Tag Archives: Florence

Looking into history: modern and classic forms of medieval names

A number of the girls names that show up in the ONS lists for 2018 are ones where there are a variety of different spellings for an individual name, some of which are modern, some of which are medieval. In this post, we explore some names that fit into this category.

  • No. 12 name Charlotte was originally a Middle French feminine form of a diminutive of Charles. While feminine forms of Charles were never as common in the Middle Ages as masculine forms, we can still find quite a variety, including Carla (560), Carlotta (2340), Carlota (2499). Karolina (701), Carolina (1013), Caroline (1013), Charlene (2340), Carolyn (5666) are other feminine diminutive forms, though this we are not sure if they were used medievally or not. Similarly, popular modern spellings Karla (1649) and Carol (4684) don’t appear to have been used medievally.

    Modern diminutives Charlie (745), Charley (767), and Charly (4684) are now often used as a unisex name, though even a couple of decades again, they were primarily only masculine. The variants Charleigh (1887), Charlee (2674), and Charli (4684) are pretty strongly coded as feminine, and the modern diminutives Lottie (63), Carly (1234), Carrie (1649), Cari (1887), Loti (2187), Lotti (2187), Lotte (2674), Carlie (3985), Carley (4684), Karli (4684), Lotta (4684), Kari (5666), and Karlie (5666) have pretty much always been primarily feminine.

    Like many other popular names, there are a number of modern compounds, including Lottie-Rose (1711), Charlotte-Rose (2340), Charlee-Rose (5666), and Charlie-Rose (5666); Lottie-Mae (1887), Lotte-Mai (2674), and Lottie-May (3985); Lottie-Rae (2901); Lottie-Grace (3178); Lottie-Anne (5666); and Carla-Maria (5666) and Lottie-Marie (5666).

  • No. 15 is a name that beautifully indicates how trends change over time; to my ear, Florence or Florance (4684) is the name of my grandparents’ generation; to my daughter, it’s a name of her generation! I have to wonder how the name was read in 16th C England — was it fresh and new and modern, or was harkening back to medieval French and Spanish romances?

    I would’ve thought that Florence was enough of a name by itself; but, no, the modern compounds Florence-Rose (3178); Florence-May (4684) and Florence-Mae (5666); and Florence-Ivy (5666) show up in the ONS data. The diminutive Flo (2090) is also modern.

  • The name coming in at no. 16 is a modern diminutive: Evie. This can be a nickname for Eve or for Evelyn, a variant of Aveline. Many people are surprised to find out that Eve was moderately common in the Middle Ages, thinking that the ill reputation of the Biblical character would prevent religious Europeans from naming their children after her. But you’d be surprised what sorts of names people gave their kids…

    Unsurprisingly, there are a number of modern compounds using this diminutive — Evie-Rose (560); Evie-Mae (602), Evie-May (1436), and Evie-Mai (1711); Evie-Grace (952); Evie-Rae (1649) and Evie-Rey (5666); Evie-Jane (2499) and Evie-Jean (5666); Evie-Leigh (2901), Evie-Lea (3985), and Evie-Lee (5666); Evie-Marie (3985); Evie-Louise (4684); and Evie-Ann (5666). The variants Eevee (2187), Evee (2674), Eevie (2901), Eviee (3178), Evy (3985), Evi (4684), and Evey (5666) are also modern.

  • Evelyn itself shows up (in this spelling) as name no. 19. Medieval forms of the name almost all retained the initial A-, which makes me wonder when the shift to E occurred (probably in the 16th C; that’s when all the vowels shifted in English!) It does mean that the wealth of variations of the name in the ONS data are pretty much all modern, including Evelina (574), Evalyn (701), Eveline (920), Evelynn (920), Evelin (1035), Evelyne (1083), Avleen (1526), Avalyn (2340), Evelynne (2499), Evlyn (2499), Evaline (3985), Evalina (4684), Evelyna (4684), Avaline (5666), Avalynn (5666), Evalyne (5666) Eveleen (5666), Evelinne (5666), and Evleen (5666) — but Aveline (3178) is medieval! — and especially including the compounds Evelyn-Rose (1272), Evelyn-Grace (3985), and Evelyn-Louise (5666).
  • The name coming in at no. 21, Phoebe, has its roots in the Greek New Testament, but it was quite rare before the Protestant reformation in the 16th C, where it was occasionally used in France. Variants such as Pheobe (1887) and Phoebie (2674) and compounds like Phoebe-Rose (1711); Phoebe-Grace (2499); Phoebe-Rae (2499); Phoebe-Mae (2674) and Phoebe-May (3985); Phoebe-Louise (4684); and Phoebe-Leigh (5666) are modern, while Phebe (2901) is reflective of Middle French orthography.
  • Name no. 22 brings us to an immense category of names: Nicknames of Elizabeth. There are so many of these, in addition to so many variants of the full name itself, that we’ll look at the full forms separately from the diminutives, and just focus on those here. How many modern nicknames of Elizabeth are found medievally? The ones in the following list in bold are all variants we’ve found before 1600: Elsie (22), Eliza (39), Betsy (145), Elise (216), Libby (248), Elisa (350), Betty (408), Elsa (437), Elissa (729), Beth (864), Elsi (1035), Lisa (1083), Betsie (1136), Elyse (1170), Bessie (1272), Elizah (1526), Elysia (1526), Elisia (1649), Liza (1711), Betsi (1887), Elis (1887), Eliz (1977), Betsan (2187), Eliska (2187), Libbie (2187), Elissia (2499), Elyssa (2499), Bettie (2674), Elyssia (2674), Lizzie (2901), Bess (3178), Beti (3178), Elsey (3178), Elysa (3518), Lissie (3518), Elize (3985), Elize (3985), Ellise (3985), Ellissia (3985), Ellsie (3985), Elyza (3985), Betsey (4684), Elysse (4684), Ilsa (4684), Lizzy (4684), Ellesse (5666), Ellisia (5666), Ellysia (5666) Elys (5666), Elza (5666), Elze (5666), Iliza (566), Ilse (5666), Lise (5666), Lissy (5666), and Liz (5666). It’s funny how even when a name has been in pretty much continuous use for more than a thousand years, you can still pick out trends in the diminutives.

    (None of the compounds are medieval, of course: Elsie-Mae (527), Elsie-May (720), Elsie-Mae (1314), Eliza-Mae (1788), Eliza-May (3178), Libby-Mae (3518), Betsy-Mae (3985), Betsy-May (4684), and Eliza-Mai (5666); Elsie-Rose (761), Eliza-Rose (1788), Betsy-Rose (3518), Elsa-Rose (4684), Betty-Rose (5666); Elsie-Rae (1136) and Betsy-Rae (4684); Eliza-Grace (2187), Elsie-Grace (2499), and Elsa-Grace (5666); Betsy-Lou (3178), Elsie-Lou (3518), and Betty-Lou (5666); Elsie-Jo (3985); Elsie-Marie (3985) and Lisa-Marie (4684); Elsie-Jayne (4684); Elsie-Leigh (4684) and Elsie-Lee (5666); Elsie-Ann (5666); and Elsie-Louise (5666).)

  • Name no. 24, Alice, is definitely a classic name, with roots going all the way back to the 9th C (and probably even earlier). It’s popularity means there’s a wide variety of spellings both medievally and modern — of the following ONS forms, beyond Alice itself, the ones in bold are all medieval: Heidi (86), Alicia (195), Aliza (211), Alyssa (229), Alessia (268), Alisha (274), Alicja (314), Alys (497), Alyssia (519), Aleeza (523), Alisa (602), Alesha (701), Alissa (778), Alesia (1083), Alizah (1170), Ailsa (1343), Alysia (1436), Alison (1490), Alissia (1526), Alisia (1711), Alysha (1788), Alise (1887), Allie (1887), Aleesha (2090), Allison (2090), Ailish (2340), Alessa (2499), Aleesa (2674), Alizay (2674), Alyza (2674), Eilish (2901), Ally (3178), Alaiza (3518), Alaysia (3518), Alecia (3518), Aliz (3518), Alyzah (3518), Eilis (3518), Elicia (3518), Aleasha (3985), Aleezah (3985), Aleezay (3985), Aleisha (3985), Alizeh (3985), Allyssa (3985), Alicija (4684), Alishah (4684), Allyson (4684), Aleida (5666), Aleysha (5666), Allyssia (5666), Alycia (5666), Alysa (5666), and Alyse (5666). (There are also quite a number of medieval forms that are not included in the above list!)

    None of the following compounds are medieval: Alice-Rose (2340), Alyssa-Rose (3518), Alissia-Rose (4684), and Alyssia-Rose (5666); Alessia-Maria (3985); Alicia-Mae (3985), Alice-Mae (4684), Alice-May (4684); and Alice-Grace (5666).

  • Name no. 32 is Mathilda, whose medieval variant forms go all the way from Mechthyldis to Mold. Of the modern variants found in the ONS, the ones in bold are also medieval: Matilda (31), Tilly (163), Tillie (587), Matylda (1059), Mathilda (1111), Matilde (1111), Tilda (1977), Mathilde (2187), Maude (2499), Maud (2674), and Matlida (5666). Unsurprisingly, none of the compounds are medieval: Tilly-Rose (1649), Matilda-Rose (2340), Tillie-Rose (3518); Tilly-Mae (2187), Tillie-Mae (2674), Tilly-May (3518), Tillie-Mai (3985), Matilda-May (5666), and Tilly-Mai (5666); Tillie-Ann and Tillyanna (both jointly 5666); and Tillie-Marie (5666).
  • The other name that Evie can be a diminutive of first shows up in the ONS data at no. 33, Eva. This particular spelling was most commonly found in Latin contexts in the Middle Ages, but other variants, including Eve (183), show up in the vernacular, and we can also find the Latin form Ewa (1887) and the diminutive Evita (5666). But forms like Ieva (1526), Evaa (3518), and Evah (5666) and compounds like Eva-Rose (1136); Eva-Maria (1788), Eva-Marie (3518); Eva-Grace (2187); Eva-Mae (2340), Eva-May (2499); Eva-Rae (3985); Eva-Louise (4684); Evaleigh (4684), Evalie (4684); Eva-Jean (5666); Eva-Lily (5666); and Eva-Noor (5666) are (all together now!) distinctly modern…
  • We said we’d treat Elizabeth and its variants separately from its diminutives, and we first run into this name at no. 47: Elizabeth (47). Other ONS forms include (those in bold are also medieval spellings) Elspeth (745), Elisabeth (864), Elisabeta (2090), Elsbeth (2187), Elisheva (3178), Elizaveta (3178), Elisabetta (3985), Elizabete (3985), Elzbieta (4684), Elisabella (5666), and Elisaveta (5666). Looking for an unusual form of Elizabeth for a future child? Check out the DMNES entry for many variants not shown here!

And this takes us through the classic names found in the top 50 girl’s names!

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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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Masc/Fem names: When do they differ?

We mentioned in our previous post how Latin records are so nice for uniquely identifying the gender of the bearer of names — someone who is filius Edwini is the son of a man named Edwin, while if he were filius Edwine he’d be the some of a woman called Edwina.

But how often is this merely a requirement of Latin grammar, that every word have one of three grammatical genders, and how often is this reflective of the underlying vernacular practice? Naturally, this depends on what the vernaculars are, and those which descended from Latin (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) are much more likely to keep an explicit grammatical distinction in the names. In Iberia, that shows up in the preponderance of women’s names ending in -a (though, of course, there are exceptions, such as Spanish and Catalan forms of Beatrice). In Italy, you see the same marking of feminine names, but often paired with a distinctive masculine ending in -o (as can be seen in the list of masculine/feminine pairs in 15th C Florence). In France, southern dialects tend towards Iberian practices, while in northern dialects, masculine names are generally unmarked, while feminine forms are derived by adding an -e (earlier) or doubling the final consonant and then adding an -e (later).

In England, however, the Latin forms often introduced distinctions not present in the vernacular. Withycombe, p. xxxv notes that:

Latin records of the 12th to 15th centuries show that the custom of giving masculine names to girls was also common in England; they appear in Latin with feminine endings, e.g., Philippa, Nicholaa, Alexandra, Jacoba, but it is clear that girls so named were in fact baptized and called Philip, Nicholas, Alexander, James, etc….Other names which were commonly used for girls were Gilbert, Aubrey, Reynold, Basil, Eustace, Giles, Edmund, Simon, Florence.

When the only references we have are in Latin, it is difficult to obtain evidence via which to test Withycombe’s assertion about the vernacular. However, once we start seeing records in Middle English and Early Modern English, then it is possible to see to what extent the feminine vernacular forms resemble the masculine.

The majority of our examples of Philipa in England are from the 16th C, and the majority of these are variants without the terminal (in fact, most of the examples with the -a are restricted to Devon, suggesting a regional early adoption of the Latin form as the vernacular.)

Feminine forms of Nicholas were never very common in England, and inspection of the entry for Nicole is only partly confirmatory of what Withycombe says. The vernacular forms have all lost the -a, but none of them have the -as. Instead, vernacular forms like Nichol and Nycoll look much more like the French feminine form of the name (and the spelling we took as the header name). This makes it more likely that girls named Nichol in the vernacular were named in accordance with the imported French form than simply given the masculine English form.

We don’t yet have any examples of Alexandra in England; Withycombe herself has only two early 13th C examples, adding that

Alexandra is found in England in 1205 and Alexandria in 1218, and these may have been named after a 4th-C martyr, though they are more likely to be mere latinizations of Alexander used as a girl’s name….Lyford 1655 gives Alexander as a f. name, and an early-14th-C English legendary gives Alisaundre as the name of the mother of St. Thomas of Canterbury

Further data will need to be collected to see more clearly how this feminine name appears in the vernacular.

Similarly, we have very few examples of Jacoba in English contexts, and curiously, all of them are diminutive forms: Jacobin, Jackett, and Jakett, all of which could equally easily be used by men.

Of the other names Withycombe mentions, only three of them do we have feminine examples from England. We have a handful of 12th-14th C examples of Basile in its Latin form Basilia, but our only vernacular example, in the 16th C, is not Basil but Basile, the usual French form. Eustacia in the vernacular is Eustice. The third name, Florence, is curious in that we have plenty of vernacular feminine examples of this spelling, — but no masculine ones! In fact, vernacular forms of the masculine version tend to end in -t, e.g., Florent.

It wasn’t until the end of the 16th C that you regularly start seeing Latinate forms, like Olivia, Isabella, Joanna, etc., instead of Olive, Isabel, Joan, etc., used in the vernacular. This is due in no small part to the influence of Shakespeare on English naming patterns at the turn of the 17th C, as he preferred Italian or Latinate forms of names in many cases. This penchant for the Latin -a ending can still be seen today, with the preponderance of feminine names given in English-speaking countries being ones ending with that letter or sound.

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