Tag Archives: John

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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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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The return of -cock and -kin

Over a year ago we discussed two unusual English diminutive suffices, -co(c)k and -kin. At the time, we said of -co(c)k:

This suffix was never common, and we don’t currently have any examples in our data, but look forward eagerly to the day when we do!

Well, now we do! So we thought we’d devote a post to revisiting these suffices.

We have recently been working through the 1379 poll tax of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which is delightful in that not only has a number of given names recorded in diminutive form, but also — despite being recorded in Latin — a surfeit of vernacular matronymic and patronymic bynames based on diminutives. In addition to adding the given name citations directly to the Dictionary’s database, we have also been adding the evidence from the bynames to the body of the relevant entries. This data will be available in the next edition.

-kin first. To our previous examples of -kin, we can now add diminutives of William Wilke, Wilken, Wilkin, Wilkyn, and Wylkyn. The -kyn spelling is favored in this dataset; we also have Adken, Adkyn, Atkyn, Attkyn (from Adam), Jonkyn (from https://dmnes.org/name/John”>John), and Perkyn (from Peter). The suffix was not exclusive to men; our final example, Malkyn, is a diminutive of Mary.

And, *drum rolls*, our two new examples of -cock! Adcok is another diminutive of Adam and Wilkoc is another reduction of William.

These are not the only diminutive suffices we find in this dataset, and they are certainly not the most common ones. We will set about exploring the nicknames of Yorkshire in a future post!

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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 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: Why did medieval people choose the names they did?

Things have been rather quiet over at DMNES central over the summer as our staff members have been busy going to conferences, enjoying their holidays, and working on research papers. Now the summer sun is gone and the fall days are coming, and we’re hoping to get more active here on the blog again.

There are many interesting aspects of historical naming practices that one can study, and one of the most difficult ones is the question of motivation — why did medieval parents (or parish priests in some cases!) choose the names they did for their children? Very rarely in the records that we have to hand are explicit reasons given; sometimes, strong implicit evidence can be deduced from context, such as a child baptized by the same name as an elder, already deceased, sibling. General trends can also be identified, such as rises and falls in the popularity of saint’s names (I have long since wondered if the reason why Thomas is the most popular male name in the 16th C parish registers of Ormskirk, Lancashire, while in every other contemporary data set, the most popular name is John, is because of some connection with Saint Thomas in the town; however, I’ve been unable to find any such connection), or the rise of virtue names, which we’ve discussed before.

But information at the specific level is generally incredibly rare. This is what makes the Polyptyque d’Irminon such an amazing resource. The document was compiled around 823 by Irminon, abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and was a catalogue of the lands owned by the abbey between the rivers Seine and Eure. As part of the catalogue, the names of the tenants are recorded — and not only the tenants, but also the names of their wives, and their children. This makes the polyptyque a treasure trove of 9th C names which is almost unparalleled — among other things, it is one of our best witnesses for Frankish/Old French feminine names.

Entries are formulaic, and tend to repeat the same information. Here is a representative example:

Giroldus servus et uxor ejus colona, nomine Dominica, homines sancti Germani, habent secum infantes II, his nominibus, Gisloldus, Gerardus. Tenet mansum ingenuilem I, habentem de terra arabili bunuaria IIII, de vinea aripennum I, de prato dimidium aripennum. Cetera similiter.

Girold slave and his tenant wife, by name Dominica, people of Saint Germain, have by themselves two children, by name Gislold, Gerard. He holds 1 free farm having 4 bunuaria of arable land, 2 arpents of vineyards, and half an arpent of pasture land. The rest is similar.

(From this you can see that the source is an amazing trove of information about medieval farm culture, if that’s your thing.) This example was picked at random, but also for a purpose: Take a look at the men’s names, and you’ll see that the names of the sons both reflect the names of their father! Gislold shares the deuterotheme with Girold, while Gerard shares the prototheme — Gir is a common French variant while Ger is a more typically German form.

Examples of similar patterns — including women’s names, and combinations of both parents names, especially when the number of children grows — can be found on pretty much every page, and we’ll spend some time this month looking at some of the examples. They show a fascinating glimpse into the reasons and motivations behind the names!

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An onomastic calendar: August

  • August 1: Justinian I became sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire in 527.
  • August 2: Pope Severinus died in 640.
  • August 3: Saint’s day of Olaf II of Norway.
  • August 4: Berengar II of Italy died in 699.
  • August 5: Alexander I Jagiellon was born in 1461.
  • August 6: Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, died in 1221.
  • August 7: Otto I of Germany was crowned in 936.
  • August 8: Conrad Lycosthenes, humanist and ecyclopedist, was born in 1518.
  • August 9: Arnold Fitz Thedmar, London chronicler, was born in 1201.
  • August 10: Eleanor, the maid of Brittany, died in 1241.
  • August 11: Mary of York was born in 1467.
  • August 12: Christian III of Denmark was born in 1503.
  • August 13: Alfonso XI of Castille was born in 1311.
  • August 14: Duncan I of Scotland was murdered in 1040.
  • August 15: Carolingian military leader Roland died in 778.
  • August 16: Philippa of Clarence, Countess of Ulster, was born in 1355.
  • August 17: Cesare Borgia became the first person to resign a cardinalcy in 1498.
  • August 18: Saint Clare of Montefalco died in 1308.
  • August 19: Catherine of Bohemia was born in 1342.
  • August 20: Stephen I of Hungary was canonized in 1083.
  • August 21: Philip II of France was born in 1165.
  • August 22: Saint Columba sees the Loch Ness monster in 565.
  • August 23: William Wallace was executed for treason in 1305.
  • August 24: Italian painter Lavinia Fontana was born in 1552.
  • August 25: Anna of Saxony married William of Orange in 1561.
  • August 26: Thomas Bradwardine, logician, mathematician, and archbishop died in 1349.
  • August 27: Arthur II, Duke of Brittany, died in 1321.
  • August 28: Saint Augustine of Hippo died in 430.
  • August 29: Hungarian poet Janus Pannonius was born in 1434.
  • August 30: Amalasuntha became queen regent of the Ostrogoths in 524.

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