Tag Archives: Lance

Kings, Queens, and Bible Figures…or Not

It’s very easy for people with a dabbling interest in modern baby names to look at recent trends in Anglo-American naming practices (e.g., in the last century or so), compare them with what they know of modern-but-not-so-recent trends (e.g., in the 19th C or so), often taken from their own genealogical history, and then make sweeping pronouncements about “how people chose names for their children” or “what names people could name their children” before modern times. Sometimes these claims are influenced by data going even further back; everyone who knows a bit about names knows about Puritanisms like “Fly-Fornication” and “Bestiality” (oops, wait, that one’s a Pratchettism, not a Puritanism).

But it’s a mistake to think that because things changed between the 19th and the later 20th C, that everything before the 19th C was the same. Or even that because things changed in the 16th C, everything from the 16th to the 19th C was the same, and that everything before the 16th C was the same.

Today I came across someone claiming that in historical England, the only options were to name kids after kings, queens, and Bible figures. While it’s certainly true that some popular names were also the names of kings and queens (but there, the other of influence probably goes the other way: Kings and queens were given the names they were because they were common/popular, not that those names became common/popular because they were born by a king or queen) and that some popular names were also the names of important Biblical figures, this claim is problematic in a number of ways.

The first is that it overlooks a substantially-sized group of names that were quite common throughout English history: Names of non-Biblical saints, like Agnes, Margaret, Ursula, Katherine, and Cecilia, which were a particularly generative source of names for women. But even if we include that under “Bible names” (interpreting that to broadly cover “religious” names in general, rather than strictly to narrowly cover only names found in the bible), there are still numerous names — some enormously popular — that do not fit any of these categories.

Some years ago, now, we did two posts on the “most popular” women’s names and men’s names; now, these posts covered not only England, but all the names found on these lists were quite common in England. Let’s take a look at them.

Amongst the feminine names, Alice is a standout counterexample. While there were a few minor continental saints with this name, as well as an empress and a queen consort of Cyprus, these saints were not venerated in England and there’s no reason to think that the two royal women would have had any influence on the popularity of the name outside of their own lands. Yet, Alice was, and continues to be, enormously popular in England, with examples from as early as the second half of the 12th century. Another name on the list, Ellen, shows a similar trajectory: A handful of minor saints with local influence, none of whom were English, and one minor queen consort of a country other than England. And yet, we see this name in England from the early 12th C as well, it’s popularity influenced by the appearance of the name in medieval Arthurian romances (yes, medieval people named their children after literary characters, just as modern people do!).

Turning to the masculine names, Charles was never as popular in England as it was on the continent prior to the post-medieval English kings named Charles, but the name was used, despite there being no biblical, royal, or saintly connection. Another name that cannot be called biblical, royal, or saintly in England is Robert, a name whose popularity in England was driven by the Norman conquest. Sometimes, people just adopted names because they were a part of the changing cultures/fashions/fads of the times. Now, there was a minor (non-Biblical) 13th C English saint named Roger, and that might have contributed to an increase in the popularity of that name, at least in the region where the saint lived. But the name was already in use a century earlier, so the saint cannot have been the driving force (and, again, it’s more likely that a saint has a name because it was popular, rather than that the name was popular because it was given to a saint). A curious name is Walter: It is perhaps the most popular name in medieval Europe (not just medieval England) which was never the name of a saint or a ruler. This didn’t prevent it from often being in the top 5 most popular men’s names in 16th C English parish registers.

Now, these are just some of the most popular names, across all of Europe and a thousand-year-plus timespam. If we look more specifically just at England, and to some of the “not amazingly popular, but not totally unique” names, what we find there is that the number of non-religious, non-royal names proliferates. Such names include:

Feminine

Masculine

If we moved on to names that are found rarely, we’d have an even larger swathe of names to pick from.

So, yes, certainly names of kings and queens and saints (saints more so than Bible figures more generally) were popular names in England; but they were by no means the only choice of names available to medieval English people.

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Arthurian names: Ector

The Sword in the Stone competed with Robin Hood for the place of “my favorite Disney movie” as a child, but in The Sword and the Stone, Wart’s foster-father Ector had no competition for the place of “favorite minor character”. He was just so funny! (I think the song “Scrumps” was my first exposure to drunkenness.) His name is the focus of today’s post.

Ector or Hector is the name of two Arthurian characters; in addition to Arthur’s foster-father, there is a younger half-brother of Lancelot known as Ector or Hector de Maris, whose stories can be found in the early 13th C Middle French Vulgate cycle.

The presence of this name in the Arthurian legends is a testament to the diversity of the origins of the names. While many of them come from Celtic, usually Breton or Welsh, origins, we’ve already seen one (Lancelot) that is likely of Germanic origin, and others show the influence of the Roman occupation on Celtic Britain (we’ll see some of these in future posts!). Hector adds a new lingual origin to the mix: Greek. The name is identical with Greek Greek Ἕκτωρ, of uncertain origin but possibly derived from Greek ἔχειν ‘to have, hold’. The Greek hero Hector was himself well-known throughout the Middle Ages, accounted as one of the Nine Worthies. As a result, it can be difficult to attribute use of this name medievally specifically to Arthurian sources, since there is good reason to think that many instances of the name harken back to the Greek hero. This is particularly the case with examples from 13th C England and 16th C Italy, both of which periods and places are noteworthy for the fad of reviving classical Greek names. And indeed, it is no surprise we we have examples of Hector in both contexts: In England, we have examples of Hector from 1161×1184 (see the next edition), 1190, and 1222 (Reaney & Wilson, s.n. Hector), while in Italy early 16th C examples can be found in both Rome and Naples, in addition to other examples from the 14th C on. The name also shows up in France in the 14th-16th C, and Germany in the 15th C. It was never popular, but there is no doubt that its use is directly attributable to the legendary figures, both Greek and Arthurian.

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Arthurian names: Lancelot

 Lancelot fighting the lions near the well. Illumination from the 3rd volume of Lancelot Romance, as preserved in the Russian National Library.

Lancelot fighting the lions near the well. Illumination from the 3rd volume of Lancelot Romance, as preserved in the Russian National Library.

The character Lancelot first shows up in Chrestien de Troyes’ Le Chevalier de la Charette, written in the 12th C; he may be identifiable with any of various characters in the Welsh mythological cycles, but there is no clear argument in favor of any of them. In some manuscripts of Le Chevalier, the character is referred to as L’Ancelot ‘the servant’, but given that in an earlier work by Chrestien, Erec et Enide, there is a minor knight named Lancelot, it is worth considering alternative origins, especially as a plausible one presents itself. The most straightforward interpretation of the name is as a double diminutive of the Germanic element Lanzo, a hypocoristic of any of various names beginning with Old High German lant or Old Saxon land ‘land’. The root name Lance can be found in Italy and Germany in the 12th C, and somewhat later in the Czech Republic, and other diminutive forms, such as Lancelin, can be found as early as the 11th C. Lancelot itself became quite popular in England and France, with other examples showing up in Italy, Scotland, the Netherlands (consider these fantastic 14th C Dutch forms: Lantsloet, Lanceloit, Lansloet, Lantsloit, Lantsloot!), and even further afield.

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Nicknames: Latinate diminutives in -el, -et, -in, -on, -ot

In this post, we look at a collection of diminutive suffixes: -el, -et, -in, -on, -ot, and their feminine forms. Withycombe calls them French [1], and while their use in England was certainly strongly influenced by the invading Normans, the suffixes ultimately derived from Latin, and as a result can be found throughout Romance-speaking areas. These diminutive suffixes were used individually but also in combination with each other, as in the name Mathelin, a French diminutive of Matthew formed by adding -el and then -in, or in Arthurian Lancelot, formed from Lance by addition of -el and -ot.

Many common modern names reflect the use of one or more of these suffixes. For example, Marion and Alison, now often considered independent names in their own rights, derive from Mary and Alice with the addition of -on. Another familiar modern name, Colin, shows the use of -in added to Colas, a French hypocoristic of Nicholas; Col(l)ette is constructed in a similar fashion from Nicole). Harriet derives from Harry, an English spelling of the French pronunciation of Henry, while Charlotte is a feminine form of Charlot, a French diminutive of Charles; the Italian cognate is Carlotta. The same suffix added to Elias gives Eliot.

The suffix -ot was quite popular in feminine names in both England and France between the 14th and 16th C, when we can find names such as Agnesot (from Agnes), Clarote (from Clara), Em(m)ot (from Emma), Harriot (like Harriet), Margot and Marguerot (from Margaret), Mariot (from Mary), Ph(e)lippote (from Philipa). In England, Wil(l)mot was an incredible popular diminutive of Willelma in the 16th C.

In our earlier survey of where diminutive forms are the most popular, we saw that Portugal and Spain were among the regions with the lowest percentage of nicknames. What we do see in Iberia are diminutives formed by these suffixes. In Spain, the most common suffixes are -ino/-ina and -ot (for men) and -eta (for women), with examples such as Angelina (from Angela), Blanquina (from Blanche), Bernardino (from Bernard), Francina (from Frances), Huguet (from Hugh), Johanot (from John), and Loreta (from Laura). We have only two diminutives from Portugal — not enough to draw any conclusions from — and both are examples of Joaninus, an early 13th C diminutive of John.

Finally, we comment on the use of these suffixes in Italy, in particular in one data set from Imola in 1312 [2]. This dataset has 2165 men bearing a total of 734 distinct name forms, and 326 women bearing a total of 174 distinct name forms; in this data set, nearly half of the names are hypocoristics or diminutives. There are 35 distinct diminutive suffices in the data, ranging from suffixes which appear only once to one which has 105 instances. 26 are used by men, 9 by women, and one is used by both men and women. Seven of the suffixes are compound, as in the examples of Mathelin and Lancelot above. In four cases, the first suffix is -(l)in-, being compounded with -ella, -ell(i)us, and -ucius; two of the remaining three have the same second suffix, -ellus, being compounded with -in- and -con-. As a result, the data shows a strong preference for compounding with -lin- and -ellus, with only one compound suffix containing neither of these (Bertholloctus, from Berthold); and this is the only example of this compound. The penchant the Italians had for stringing together diminutive suffixes results in some rather short names having excessively long nicknames. The most amusing example of this is Ugo, an Italian form of Hugh. The root name is about as short as you can get, but take a look at the variety (and length) of the nicknames!

  • Ugetus
  • Ugucio
  • Ugutio
  • Ugollus
  • Uguitio
  • Ugutius
  • Ugolinus
  • Ugezonus
  • Ugozonus
  • Uguzonus
  • Ugucionus
  • Ugoçonellus
  • Uguçonellus
  • Ugilinellus
  • Ugolinellus
  • Ugolinucius
  • Ugolinutius
  • Ugolinellius
  • Ugunzuyellus
  • Uguitionellus

These examples put paid to the idea that the nickname is a shorter, easier-to-use form of the name!


Notes

[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. xxxii.

[2] Uckelman, Sara L., “Given Names in Early 14th-Century Imola”, article in preparation.

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Diminutive forms in 16th C England

A remark in this post on an onomastics blog that I follow, that

it seems like people in the past were a lot less nickname-happy than people today. I’d be shocked to hear of, say, a Renaissance Amelia who went by Amy, or a 19th century pioneer Joshua who went by Josh

got me thinking. The comment surprised me because in the data I’ve worked with over the last decade and a half has included quite a few marriage and baptismal records from late 16th C English parish registers, and I’ve come across quite a few diminutive forms. I decided to cull data from an albeit very small data set (the data which is currently in the Dictionary‘s database, which is a very small excerpt of the data I’ve collected over the years), and do a bit of analysis.

Diminutive forms of names can mostly be classified into two types: Those where the radiconym was also in use, and those where it wasn’t. In the later case, by the 16th C, it may not really make sense to speak of those names being diminutives, if there no longer is, and hasn’t been for a long time, a name that they are a diminutive of.

In this category, we can class such names as Ursula, Wilmot, and Thomasine and their (very numerous) variants. These names derive from Ursa, Willelma/Williama and Thomasse/Thomasa, respectively, but these forms have historically been vanishingly rare in English. (Thomasse appears in French, Guillerma and variants in Spanish, and Ursa in Italian.) A masculine witness to this is Lancelot, and its variants; these are etymologically diminutives of Lance, but the popularity of the Arthurian character meant that the double diminutive form was far more popular than the radiconym.

Of the names where the radiconym was still in common currency, we can further divide the examples into those where the diminutive form is roughly as common as its root, and those where the nickname is substantially less common. In the former category are names such as Alison, Marian, and Isabel. The latter category are the ones that I believe the poster quoted above would find most surprising:

  • Annie 1586, 1597 (from Anne)
  • Beaton 1581 (from Beatrice)
  • Davy 1599 (from David)
  • Emot, Emet 1418, Emote 1580 (from Emma)
  • Ebbot 1597, Ebbet 1597 (from Elizabeth, or possibly Isabel)
  • Eliza 1567, 1581, 1582, 1584, 1594, 1595 (from Elizabeth)
  • Elineta 1563 (from Ellen, or possibly Eleanor)
  • Kate 1596 (from Katherine)
  • Nancy 1583 (from Anne)
  • Sybbie 1573 (from Sybil)

And this is only looking at examples which have 16th C citations; I omitted a number of 15th C examples.

This is but a small data set, and thus no strong conclusions should be drawn from it. But I think it’s certainly clear that nicknames were used in the Renaissance, even in as official contexts as marriage and birth records.

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