Tag Archives: German

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: Islana

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 an unusual one — a feminine name found in 14th C Münster, Germany, which is not an immediately recognizable saint’s name or clearly of Germanic origin. We have also extrapolated the header form, working from the general principle that “I” is more common than “Y”. Nevertheless, this is just a hypothesis at the moment, and we would welcome evidence showing that Yslana is a more suitable standardized form — or indeed, any information or further evidence concerning this name.

Islana

Do you recognize the name? Have any thoughts about it? Please share in the comments!

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Two case studies in massive cross-cultural onomastic corpora (1)

Yesterday we went down to Sheffield for the very interesting In the Name of History conference organised by James Chetwood. One of the themes of the day was what type of information historians can get from names that they can’t (easily/necessarily) get from other types of sources.

Medieval personal names encode unique data about cultural context that is often available in no other source. This information could function at the individual scale, such as when a tax role from Paris has a l’Anglais and a l’Escot, or a census from Rome has a fiorentina and a todescha. In a documentary context where the only information we are given is a name and either a taxation amount or a number of people in a household, quite often names encode information that would be in no other way accessible.

Names can also provide evidence of local phenomenon at a micro scale, at the level of cities or parishes, where the influence of local saint or dignitaries can sometimes be seen.

Finally, names can also provide cross-cultural information at a macro scale, such as how languages change and develop, how linguistic fads move, how (and when and where) names and naming pattern propagate. This macro scale can only be studied through massive cross-cultural onomastic corpora.

In our talk, we sketched two case studies of the type of things that can be seen from such a cross-cultural corpus, drawn from the data we’ve collected for the Dictionary (both published and unpublished citations): (1) Protestant naming practices in the late 16th C, and (2) the eclipse of Germanic names over the course of the 12th C.

We’ve discussed Protestant names before on the blog, but our point today was to use this data to argue against a conclusion which may seem appropriate when considering the English data alone, but which, in the presence of relevant contemporary French and Dutch data, is no longer warranted.

C. W. Bardsley in his Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature draws a distinction between Puritan names/naming practices and the effect of the Reformation more generally. He says:

We must at once draw a line between the Reformation and Puritanism. Previous to the Reformation, so far as the Church was concerned, there had been to a certain extent a system of nomenclature. The Reformation abrogated that system, but did not intentionally adopt a new one. Puritanism deliberately supplied a well-weighed and revised scheme (pp. 42-43).

If you look at English data — particularly after 1600 — it is certainly true that the Puritans adopted some distinctive names and naming types (“Praisegod”, “Fly-Fornication”, etc.) However, as our previous blog posts have shown, there is a distinctively Protestant trend in given names that can be identified if the French, Dutch, and English data is all analysed together. This cross-cultural analysis is required: Some of the trends that are visible across all three contexts would be merely a handful of isolated incidents if only one cultural context were considered. For example, if we consider New Testament masculine names exclude the names of the apostles, each of the three cultures have only a handful of examples. But when we compare the name lists from each, we see that there is a significant amount of overlap — while no name occurs in all three contexts, almost half occur in two, and not always the same two.
New Testament masculine names
From this, it is clear that these individual examples are all a part of a wider trend.

The case is similar when we look to virtue names. Virtue names are in many respects a quintessentially English phenomenon — almost all of the examples of virtue names used before 1600 occur in English contexts and also occur ONLY in English contexts. However, not all of them do, and there are some names which are best classified as virtue names which occur outside of England. Again, on their own, these handful of names would not be enough to provide any evidence for a wider pattern or trend. However, when we view all of the virtue names together, they do:
Virtue names
Memorantia and Opportune are both found in Protestant contexts, and are extremely atypical names for the wider Dutch and French naming pools in the 16th C (or earlier). They are best understood as being examples of a Protestant-wide trend towards virtue names, forcing us to look beyond the narrow scope of Puritanism.

This is but one case-study of the sorts of trends that you can only witness if you look at a broad set of data. We’ll cover another case-study in a future post!

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Mystery Monday: Hadolowald

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.

Since we’ve been revisiting Germanic themes recently, how about a round of “guess the prototheme”? The deuterotheme here is easy — Old Saxon wald, Old High German walt ‘power, authority’, but anyone want to hazard a guess at what the prototheme is? Leave your best guess in the comments!
Hadolowald

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Revisiting our hypotheses about dithematic Germanic names

About a year ago we discussed dithematic Germanic names in the Polyptyque d’Irminon, and part of our discussion included a list of names that we hadn’t yet found but we would not be surprised if we would find in future work. We thought it would be fun to revisit those hypothesized names and see how many of them we have since found examples of, both in the Polyptyque and elsewhere.

  • Adalbodus: One example in 9th C Germany
  • Adalbrandus: No examples yet.
  • Adalmundus: One example in 10th C England, one in 7th C France, and one in 10th C Italy.
  • Adalwaldus/Adaloaldus/Aloaldus: Numerous examples in 10th-12th C England, one from the Polyptyque, and one in 12th C Scotland
  • Adalwardus/Adaloardus: No examples yet.
  • Amalboldus: No examples yet.
  • Amalgarius: Two examples in 7th C France
  • Amalgaria: No examples yet.
  • Amalgis: No examples yet.
  • Amalgundus: No examples yet.
  • Amalindis: No examples yet.
  • Amaloinus: No examples yet.
  • Amalradus: No examples yet.
  • Anshilde/Ansoildis: No examples yet.
  • Bernefridus: One example in 12th C Germany.
  • Ebrefridus: No examples yet.
  • Eckfridus: Two examples from 11th C Spain.
  • Ermenbodus: No examples yet.
  • Ermelindis: No examples yet.
  • Ermenoinus: No examples yet.
  • Ermenradus: Numerous examples in 12th C Switzerland.
  • Framenildis: No examples yet.
  • Gisalfridus: One instance in 9th C France (available in the next edition)
  • Godildis/Godalildis: No examples yet.
  • Grimbertus: One example in 14th C France (!)
  • Lantboldus: One example in 8th C Austria.
  • Leutbrandus: One example in 10th C Austria, one in 10th C France, two in 9th C Germany, and one in 11th C Italy.
  • Leutgildis: No examples yet.
  • Madalgrimus: No examples yet.
  • Madalgundus: No examples yet.
  • Magenboldus: One example in 11th C Germany.
  • Nadalboldus: No examples yet.
  • Raganbodus: four examples in 14th C Czech Republic, one in 7th C Germany, one in 12th C Germany, two in 13th C Germany, four in 13th C Latvia, and two in 14th C Latvia.
  • Ragangarius: one in 11th C Belgium, seven in 12th C France, and one in 10th C Germany.
  • Ragangrimus: No examples yet.
  • Ricboldus: No examples yet.
  • Segoulfus: No examples yet.
  • Siclegardis: No examples yet.
  • Siclegaudus: No examples yet.
  • Siclindis: No examples yet.
  • Sigericus: two in 10th C England.
  • Sigmarus: No examples yet.
  • Sigmundus: one in 10th C Germany, four in 14th C Germany, one in 16th C Italy, one in 16th C Poland, three in 14th C Sweden.
  • Teutbrandus: two in 12th C Austria, two in 10th C France
  • Teutgildis: No examples yet.
  • Teuthelmus: No examples yet.
  • Teutmundus: No examples yet.
  • Teutsindis: No examples yet.
  • Teutoulfus: one in 13th C England, one in the Polyptyque, five in 9th C Germany, two in 10th C Germany.
  • Winetrudis: No examples yet.
  • Winegundus: No examples yet.
  • Winehardus: No examples yet.
  • Winehelmus: No examples yet.
  • Winildis/Winoildis: No examples yet.
  • Winelindis: No examples yet.

Out of 55 hypothesized names, we’ve found 18 (32.7%), albeit only two in the Polyptyque — but this is more likely an artefact of the sources we’ve been focusing on in the last year. There are still more Polyptyque names to be transcribed!

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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: Alpoh

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 an early masculine name from Italy, one which is neither clearly of Romance origin nor clearly of Germanic origin — unless it is related to Old High German alb ‘elf’, which is currently our best guess at etymology. Do you have any other examples? Any corroborating evidence? Any alternative hypotheses? Please share in the comments!

Alpoh

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