Tag Archives: Jacob

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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Some very special Biblical forms of names

York Gospels

York Gospels, York Minster, © Sara L. Uckelman, 2017

One of the long-term adjunct projects of the Dictionary is to look at how various names are spelled in the earliest vernacular translations of the Bible, because these translations had a significant influence on how the names were spelled when they were used in common currency. Because there are so many Biblical names and so many vernacular translations produced before 1600, added the citations to the relevant entries is an on-going process; we can generally add the Middle English forms from the Wycliffite translation of 1395 right at the start because there is a handy online searchable version of it available. For other Biblical names, we are slowly working through the alphabet adding for (cf., e.g., Aaron, which has forms from the Wycliffite Bible, the Geneva Bible of 1560, and in the next edition will have citations from the Sagrados Escrituras of 1569).

The vast majority of the time, the DMNES editors do data collection for the Dictionary via printed editions; we simply do not have the time, volunteer power, or money to work solely with manuscripts. But every once in awhile, we do get to have an encounter with a manuscript that has names in it, and last weekend on a trip to York, our editor-in-chief had a manuscript encounter which involved both early Bibles and names. In the undercroft of York minster, the York Gospels are on display. The Minster’s website says of the Gospels:

The York Gospels were brought to York in around 1020 by Archbishop Wulfstan and the 1,000 year old text is still used in services today. The Anglo-Saxon book is one of the most valuable in York Minster’s collection and is one of the few surviving items from the Saxon Minster, the location for which is unknown today.

It contains four Gospels rather than the whole bible and is filled with elaborate illustrations as well as a letter from King Canute dated around 1019. It’s believed its original pages were written in Canterbury in around 990AD, with additional pages added to the manuscript by the Dean and Chapter after they arrived in York.

The Gospels are currently on display in the cathedral’s Revealing York Minster in the Undercroft attraction. The book is stored behind glass but visitors can turn virtual pages of the book to take a closer look at some of the illuminated pages using touch screen displays adjacent to the case.

Often when a manuscript Bible is on display, a page with a fancy illuminated initial, or a whole-page picture, are chosen; these are the eye-catching ones that display the true beauty and skill of medieval artwork. But the York Gospel has a rather plain and simple spread on display, something that might seem boring or ordinary to the average viewer.

But to the onomast?

The page that’s on display contains part of the genealogy of Jesus, and thus it gives us first-hand knowledge of how scribes rendered these names in Latin in the 10th C.

What could be more beautiful?

…who was of Aram, who was of Efrom, who was of Phares, who was of Iudea, who was of Iacob, who was of Isaac, who was of Abraha, who was of Thare, who was of Nachor, who was of Seruch, who was of Ragau, who was of Phaleg, who was of Eber, who was of Sala, who was of Cainan, who was of Arfaxat, who was of Sem, who was of Noe, who was of Lamech, who was of Matusale, who was of Enoh, who was of Iared, who was of Malalehel, who was of Chainan, who was of Enos, who was of Seth, who was of Adam, who was of God.

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Names of the 12 Disciples

It’s an odd collection of words and phrases that bring people to this blog, but recently someone came here via searching for

names of the disciples in all europe

which struck us as something that would make a nice blog post in itself!

The Biblical disciples (or apostles) are traditionally numbered as 12, though because different gospels name different ones, and also use different names for the same, the numbers don’t always quite add up. Nevertheless, the names of the “canonical” disciples are, in their modern English forms: Andrew; Bartholomew; James, the son of Alphaeus; James, the son of Zebedee; John; Judas Iscariot; Jude/Thaddeus; Matthew; Philip; Simon Peter; Simon the Zealot; and Thomas. (After his betrayal of Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot was replaced by Matthias). We’ve discussed all of these names before, in posts discussing the influence of Protestantism on the 16th-century naming pool, and in posts discussing the medieval roots of modern names; but here we want to focus on when and where these names were used in Europe:

Country Andrew Bartholomew James John
Croatia 15th-16th C 15th C
Czech Republic 14th C 14th C 14th C 14th C
England 12th-16th C 12th-16th C 12th-16th C 12th-14th C
Estonia 14th-16th C 16th C 14th-16th C 14th-16th C
Finland 16th C 16th C 16th C
France 11th-16th C 9th C, 11th-16th C 9th C, 12th-16th C 7th C, 9th C, 11th-16th C
Germany 10th-15th C 12th-13th C, 15th C 9th C, 13th-15th C 9th-10th C, 12th-16th C
Hungary 14th C 14th C 14th
Iceland 16th C 15th-16th C
Ireland 12th C 12th C, 16th C 12th C, 16th C 12th C, 16th C
Italy 10th-16th C 12th-16th C 12th-16th C 9th-16th C
Latvia 13th-16th C 15th-16th C 13th C, 15th-16th C 13th-16th C
Lithuania 16th C 16th C 16th C 16th C
Low Countries 13th-14th C, 16th C 14th C, 16th C 13th-14th C, 16th C 12th-14th C, 16th C
Malta 15th C 15th C 15th C
Poland 13th C 13th-14th C 13th-14th C
Portugal 13th C 13th C 12th-13th C
Scotland 14th-16th C 14th C 14th-16th C 11th-16th C
Spain 11th C, 15th-16th C 15th-16th C 15th-16th C 11th-16th C
Sweden 14th-16th C 14th C 14th-16th C
Switzerland 12th-13th C 12th C 12th-15th C 12th-15th C
Ukraine 15th C 15th C 15th C
Wales 12th C, 16th C 13th C, 15th-16th c

 

Country Matthew/ Matthias Peter Simon Thomas
Croatia 15th C 15th C
Czech Republic 14th C 14th C 14th C 13th-14th C
England 12th-14th C, 16th C 12th-16th C 12th-16th C 12th-16th C
Estonia 14th-16th C 14th-16th C 14th-16th C 14th-16th C
Finland 16th C 16th C 16th C 16th C
France 12th-16th C 9th-16th C 11th-16th C 9th C, 12th-16th C
Germany 12th C, 14th-15th C 7th C, 10th C, 12th-13th C, 15th C 9th-10th C, 12th-13th C, 15th C 13th-15th C
Hungary 14th C 14th C 14th C 14th C
Iceland 16th C
Ireland 12th C, 16th C 12th C 12th C, 16th C
Italy 12th-16th C 10th-16th C 13th-16th C 13th-16th C
Latvia 13th C, 15th-16th C 13th-16th C 13th C, 16th C 13th C, 15th-16th C
Lithuania 16th c 16th C 16th C 16th C
Low Countries 14th C, 16th C 13th-14th C, 16th C 14th C, 16th C 13th-14th C, 16th C
Malta 15th C
Poland 13th-14th C 13th C
Portugal 12th C 12th-13th C
Scotland 14th C, 16th C 12th C 12th C, 14th-15th C 11th-16th C
Spain 15th-16th C 11th-13th C, 15th-16th C 15th-16th C 15th-16th C
Sweden 14th-15th C 14th-16th C 14th C 14th-16th C
Switzerland 12th-15th C 12th-13th C
Ukraine 15th C 15th C 15th C
Wales 16th C 16th C 15th-16th C

Of course, our data set is by no means comprehensive in coverage, and thus we cannot say whether any gaps demonstrated in this post are due to the incompleteness of our data or due to the fact that the name was not used. However, this is a topic that we can revisit again in a few years, to see if things have changed! One omission, though, is noteworthy: We have not yet found a single example of any form of Jude, Judas, Judah. The legacy of the betrayal lasted long in Christian Europe.

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Why is James a form of Jacob?

Today’s question is another one that probably everyone who has spent any time thinking about names has thought about at one time or another — just how exactly do you get James as a variant of the name Jacob?! The only letters they share are Ja-, which from a modern point of view is a pretty tenuous connection.

The answer is…it’s actually pretty straightforward!

The standard Latin form of the name was Jacobus, but in Italy, southern France, and Switzerland, the -b- became -m-, e.g., Jacomus, eventually giving rise to the Italian form Giacomo and the Provencal and Catalan form Jacme. Very rarely, Jacomus became James in Old French, and when that form of the name got imported into England (early 13th C examples of James in England can be found in the records of King John), it supplanted the more common Old and Middle French forms Jaques and Jacques. This is why you tend to see James only in insular contexts; over on the continent, the Langue d’Oil forms retaining -c- dominated.

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Why is Jack a nickname of John?

Continuing our series of posts where we answer questions we’ve received (usually via FB), here we devote a post to the question of why Jack is a nickname of John and not Jacob. After all, the only letters that Jack and John have in common are J- — not much of a connection! For answering this question, we can do no better than quote Withycombe, s.n. Jack. We’ve added a few extra comments [in brackets]:

[Jack], the commonest pet-name for John, has caused a good deal of difficulty owing to the natural assumption that it must be derived from the French Jacques and should therefore logically represent James rather than John. The problem was cleared up by E. W. B. Nicholson in a little book entitled The Pedigree of Jack and of Various Allied Names (1892). He showed that there is no recorded instance of Jack, Jak, Jacke, or Jakke ever being used to represent Jacques or James, and that no statement in favor of the French connexion has been produced from any early writer. He then proceeded to elucidate and illustrate with examples the development of Johannes [the standard Latin nominative form] to Jehan [the standard Old and Middle French oblique form] and Jan [the standard Middle Dutch form], whence, by addition of the common suffix -kin [a uniquely English suffix], we get Jankin, which as a result of French nasalization becomes Jackin [this is the same nasalization that gets us Harry from Henry], and was finally shortened to Jack. There was a similar development from Jon to Jock (the Scottish form of the name).

Not much to say beyond that! Except that we do not have access to Nicholson’s little book ourselves, and would dearly love a copy. If anyone has one they could spare…

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Monthly topic: Medieval roots of modern names, part 1

Though we may be all about the medieval names at DMNES central, this is, for most of us, because we are interested in names in general, medieval or modern. So it should be no surprise that one of the highlights of the onomastic year is when the US Social Security releases their baby name data for the previous year. These lists are always a curious mix of the eminently traditional and the bizarrely modern, and there is little way to predict where a name will occur in the list on the basis of which of these two camps it most falls in. We thought we’d spend time this month looking at the names in the top 1000 and tracing back their origins. Are the new-fangled ones as new as they seem? What are some variations people could consider if they want a different twist on an old-fashioned name?

We’ll start in this post with the top 10 boy’s names:

  1. Noah: Number one name Noah is part of a venerable tradition of taking names from the Bible, but as we’ve discussed before. The name was used rarely in medieval England due to the mystery plays, but only became popular at the end of the 16th C.
  2. Liam: Liam is one of those name which is not medieval but derives from medieval origins. It is a diminutive of Uilliam, the Gaelic form of William which was in use since the Anglo-Normans invaded in the 12th century. However, the truncated form didn’t arise until after the 16th C was over.
  3. Mason: Originally an occupational byname, this derives from Old French maçon, masson ‘mason’.
  4. Jacob: This name and number seven below have, even more than Noah, a venerable history of use. Jacob can be found throughout Europe, while James is a distinctly English form of the name, even though in origin it derives from the Latinized French form Jacomus, which became Jacme in the vernacular.
  5. William: This is one of the few names of Germanic origin that not only didn’t fall out of use over the course of the 11th and 12th C, but became, if anything more popular. From William to Guillaume to Wilhelm to Guglielmo, the name adapted itself depending on the vernacular in which it was used. It also gave rise to a plethora of nicknames, including recognizably-modern ones like Will to unusual forms like Willick, Willeke, Wilquin, and Guilemon.
  6. Ethan: This Biblical name has always been more popular in the US than elsewhere, due to the fame of the Revolutionary hero Ethan Allen. We don’t yet any examples of the name, but given the trend for adopting obscure Biblical names that we’ve documented before, we would not be surprised to find some post-1550 examples in French, English, or Dutch.
  7. James: While James may be a distinctly English form of the name, it still has equal right to be called a Biblical name: This is how Jacob’s name was spelled in the Wycliffite translation of the Bible into English from 1395.
  8. Alexander: Another name which has been a classic for millenia, ever since one of the greatest military figures the world has ever seen swept onto the stage. The etymological origin of the name, deriving from Greek elements meaning ‘I defend’ and ‘mankind’, has also contributed to the popularity of the name. Medieval nicknames tend to differ from the standard modern Alex, with Sander, <Sanders, Zander, Sandry, Saßa, and Sandrin found in German, Dutch, English, French, and other contexts.
  9. Michael: Another name of Biblical origin. This name was popular throughout Europe, and, interestingly, it was so without having been the name of a pope, other major religious figure, or a king.
  10. Benjamin: Like Noah, Benjamin is an Old Testament name whose common use dates to the 16th C.

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An onomastic calendar: February

  • February 1: Edward III was crowned king of England in 1327.
  • February 2: Bona Sforza, queen consort of Poland, was born in 1494.
  • February 3: Douce of Provence married Ramon Berenguer in 1112.
  • February 4: Hrabanus Maurus died in 856.
  • February 5: Aegidius Tschudi, Swiss writer and historian, was born in 1505.
  • February 6: Dunnchad mac Domnaill, king of Mide, died in 797.
  • February 7: Pandulf IV of Benevento died in 1074.
  • February 8: Mary Queen of Scots was executed for treason in 1587.
  • February 9: Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII, died in 1450.
  • February 10: Robert the Bruce murdered John Comyn in 1306.
  • February 11: Elizabeth of York, queen consort of England, was born in 1466.
  • February 12: Charles the Fat was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 881.
  • February 13: Catherine Howard was executed for treason in 1542.
  • February 14: The feast day of Saint Valentine.
  • February 15: Pope Pascal II established the Knights Hospitallers in 1113.
  • February 16: German philosopher Philipp Melancthon was born in 1497.
  • February 17: Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, was born in 1490.
  • February 18: Mary I of England was born in 1516.
  • February 19: Nicolaus Copernicus was born in 1473.
  • February 20: Edward VI was crowned king of England.
  • February 21: James I of Scotland was assassinated in 1437.
  • February 22: Robert II of Scotland became king in 1371.
  • February 23: Justinian I orders the building of the Hagia Sophia.
  • February 24: Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582.
  • February 25: Theodoric the Great negotiated for peace with Odoacer in 493.
  • February 26: Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia was born in 1361.
  • February 27: Henry IV was crowned king of France in 1594.
  • February 28: Pope Saint Hilarius died in 468.
  • February 29: Oswald, Archbishop of York, died in 992.

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