Tag Archives: Everbern

Masc/Fem names: gendered themes in dithematic names

A short and busy month is drawing to a close, but we still have time for one more post on this month’s monthly topic!

We started off the month acknowledging the ubiquity of feminine forms of masculine names, many of which are dithematic (compound) names of Germanic or Scandinavian origin, where the feminine and masculine forms differ solely on the basis of their Latinate ending. One conclusion that we can draw from this is that in the construction of these names — which are drawn from pools of protothemes (first elements) and deuterothemes (second elements) — there is a significant overlapping in the pools of elements. In this post we look at the opposite phenomenon: Are there any themes that are uniquely used by men or uniquely used by women? Does it make a difference whether they are used as protothemes or deuterothemes? Can we draw any conclusion from the meaning of a theme to whether it’s likely to be used purely by women or purely by men? Let’s find out!

The Dictionary currently has a glossary of 300 elements which are found in dithematic names, the vast majority of which are Germanic in origin (the Slavic and Celtic themes make up a small percentage, and there are vanishingly few themes of Latin origin). In some cases, we simply don’t have enough examples of names involving particular themes to draw any conclusions about whether they were used solely for one gender or another, so what follows are merely observations rather than conclusions.

Old Saxon and Old High German bero ‘bear’ was used as a prototheme by both men and women, in names such as Bernard and Bernarde, Berengar and Berengaria, etc., but so far, our only examples of the name as a deuterotheme come from masculine names, such as Everbern, Gerbern (the same origin as Berengar, just with the themes reversed!), and Gisbern.

Despite numerous masculine names with Old High German or Old Icelandic brant ‘fire, brand’ as a deuterotheme (Aldebrand, Albrand, Gerbrand, Gumbrand, Herbrand, Hildebrand, Liutbrand, Theobrand, Ulbrand, Wilbrand, and Wulfbrand), we do not yet have any feminine name using this deuterotheme. The name Brenda is often derived from this element, but our single example of this name is from 14th C Italy, and a Germanic origin is not especially likely.

One of the clearest case of ‘gendered’ deuterothemes is the theme which is often spelled modernly -trude, as in the name Gertrude. This theme can derive from either Proto-Germanic *þrūþ ‘strength’ or Proto-Germanic *trut ‘maiden’, and in the case of feminine names, it is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to tell which is the origin. It was quite a popular deuterotheme in women’s names (Acletrude, Adaltrude, Agintrude, Aldetrude, Altrude, Amaltrude, Arntrude, Erchamtrude, Ermentrude, Falatrude, Framtrude, Gautrude, Giseltrude, Gertrude, Hildetrude, Ingaltrude, Ingitrude, Landetrude, Nadaltrude, Ratrude, Rectrude, Reintrude, Walantrude, Wandetrude, Weltrude, Wiseltrude, and Wulftrude), but is only ever found as a prototheme in men’s names, where the *þrūþ origin must be favored.

Having seen the popularity in feminine names of an element that may derive from the word for ‘maiden’, the next two gendered themes shouldn’t be surprising: Old Saxon, Old Dutch, Old Frisian wīf ‘wife, woman’ appears only in feminine names (our two so far are Bernewif, to appear in the next edition, and Hetelwif), and the same is true of Old English cwen ‘woman, wife; queen’ (which can be found in the name Queniva, to appear in the next edition). On the masculine side of things, Old English eorl, Old Saxon erl ‘earl, man’ appears only in masculine names (cf. Herluin), while Old High German karl, Old English ceorl was used as a standalone name rather than a part of compounds, and Old High German man, Old English mann ‘man’ is only found as deuterothemes only in masculine names. Interestingly, we have one example of the former used as a feminine prototheme, in the name Manswith.

How about other meanings? There may be themes which one might specifically associate with one gender over the other on the basis of their meaning, even if that meaning is not directly identical with a gender. We look at such examples now; they are rarer than one might think. The only theme which is specifically associated with a particular gender which has a meaning that is more often associated with women than men is Proto-Germanic *linþaz ‘gentle, sweet, mild’ (found in Aclinde, Adalinde, Belelinde, Erlinde, Frotlinde, Gautlinde, Gerlinde, Godelinde, Hadelinde, Idelinde, Madalinde, Richlinde, and Theodelinde). On the masculine side, Proto-Germanic *mērijaz ‘famous’ is well attested, but only in men’s names. On the other hand themes such as Old High German hold ‘comely, graceful’, which one might expect to be more closely tied to women’s names, have nearly equal numbers of men’s names as women’s names using this element, both as a prototheme and as a deuterotheme. Likewise, one might expect to find words for ‘war’, ‘battle’, or ‘warrior’, but Old High German gund, Old Icelandic gunnr, guðr ‘war, battle’ were used in names of both genders, while Old English hild, Old Icelandic hildr ‘battle’, and Old High German hiltja ‘battle’ is most commonly used as a prototheme in masculine names and as a deuterotheme in feminine names.

Thus, about as far as one can go in terms of determining gender on the basis of the meaning of one of the elements is that if one of the words specifically names a particular gender, and that word is used as a deuterotheme, then the gender of the name will match the gender picked out. But even slight extrapolations are not tenable: When these words are used as protothemes, there is no guarantee of a match. Further, while in rare cases there may be themes which are uniquely used by one gender only, where the meaning is something one would more commonly associate with that gender over the other, the meaning alone cannot be taken as a guide to gender.

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“Made-Up” Names

People who study contemporary baby names often like to talk about “made-up” names, whether unusual names found in late 20th and early 21st C America or more “traditional” made up names coming from late 19th and early 20th C literature. Now, if you think about it, all names are, at the root, “made-up”. But if you want to make a distinction between names which are drawn from identifiable word or concept — for example, Bona (Latin ‘good’) or Heather (a plant word) — and names which are constructed without regard for their meaning, such as Germanic Everbern deriving from themes meaning ‘boar’ and ‘bear’, or dithematic names which are constructed on the basis of the themes of the parents’ names, for example when Aclehardus and Teudhildis have a son named Teuthardus and a daughter named Aclehildis, then you could argue that the latter are ones that are truly “made-up” in the relevant sense.

But just as there are many names which people think are medieval but in fact are modern, many names which people think are modern coinages actually have a much older history. When I came across this article, on 17 Baby Names You Didn’t Know Were “Totally Made Up”, a few days ago, I was surprised at how many of these so-called modern “made-up” names are actually not.

Wendy: The received wisdom is that J.M. Barrie coined this name for Peter Pan. In fact, a Wendy Oxford was christened in 1615 in Harston, Cambridge, England. So, not quite medieval, but far older than the 20th C.

Cedric: Like Wendy, this is commonly cited as a coinage of Sir Walter Scott for Ivanhoe. It, too, goes back to (at least) the early 17th C. Cedric Holle was christened in 1613 in Plymouth, Devon, England, and Cedric Jorye was christened in 1626 in the same city.

Miranda: This name occurs in Périgueux, France, in 1366-1367.

Amanda: This name can be found in England in 1221.

Dorian: This name can be found in Paris, France, in 1421 — where it occurs as a feminine name, rather than a masculine one.

Cora: Cora and the diminutive Corina are both found in Imola, Italy, in 1312. The name Corella, found in Valencia in 1510, may also be a diminutive of Cora.

In the comments on the article, someone offers Stella as another modern coinage; but Stella can be found in Rome in 1527.

So there’s a brief round up of names which many people think are modern, but which are actually medieval (or at least early 17th C).

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