Tag Archives: Giseltrude

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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Every day is Christmas when you’re an onomast

Sometimes, when I stop and think about the scale of our undertaking, it can seem a bit daunting. EVERY name from EVERY European document for more than 1000 years? 1000 editorial assistants working 1000 years wouldn’t be enough, if you think about it rationally.

So the easiest thing to do is don’t (think about it rationally, that is). We know this is a big project, and one that will hopefully outlive us. And in the meantime, one way to make incremental steps towards breadth of coverage — rather than the depth that we could get if we, say, concentrated on 16th C English parish registers — is by keeping many pots on the stove at once, that is, working on multiple sources at once. Each editorial assistant can choose what and how many projects to have on hand at the same time, with some choosing to keep to their onomastic specialities (such as Hungarian) or to a culturally-linked but relatively under-developed area in terms of medieval onomastic research (such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland), while others of us simply flit from source to source as new possibilities become available.

One result of this tactic is that you never know what you are going to find. Those of you who follow us on Twitter know that last week thanks to a Cambridge University Press booksale we came away with 19 volumes from their “Cambridge Library Collection” on the cheap. One of them, Historic and Municipal Documents of Ireland, A.D. 1172-1320, caught my eye because we have had some people complain (with justification) that our current coverage of Ireland is quite minimal. (It’s not nonexistent, but currently we have Irish citations in only five entries, Henry, Laurence, Ralph, Robert, and William, none of which, the astute reader will note, are especially Irish.) Tonight I sat down to flip through it, and item III is a late 12th C document headed “Dublin Roll of Names” — 45 pages of them. Most of them are distinctly Anglo-Irish in origin, but casual flipping shows a little bit of the underlying Gaelic substrate peaking through, such as an occurrence of Padin, a Gaelic diminutive of Patrick; Gillafinean, a form of Gaelic Gilla Finnén; and Galgethel, at the moment unfamiliar but almost certainly to be Gaelic in origin. 45 pages of names from Dublin? It’s like Christmas has come three months early.

In addition to systematically working our way through sources transcribing names, we also often do individual consultations for people who are looking for further information about the use of a particular name, and these searches often serendipitously lead to gems. The other day, while searching for examples of Ava which were not diminutives, we found a mid-11th C charter from Ghent with the most lovely list of women and their daughters, some familiar, some distinctly unusual:

Ermengardis, Emma, Tisvidis, Ava, Ermentrudis, Memlendis, Lulend, Badin, Nodelend, Bivin, Bernewif

This afternoon, speculation on Facebook about how an early 9th C Frankish woman could’ve ended up with the given name Suspecta lead us to return to the original source to look up the names of her family members, which include father Teutfredusb (Theodefrid, mother Fulca (entry available in the next edition, s.n. Fulka), and siblings Seats (obscure, in both origin and gender), Teodarus (Theodeher), Gisledrudis (entry available in the next edition, s.n. Giseltrude), and Teodara (entry available in the next edition, s.n. Theodara).

I’ve been studying names in some form or another for more than two decades, and the thrill of finding an onomastic gem never fades. The Dictionary is, to some extent, merely an excuse to go on finding them.

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