Tag Archives: French

Mystery Monday: Nivelo/Nevelo

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.

It’s always interesting when a particular mystery name has more than one citation (and they’re not just the same person showing up in a collection of related documents). It’s even more interesting when that mystery name appears in different sources. It’s even more interesting when that mystery name appears in different sources and different centuries — and in both Latin and the vernacular. It’s not often that we have that much disparate evidence for a name (albeit all in France and all within a 150 year period) and have no idea what the origin of the name is. Welcome to today’s Mystery Monday name!

Nivelo

Have you seen this name before? Got any guesses for its origin? (This doesn’t seem relevant). Any further examples? (Apparently there was a Bishop of Soissons by this name in 1205; and another Crusader in the First Crusade). Please share in the comments!

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Traditional names are still the most popular

The highlight of the onomastician’s calendar is always the publication of the babyname statistics for various countries — when the US Social Security baby name data for the previous year is released (usually in May), you can see the excitement sweep across the onomastic portion of the internet. (Even those of us who focus on medieval names rather than modern names will still block out an evening to do nothing but scroll through the new lists!). Yesterday, the BBC reported on data from the Office for National Statistics with the top 10 boys’ and girls’ names in England and Wales for 2016.

Despite the plurality and diversity of naming options facing modern parents, especially in anglophone countries where it is common for parents to adopt names from many different cultural contexts, the most popular names tend to be relatively conservative, in the sense that they do not change much from year to year (though they change enough that generational and regional trends are easy to see); they tend to favor “standard” spellings of names; and they tend to be names with a long pedigree. Names like Daenarys and Khaleesi may have made it into top 1000 lists for both the US and the UK, and they may be climbing steadily, but it will be a long while before they’ve been around long enough to make it into the top 10. (If Martin’s books are still being read at that point, a few centuries in the future, he should be well pleased!)

But just how long a pedigree do the names in the top 10 for England and Wales have? That’s the focus of today’s post!

Top 10 girls’ names in England and Wales

  1. Olivia: Olivia reflects the modern tendency to prefer polysyllabic, Latinate, explicitly gender-marked forms of names. The name is often cited as being an invention of Shakespeare, but that is manifestly not true; not only did he not invent it, he was not the instigator of its use in England. Forms of this name have been used in England from at least the 13th C onwards, and this particular spelling can be found in Latin documents in 1296 and 1321. On the continent, the name was used even early, from at least the 9th C in France.
  2. Amelia: Amelia sounds like it follows the same Latinate pattern as Olivia, due to its similarity to the Roman gens name Aemilia, but in fact it derives from Proto-Germanic *amal ‘vigor, bravery’, and could have been used as a diminutive of any of various names beginning with this element (such as Amalhilde, Amalgilde, Amaltrude, or Amalswintha).
  3. Emily: Now this name is the one derived from Aemilia. While the masculine form Emil was moderately popular medievally, Emily was always uncommon. In England, the name is best known, in the Middle English spelling Emelye, as the princess in Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale”.
  4. Isla: Isla as a name, and especially as a feminine name, is distinctly modern. It derives from the name of an island, and the pattern of naming children after geographical regions such as islands, cities, duchies, and states is quite recent (relatively speaking).
  5. Ava: Ava is a strange name in that we have a pretty long history of its usage — particular in the diminutive form Aveline — but other than being able to identify it as Germanic in origin, it is not clear further what its linguistic roots or etymology are.
  6. Isabella: Isabella fits neatly in with Olivia as the Latin form of a common medieval name, Isabel, which itself arose from another common medieval name, Elizabeth. Even as late as the 16th C, one and the same woman could be recorded as Isabel(la) and Elizabeth interchangeably, and hybrid forms like Elsabell can also be found in that era.
  7. Lily: It’s almost overdetermined that Lily would appear in the “most popular” girls’ names of the present era. The name both reflects the penchant illustrated by Isla above to name children after naturalistic elements, and it bears its original usage not from the flower but from a nickname of Elizabeth, and is still sometimes nowadays used to honor relatives named Elizabeth.
  8. Jessica: Jessica is another name, like Olivia, which is thought to be invented by Shakespeare but wasn’t actually. Forms of this name were used by Jewish women living in England before the expulsion in 1290.
  9. Ella: This trim, spare name might hearken to the -bella names, but it is another name of Germanic origin, deriving from Proto-Germanic *allaz ‘all, whole, every’. It was rare, but has been used since at least the 15th C.
  10. Mia: Mia is the one outlier of the entire bunch; it’s use is prettty much purely modern. It can be used as a nickname of various names, including Mary, Amelia, and Emily, and is identical with the Italian and Spanish word ‘mine’, from Latin mea. Mea, now, does have a long history of usage — but as a nickname of Bartholomea.

Top 10 boys’ names in England and Wales

  1. Oliver: With Olivia number 1 for the girl’s, Oliver might strike many people as simply the masculine equivalent — but the truth is much more complex. It may be a derivative of Latin oliva just as Olivia is, but it could equally well be a form of Olaf developing in Normandy, or a form of Aylward via Alvaro spellings. Whatever it’s origin, the name has a long history, showing in Belgium, France, England, and Ireland by the end of the 12th C, spreading outward from there in the 13th and 14th centuries, and being pretty well established across Europe by the end of the 16th C.
  2. Harry: What do you get when you take a Germanic name pronounced by Frenchmen and write it down by an English speaker? Why, Harry of course! Due to the numerous kings and saints named various forms of Henry, it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular masculine names in all of European history.
  3. George: No doubt about the pedigree of this name; the eponymous saint that slew the dragon and kickstarted the name’s popularity lived in the 3rd-4th C. It was never a hugely popular name in England before the 16th C, but from then on, it has been well-established, getting extra boosts from a couple of kings.
  4. Jack: How Jack developed as a nickname of John is a perennial question, and one we’ve discussed before. In our own data, we have examples from the 14th C onwards.
  5. Jacob: After John, Jacob is probably the most popular medieval man’s name of Hebrew origin — though as with other names of Biblical origin, Jacob was rare before the 12th C. The majority of the few 9th C examples we have were of clerics or people closely associated with the church, where the use of this name instead of a name of Germanic origin was a strong signal of the family’s Christianity. By the end of the 16th C, James was perhaps slightly more popular than Jacob in England, but both remained strong contenders.
  6. Noah: This Old Testament name came into use amongst English and French Protestants in the 16th C, but it was also used occasionally before then, influenced by the medieval mystery plays.
  7. Charlie: This name has a relatively short history in England; before the 16th C, it was quite rare, and many of our pre-1500 examples in England are actually foreign visitors. The name was, however, vastly popular on the continent due to its most famous bearer, Charlemagne. It’s not clear when the diminutive form Charlie developed; we haven’t yet found any pre-1600 examples yet. Thus, of all the names in this list, Charlie can be taken to be the most “modern”.
  8. Muhammad: Muhammad is clearly a name with a long history, but many people probably think that history is almost exclusively Middle Eastern — but that is because people often tend to forget how much Arabic settlement, trade, and migration there was during the medieval period. In the 1510 census of Valencia, seven men named Mahomat are listed; in Italy, a “Saracen” named Machemet is recorded in 1160. And this is to not even delve into the records from al-Andalus, where this name was extremely popular, accounting for over 30% of the men.
  9. Thomas: As with other names of Biblical origin, Thomas first gets its purchase in England in the 12th century; from then on, it was consistently and continuously one of the most popular names in the country.
  10. Oscar: This name has two distinct origins. First, and most commonly, it is a compound of Old English ōs, Old High German *ans, ans-, ansi-, Old Icelandic áss, óss ‘god, deity’ + Old English gār, Old High German, Old Saxon gēr, Old Icelandic geirr ‘spear’. The name was quite popular in France and Germany in the 9th-12th C, but it mostly fell out of use after that. The modern popularity of the name is probably due more to the second origin it has, Irish os ‘deer’ + cara ‘friend’. This name was vanishingly rare in medieval Ireland, but was used by James Mcpherson in The Works of Ossian (1765), through which (via Napoleon and his grandson) the name entered the Swedish royal line. This combination of Irish heritage and Scandinavian foreignness makes it no surprise that the name is as popular in England as it is today, even though there was a centuries-long gap in its usage.

So there you have it! Unsurprisingly, the most popular boys’ and girls’ names in England and Wales last year are strongly rooted in a long historical tradition in which many of these names have been amongst the most popular for millennia.

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Mystery Monday: Jeufine

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.

Today’s name is a feminine one from late 16th C Normandy (Protestant context, if that makes any difference). It’s one where we can easily come up with various guesses about its origins, but that’s all they are — guesses.

Jeufine

  • Guess one: It is related to French jeu ‘game’ and fin(e) ‘fine, nice’ or fin(e) ‘final’. Problem: Very atypical type of construction (unless the phrase was some sort of phrase in common parlance at the time that we are not familiar with); fine is fem. but jeu is masculine (but perhaps this is simply because the name was borne by a woman!)
  • Guess two: The editor misread an s for an f and the name is Jeusine; possibly then it is related to the English Josine we have from 1549. (An attempt to feminise Joseph? Or Josiah?)

Care to share any guesses of your own?

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Everything old is new again, part 2

So, who’s up for another round of everything old is new again, aka “names generated by a neural network on twitter that are actual medieval names”?

Aulia is a feminine name found in Rome in 1527.

Sania is a feminine name found in Iberia between ~1119 and 1150.

Arnall is a Catalan form of Arnold found in the 12th century.

Lys is a Dutch diminutive of Elizabeth found in Leuven at the end of the 16th C.

Vinne is a Middle Low German nickname of Winrich found in Estona in 1592.

Ales is a popular 16th C English spelling of Alice.

Danel is a Dutch form of Daniel found in London at the end of the 16th C.
Sabel is a nickname of Sabine found in 16th C England.

Alsen is a 16th C English nickname of Alice, popular in Cornwall.

The Italian feminine name Laria is found in Bergamo between 1265 and 1339.

The Hebrew name Asa was used by French Protestants in the 16th C.

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Mystery Monday: Ebresia

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.

There are not many names in use in 11th-century France that are neither (a) new Christian/saint’s name imports nor (b) in use in preceding centuries. Today’s mystery name is one, a feminine name found in Marseille in the early part of the century. While it can possibly be connected with the prototheme ebur, given a lack of any clear explanation for the deuterotheme, this identification remains at the “possible” rather than “plausible” level. We’d love to upgrade it. Have you found any other examples of this name? Do you have thoughts about the ending -esia? Please let us know in the comments!

Ebresia

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Book haul!

We were back at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds this last week, and came away with a book haul that is worth devoting a post to:
books

The Assize of Bread Book, 1477-1517 is a record from Southampton regarding fines related to selling poor-quality bread. It’s a mix of Latin, (Anglo-)French, and Middle/Early Modern English — sometimes all in the same entry so that we get to play “What’s the matrix language?” with records such as this:

Alysawne Chayne vendyt a John Debarde xxviij die ffebr’

(In passing, isn’t Alysawne an absolutely delicious form of Alison?)

Not directly onomastics, but welcome for background research, is Glossaire de la Langue d’Oïl (XIe-XIV siècles), published in France in 1891. It’s been rebound in a beautiful tooled leather binding, and we are not above noting that this played a role in our choice to acquire it!

What do Anschetillus, Daniel, Wimundus, Aelais, Evardus, Hugo, Tustinus, Serlo, Gauterius, and Regnarius all have in common? They’re all Norman names found in the late 12th C, in the Charters and Custumals of the Abbey of Holy Trinity, Caen: Part 2, the French Estates.

From a century later and across the channel, we have The Warwickshire Hundred Rolls of 1279-80: Stoneleigh and Kineton Hundreds. The late 13th century isn’t the most exciting of times, onomastically, in England, but we look forward to a good crop of solid names.

One of the fascinating things about looking at early records is watching Latin develop into vernaculars; sometimes you can be reading a charter for awhile before realizing “hey, wait, I’m not exactly sure WHICH language this is in.” Such is the case for many of the charters in Foundations of Crusader Valencia, Revolt & Recovery, 1257-1263: Diplomatarium of the Crusader Kingdom of Valencia, where Latin bleeds into Spanish and the documents will fill a gap we have in terms of names from 13th C Iberia.

Providing us with a wealth of Scottish material is the two-volume Liber Protocollorum with the Rental Book of Diocese of Glasgow. Did you know that the most typical Scots spelling of John was Jhon? It will be fun to see this book give up its treasures — quite literally, as many of the pages in these volumes haven’t been cut!

The last book is truly amazing — a very detailed edition and commentary on A Sixth-century Tax Register from the Hermpololite Nome — aka Coptic/Greek names from Egypt! Look for this in a Dictionary edition coming soon (just as soon as we figure out the most efficient way to enter names in a non-Roman alphabet!)

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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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