (no. 236), usually a pet form of Euphemia (no. 4684), shows up in 16th C England (as does the full name itself) — a rare instance of an -ie or -y diminutive ending in medieval England!

Name no. 243, Talia we have examples of in 13th and 16th C Italy; there’s no entry for the name yet, as the etymological origin of the name is uncertain.

Names of classical gods and goddesses became popular in the Renaissance, including Diana (no. 275) found in both England and Italy (Diane (no. 3178) is a French form; Dianna (no. 3985) and Dyana (no. 48684) are modern forms). In general, the Latin names were preferred over the Greek — which means while we don’t have Athena (no. 239), Atene (no. 5666), Athene (no. 5666) (or the compound Athena-Rose, no. 4684) in the DMNES data, we do have Minerva (no. 2187). (The compound Diana-Elena (no. 5666) is also modern.)

Modern-day Melody (no. 312) is found in the Latin form Melodia in England during the fad for fanciful Latinate names in the 13th C. It’s during this period that we also find Amanda (no. 602).

Name no. 213 Remi shows up in medieval France — but as a masculine name, not a feminine name. Similarly, Alexis (no. 323) can be found right across Europe, but only as a man’s name.

The roots of Christmas name Natalie (no. 354) go all the way back to the early Middle Ages — it shows up multiple times in the 9th C, which makes it an incredibly well-witnessed early French feminine name!

We’ll tackle names from no. 400 down in a future post.

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Looking into history: The ONS baby names data for Wales/England 2018

<sings> It’s the most wonderful time of the year!</sings>

It’s the time of year that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) releases their data on names given to babies born in England and Wales in 2018! (Girls names here; boys names here).

Previously we’ve looked in detail at the US social security baby names data, devoting a whole month to the topic (starting here) in 2016, but in the past we’ve only looked at the top 10 in the English/Welsh data.

In the next series of posts, we’re going to dig deeper into the insular data. While the US Soc Sec data only goes down to the top 1000th name, the English/Welsh data contains every name given to at least three children of the same sex in the previous year. For girls, this is over 7350 distinct names, going all the way down to the joint 5666th most popular names. For boys, it’s more than 6100 distinct names, going down to the joint 4749th most popular names. (As always, the girls’ naming pool is more diverse than the boys’!)

What sorts of names can be found? So many… In this post we’ll focus on the top 10 girl’s names, pull ingspelling variants from lower down as comparative data, but in following posts we will explore the wealth of material these names provide.

Girls’ names

  1. No. 1 is Olivia, a name with a long (pre-Shakespearean!) heritage. Variant Olive (a good medieval form!) comes in at no. 120, and variants Alivia and Elivia (not so medieval) at no. 602 and no. 4684, respectively, and there are also a number of compound forms (all modern!) involving the name: Olivia-Rose (365), Olive-Rose and Oliviarose (both jointly 4684); Olivia-Grace (670); Olivia-Mae (1200), Olivia-May (1864), and Olivia-Mai (2674); Olivia-Rae (1711); Olivia-Louise (2674); Olivia-Jade (3985); Olivia-Lee (3985) and Olivia-Leigh (4684); Olivia-Jane, Olivia-Jayne, and Olivia-Jean (all jointly 4684); Olivia-Marie (4684); and Olivia-Hope (5666). Oliwia (355) shows characteristics of Slavic orthography, but we have not yet found the name in eastern Europe before 1600
  2. No. 2 is Amelia, a name which has become far more popular in modern times than it ever was medievally, despite its long medieval history. Less popular variants that turn up in the ONS data include Amelie (80), Emelia (256), Emelie (1526), Amilia (2499), Amila (2674), Ameila (3985), Amelya (3985), and Amela (4684), Amelja (5666), which are plausible medieval variants, and Ameliah (2499), Amellia (3985), Amelle (4684), Amellie (4684), Amilee (5666), and Amillia (5666), which are not.

    It is also found in a couple of purely-modern compounds, including Amelia-Rose (254), Emelia-Rose (2090), and Amelie-Rose (3985); Amelia-Grace (778), Emelia-Grace (3518), and Amelie-Grace (5666); Amelia-Lily (1526), Amelia-Lilly (2499), and Amelia-Lillie (4684); Amelia-Mae (2090), Amelia-May (2340), Amelia-Mai (3985); Amelia-Rae (2674); Amelia-Jane (3178) and Amelia-Jayne (4684); Amelia-Jade (3985); Amelia-Leigh (4684); Amelia-Hope (5666). Melia (1371) and Meliah (5666) are perhaps also variants of this name.

  3. No. 3 Ava is distinctive because it is amazingly recalcitrant to both spelling variants and diminutives — both medievally and modernly! While our entry for the name contains many instances of the diminutive Avelin(a), this is not really considered a “nickname” of Ava anymore, even if grammatically it is a diminutive. (In fact, from the 12th or 13th C on, it’s likely that even medieval people distinguished these as separate names). Modernly, we have the variants Avah (1343) — with the addition of the excrescent ‘h’ being thoroughly modern — and Aeva (4684), and it does show up in a few compounds, including Ava-Rose (256) and Avah-Rose (5666); Ava-Grace (455); Ava-Mae (513), Ava-Mai (902), and i>Ava-May (990); Ava-Marie (1200); Ava-Leigh (1314), Ava-Lea (5666), and Ava-Lee (5666); Ava-Rae (1393); Ava-Louise (1887); Ava-Lily (1977), Ava-Lilly (3178), and Ava-Lillie (5666); Ava-Jade (3518); Ava-Jayne (4684) and Ava-Jane (5666); Ava-Anne (5666); Ava-Belle (5666); Ava-Jae (5666); and Ava-James (5666).
  4. Modern name Isla clocks in at no. 4; we haven’t found any evidence for it used in the Middle Ages, though there is a similar sounding name Islana, one of our Mystery Monday names from 2017. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a popular element in modern compounds, including Isla-Rose (282); Isla-Mae (729), Isla-Mai (1788), and Isla-May (1887); Isla-Rae (778) and Isla-Rai (5666); Isla-Grace (1059); Isla-Marie (2901); Isla-Jane (4684), Isla-Jayne (5666) and Isla-Jean (5666); Isla-Jo (4684); Isla-Lily (4684); Isla-Louise (4684); Isla-Bleu (5666) and Isla-Blu (5666); and Isla-Savannah (5666). Iylah (920), Ila (1586), Islay (2187), and Aisla (2499) can perhaps be counted here as variants, though with modern coinages it can often be hard to tell when two names are variants of each other and when they are independent.
  5. No. 5 Emily is not the same name as Amelia above, even though their variant forms are similar enough that they are easily confused! The fanciful form Emilia (34) shows Latin influences, and resembles medieval Italian forms, while Francophone Emilie (328) and Slavic Emilija (826), Emiliya (3518), and Emilya (5666) were probably used in the Middle Ages, we just haven’t found any examples yet. The variant Emely (3985) is quite similar to how the name shows up in Chaucer. The variants Emilee (1887),Emilly (2340), Emili (2499), Emeli (3518), Emile (3606), and Emillie (3985) are, however, distinctly modern; while it’s not clear whether Emila (5666) is a modern or possibly medieval form.

    This name too is found in many modern compounds, including Emily-Rose (680), Emilia-Rose (1272), and Emilie-Rose (4684); Emily-May (2499) and Emily-Mae (2674); Emily-Jane (2901); Emilia-Grace (3178), Emily-Grace (3985), and Emilie-Grace (5666); Emily-Rae (3985); Emily-Anne (5666); and Emily-Louise (5666).

  6. Two years ago, no. 6 name Mia was no. 10; we don’t have anything to add to our analysis of the name from then! Just as the name itself appears to be modern, so are variants like Mya (126), Myah (494), Miya (536), Miah (806), Miyah (1013), Myia (4684), and all the compounds using it, including Mia-Rose (419), Mya-Rose (1526), Myah-Rose (3518), Miya-Rose (3985), and Miyah-Rose (4684); Mia-Grace (990); Mia-Louise (1977); Mia-Mae (2674), Mya-Mae (3985), Mya-May (4684), Mia-Mai (5666), and Mia-May (5666); Mia-Lily (3518); Mya-Rae (3718) and Mia-Rae (3518); Mia-Leigh (3985); Mia-Ann (5666); Mia-Bella (5666) and Miabella (5666); Mia-Jane (5666); Mia-Marie (5666); Mya-Jade (5666).
  7. There is no disputing that classic Isabella, no. 7, has a long and venerable history. One of the most popular feminine names in medieval England and France, the name was also used in Iberia and Italy and crept into Scotland and Switzerland via English and French influence. Of the many variants that are found in this modern data set, the ones in bold are also medieval spellings that occur in our data set: Isabelle (30), Isabel (138), Isobel (145), Izabella (370), Izabela (767), Isobelle (1083), Isobella (1136), Isabela (1436), Izabelle (1526), Isabell (1649), Izabel (2090), Izabele (2674), Izabell (3158), Izzabella (3518), Issabella (4684), Ishbel (5666), and Ysabella (5666) (and many of the ones that aren’t bolded, we have very similar spellings).

    The following compounds are all modern: Isabella-Rose (729), Isabelle-Rose (2674), Isabel-Rose (3985), Izabella-Rose (4684); Isabella-Grace (2499); Isabella-Mae (2499), Isabella-May (5666), and Isabelle-Mae (5666); Isabella-Hope (3985); and Isabella-Rae (4684). Similarly, the diminutive forms Izzy (864), Izzah (2340), Izzie (2901), Izza (3985) are a more modern development (the common medieval diminutive being Ibot(t)(a)).

  8. No. 8 Sophia is another enduring name, with a long heritage and a beautiful meaning. As with Isabella, many of the variants in the ONS data are also found medievally, including Sophie (17), Sofia (29), Soffia (3178) and Sophya (5666). We haven’t yet found Zofia (237), Sofija (1083), Sofie (1788), Sofiya (2901), Sofya (3985), or Zsofia (4684) but wouldn’t be surprised to one day find a pre-1600 example of any of these. The variants Szofia (2901) and Szofi (5666) are rather more unlikely to be medieval.

    But compounds such as Sophia-Rose (902), Sofie-Rose (1788) and Sophie-Rose (3178); Sophia-Grace (1526) and Sofia-Grace (3985); Sophia-Maria (2674) and Sofia-Maria (3178); Sophia-Mae (3518), Sofia-Mae (4684), Sophia-May (4684), and Sophie-Mae (5666); Sophie-Leigh (3518); Sofia-Louise (3518), Sophie-Louise (3985), and Sophia-Louise (4684).

  9. Beautiful no. 9 name Ella gets its modern popularity from the number of other names ending in \-ella\, of which it can be used as a nickname. (It is also sometimes treated as a nickname of Ellen and Eleanor). Despite this, it was never a common name in the Middle Ages; we have a single example from Germany. It’s also not a name that engenders many variants; Elle (507) and Aela (2901), Aella (3518) are perhaps, but may also be distinct coinages. Ellah (4864) and Elah (5666) are definitely variants, following the modern practice of sticking -h on the end of any feminine name ending in -a. Ela (478) could possibly be medieval; but given the derth of examples we have, we cannot confirm.

    It should be no surprise that none of the compounds using the name are medieval either, whether Ella-Rose (268) and Ellarose (4684); Ella-Mae (680), Ella-May (1200), and Ella-Mai (1649); Ella-Rae (1136) and Ella-Ray (5666); Ella-Grace (1234); Ella-Louise (1490); Ella-Marie (1788); Ella-Jade (3985); and Ella-Jane (3985).

  10. No. 10 name Grace is another classic, one of the few virtue names which is found outside of England before the 16th C. The nicknames Gracie (73), Gracey (2187), and Gracy (5666) are modern, as are the compounds Gracie-Mae (408), Gracie-May (761), Gracie-Mai (1035), and Graciemae (5666); Gracie-Rose (1788); Gracie-Leigh (1977), Gracie-Lee (3178), and Gracie-Lea (3985); Gracie-Anne (3178) and Gracie-Ann (5666); Gracie-Rae (3178); Gracie-Jane (3985) and Gracie-Jayne (5666); and Gracie-Loui (3985). We can probably include here both Gracelyn (5666) and Gracelynn (5666) as modern diminutives or compounds.

Moving outside the top 10, we start to get a wider variety of names, including names that have long medieval traditions and names that illustrate common modern naming patterns. We’ll take a look at some of these different patterns amongst the feminine names in the next in the next post in this series!

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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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