Tag Archives: Gaius

Arthurian Names: Kay/Kai/Cai/Cei

Sir Kay is the son of Sir Hector, and the foster-brother of Arthur. He, along with Bedivere, is one of the earliest characters to appear associated with Arthur in the literary cycles, appearing in early Welsh poems such as the Welsh Triads and Culhwch ac Olwen. His name appears in a variety of forms in the various sources. In English he is Kay or Kai, in French romances the name is spelled Keu, and in Welsh, his name is Cei or Cai. These last forms, the earliest ones, give clue to the origin: Cai is a Welsh form of the Roman praenomen Gaius (see entry in next edition), also spelled Caius. The origin of this praenomen is uncertain, but it may be related to Latin gaudere ‘to rejoice’. So with this name we have seen names of Celtic origin (Arthur, Gawain, Guinevere), Germanic origin (), and Greek origin (Elaine, Hector), and now we’ve a name of Roman origin. (It won’t be the last!)

The name was never common, but it was used in England, particularly in areas with strong Welsh and Breton connections; Reaney & Wilson s.n. Kay mention one Britius filius Kay from 1199.

It is not clear to what extent the relationship between Kay/Cai/Keu etc. and Gaius/Caius was recognized medievally — i.e., the extent to which occurrences of Gaius can be taken as examples of the influence of Arthurian legends. In fact, the extent is probably very minimal, especially given other more likely routes to the name, such as the various minor New Testament characters, saints, or popes. In Italy — which is where our current single example comes from — the influence of Julius Caesar, Pliny the Elder, and Tacitus, all of whose praenomina were Gaius on the Renaissance likely contributed to the use of the name more than the Arthurian character.

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Arthurian names: Arthur

By Unknown - International Studio Volume 76, via http:/www.bestoflegends.org/kingarthur/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4366920

By Unknown – International Studio Volume 76, via http:/www.bestoflegends.org/kingarthur/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4366920

We kick off this month’s topical discussion with a consideration of the name of the person without whom we wouldn’t have this topic: Arthur himself. Without Arthur, no Arthurian literature, no Arthurian names, no interesting patterns of adoptions of these names.

Origin: The origin of the name is uncertain, but it is perhaps derived to Old Breton arth, from Proto-Celtic *artos, in turn related to Greek ἄρκτος ‘bear’; certainly the name was later associated with this word retrospectively. An alternative origin which has been suggested is the Roman gens Ar(c)torius; if this is correct, Arthur would not be the only Roman name ‘naturalized’ into a Welsh or Celtic context. Other Arthurian names of ultimately Roman origin are the name of Arthur’s seneschal Kai or Cai (from Gaius, also spelled Caius) and Emrys (from Ambrosius).

Usage: Withycombe s.n. Arthur has a nice overview of the historical occurrences of the name, both in connection with the Britonic ruler and not:

The earliest recorded example of the name Arthur occurs (as Arturius) in Adamnan’s life of St. Columba, where it is the name of an Irish prince killed in 596; the earliest mention of King Arthur is in Nennius (fl. 796).

In England, the name shows up used by ordinary people in Domesday Book, and while “never very common, Arthur is most often found, in the Middle Ages, in counties bordering on Celtic districts, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Somerset, for example” (Withycombe). The Celtic connection shows up again in the use of the name across the channel in Brittany, where Arthur Duke of Brittany, the nephew of King John, had a Breton mother; and never forget that Henry VII’s elder son Arthur Tudor was a Welshman.

Our examples in England are primarily from the 16th C, with one lone 12th C Latinization. The name was Latinized both Art(h)urus and Art(h)us, with the latter spelling influencing the Italian form Artusio. We also have examples from France and Scotland, and, in unprocessed data, we have the unusual spelling Aearthur in Wales in 1204. The name spread beyond the core center of Britonic influence: In unprocessed data we also have one 16th C Portuguese example of Artur. Perhaps most interesting is the single example of Arthuze we have (also in unprocessed data), from France in 1549. This is a feminine name, derived from Arthus following standard French methods of feminization.


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