Tag Archives: Enoch

Some very special Biblical forms of names

York Gospels

York Gospels, York Minster, © Sara L. Uckelman, 2017

One of the long-term adjunct projects of the Dictionary is to look at how various names are spelled in the earliest vernacular translations of the Bible, because these translations had a significant influence on how the names were spelled when they were used in common currency. Because there are so many Biblical names and so many vernacular translations produced before 1600, added the citations to the relevant entries is an on-going process; we can generally add the Middle English forms from the Wycliffite translation of 1395 right at the start because there is a handy online searchable version of it available. For other Biblical names, we are slowly working through the alphabet adding for (cf., e.g., Aaron, which has forms from the Wycliffite Bible, the Geneva Bible of 1560, and in the next edition will have citations from the Sagrados Escrituras of 1569).

The vast majority of the time, the DMNES editors do data collection for the Dictionary via printed editions; we simply do not have the time, volunteer power, or money to work solely with manuscripts. But every once in awhile, we do get to have an encounter with a manuscript that has names in it, and last weekend on a trip to York, our editor-in-chief had a manuscript encounter which involved both early Bibles and names. In the undercroft of York minster, the York Gospels are on display. The Minster’s website says of the Gospels:

The York Gospels were brought to York in around 1020 by Archbishop Wulfstan and the 1,000 year old text is still used in services today. The Anglo-Saxon book is one of the most valuable in York Minster’s collection and is one of the few surviving items from the Saxon Minster, the location for which is unknown today.

It contains four Gospels rather than the whole bible and is filled with elaborate illustrations as well as a letter from King Canute dated around 1019. It’s believed its original pages were written in Canterbury in around 990AD, with additional pages added to the manuscript by the Dean and Chapter after they arrived in York.

The Gospels are currently on display in the cathedral’s Revealing York Minster in the Undercroft attraction. The book is stored behind glass but visitors can turn virtual pages of the book to take a closer look at some of the illuminated pages using touch screen displays adjacent to the case.

Often when a manuscript Bible is on display, a page with a fancy illuminated initial, or a whole-page picture, are chosen; these are the eye-catching ones that display the true beauty and skill of medieval artwork. But the York Gospel has a rather plain and simple spread on display, something that might seem boring or ordinary to the average viewer.

But to the onomast?

The page that’s on display contains part of the genealogy of Jesus, and thus it gives us first-hand knowledge of how scribes rendered these names in Latin in the 10th C.

What could be more beautiful?

…who was of Aram, who was of Efrom, who was of Phares, who was of Iudea, who was of Iacob, who was of Isaac, who was of Abraha, who was of Thare, who was of Nachor, who was of Seruch, who was of Ragau, who was of Phaleg, who was of Eber, who was of Sala, who was of Cainan, who was of Arfaxat, who was of Sem, who was of Noe, who was of Lamech, who was of Matusale, who was of Enoh, who was of Iared, who was of Malalehel, who was of Chainan, who was of Enos, who was of Seth, who was of Adam, who was of God.


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Protestant names: Old Testament influences on men’s names (part 1)

Having looked at women’s names from the Old Testament in our previous post, in this one we turn to the men!

Except, first, the rectification of an omission — because we forgot a rather important name in our previous post! She’s a Hebrew girl turned Persian princess, she’s the cause of one of the most important Jewish festivals, she’s the eponymous character of one of the OT books…how could we forget to mention Esther? Spelled Esther, Ester, Hesther, or Hester, the name sprang into popularity in England and amongst Dutch and French Protestants in the second half of the 16th C, being virtually unknown in other linguistic, geographic, and temporal contexts. We have quite a large number of citations, but the entry for the name is not yet ready for publication because the etymology of the name is proving difficult to ascertain. There are plenty of theories — from the Median word astra meaning ‘myrtle’, from the Latin word astra meaning ‘star’, or related to the goddess name Ishtar, ultimately deriving from a root meaning ‘star’ — but we prefer good hard evidence rather than speculation when we can get it. Sometimes, though, conclusive data cannot be found, and we may simply end up having to present what information we have, and its relative merits. I suspect that it will be awhile before we have a satisfactory solution for this name.

Digression aside, let’s look at the men’s names drawn from the Old Testament! There are so many of them, we’re going to have to slit this up into multiple posts.

Aaron: The name of the brother of Moses and the first high priest, this name is curious because it doesn’t provide much evidence for the “Old Testament names became more common in the second half of the 16th C” hypothesis — not because it was already in use before then, but because, unlike so many other OT names, it never became common. We have two 16th C English examples and one from the Protestant Church in Caen, but this name was nowhere near as popular as some of the other more “mainstream” OT names. It was occasionally used in England, and elsewhere, earlier, but often by Jews rather than Christians. One exception to this is Wales, where the form Aron was not uncommon in the 15th C. The cause of this is unknown.

Abednego (entry available in next edition): The name of one of the three brothers thrown into the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel (his brothers’ names show up further down in the list!). When we first found the name Abdenago in France in 1565, given the context and the spelling our first thought was of Abednego, but the difference between bed and den seemed difficult to explain — until a bit of sleuthing revealed that in the Wycliffite translation of 1395, the Middle English form of the name was Abdenago. We are not sure when the den form switched to the bed form in English, but this is one of the questions that our investigations into early vernacular translations of the Bible will hopefully illuminate!

Abraham: The name of the patriarch of Israel, this name can be found as far afield as Hungary, yet it was always rare in France before the 16th C, and almost unheard of in England or the Low Countries before then.

Absalom: The name of the son of king David, this name is a curiosity as the only Protestant uptake of it that we have evidence for is in France; yet, the name was used sporadically before the 16th C across Europe, with most examples found in the 12th-14th C.

Adam: Like the name of his wife (see previous post), Adam was commonly in use throughout Europe before the Reformation. There is little need to explain the universal popularity of this choice!

Adiel: You can be forgiven for not recognizing this name, it was borne by a handful of unremarkable characters recorded in 1 Chronicles (27:25 4:36; and 9:12). The Adiel recorded in London in 1593 can be nothing other than a witness to the Protestant penchant for indiscriminate choice. Obscurity is not an issue, here!

Balthasar: Better known as one of the names of the three wisemen, Balthasar was common outside of England, France, and the Low Countries prior to the 16th C (often in conjunction with forms of Casper and Melchior — either two or three brothers with these names, or father/son(s) pairs), within our area of focus, there is a clear jump in the uptake of this name in the second half of the 16th C.

Benjamin: While our data doesn’t yet reflect this, the name Benjamin was in use in England througout the Middle Ages, albeit sporadically. It was popular enough to give rise to a surname found as early as the 12th C [1]. Outside of the second half of the 16th, the name was rare throughout Europe.

Caleb: The name of a minor character, this name was rarely used in 16th C England.

David: The name of one of the most important Biblical kings, David can be found quite early throughout Europe in ecclesiastical contexts; the popularity of the 7th C Saint David in Wales is the reason for the popularity of the name in Wales throughout the Middle Ages, and as the name of two kings of Scotland, its use there was also assured. The name was spread widely throughout Europe; this name’s use in the 16th C cannot be attributed exclusively to Protestant influences.

Daniel: The case of this name of an eponymous character of one of the prophetic books is similar to that of David, though here it is clearer that its popularity in England certainly increased in the second half of the 16th C.

Eleazar: This name could be classified as either an OT name (in this form) or a NT name (in the Latinized form Lazarus). While Lazarus and variants are not uncommon in Italy, the specific OT-influenced form Eleazar shows its face in England and France in the second half of the 16th C (the two 12th C instances in the Dictionary are from records relating to the Crusades in the Holy Land, and may be the names of Jews).

Elias: Elias (this spelling reflecting the influence of Greek) was one of the most popular Biblical names in the Middle Ages [2]. We cannot look to the use of this name as evidence for a Protestant pattern, but we can look to something more nuanced: In the 17th C, the spelling Elijah became specifically taken up by the Puritans in England (and the New World) [2]. We have yet to see an example of this spelling in the pre-1600 scope of the Dictionary.

Enoch: The name of an ancestor of Noah who walked with God and “then he was not”: He was taken up to heaven without ever having suffered earthly death. We have one example of it, from the Dutch Reformed Church in 1589.

Ezekiel: The name of a Biblical prophet, we have one example of this from the Protestant Church at Caen in 1561.

The remainder of the alphabet will be covered in future posts, but what we can see from these names alone is that the correlation between the use of OT names and Protestant influences is much lower among men’s names than among women’s names. However, if we look beyond the names of well-known, popular Biblical characters, like Adam, David, Elias etc., it is clear that there is a correlation between the use of obscure Old Testament names and English, Dutch, and French contexts from the second half of the 16th C.


[1] Reaney & Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames, s.n. Benjamin.

[2] Withycombe, Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, s.n. Elias.


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