Tag Archives: Latin

Mystery Monday: Fisa

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.

12th-century France is full of lovely, unusual feminine names, and one of them is today’s Mystery Monday name.

There is a Latin explanation for what it might be: fisa is a perfect passive participle of Latin fido ‘trust, have confidence (in)’. It is possible that this is the root of the name, but it would certainly be an unusual construction.

Does anyone have any thoughts? Any alternative explanations (probably, Germanic)? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Cassabai

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.

We seem to be following an Italian trend lately! But this name is only Italian obliquely. One source we’ve been working through (we mentioned it before, in a Mystery Monday post on Uliana) is notarial records from mid-14th century Florence, which records the names of many enslaved men, women, and children, most of “Tartar” origin. These names are sometimes noted as “in lingua latina” and sometimes “in lingua tartarorum” or “tartaresche”.

Today’s name is (an Italian scribe’s attempt to render) a Tartar name (in Latin), the name of an enslaved Tartar woman:

Cassabai

Many of the Tartar names resemble Turkic or Turkish names and words (unsurprisingly), and our gut feeling is that this name, too, is an attempt to render a Turkish name according to Latin or Italian orthography. The question, then, is — what name? Does anyone have any thoughts? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Zira/Ziros

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 we’re looking at a pair of names, because given where they are both found, and the similarity in their sound/spelling, we’re wondering if they aren’t perhaps related.

Zira

Ziros

So we’ve got two examples, both from 13th C Poland, both recorded in Latin, both masculine nominative; one Zira, one Ziros. Neither of these is in a usual masculine Latin nominative format, which is a strong clue that both names are not native Latin names, and thus we should (or at least, could) look for Slavic roots. Given that neither was Latinized in the expected way (Zirus), this makes us think that the name which is being both of these instances is possibly the same name, one which does not lend itself to Latinization well, so whatever scribe is rendering it must take a stab at Latinizing it himself.

Now, the -os ending smacks very strongly of Greek declensions, which is one possible route into the Slavic name pool; however, Ziros is not itself an immediately identifiable Greek personal name — though it is the name of a lake (and of a newly formed municipality that takes its name from the lake). So that doesn’t help us very much.

Stretching out further afar, and quite a bit more tangentially, there is a modern Armenian masculine name Ժիրայր, which has a nickname Ժիրո or Žiro. Could this be related?

We’d love to know your thoughts, especially if you’ve got more expertise in Slavic names than we (currently) have!

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Mystery Monday: Wexbert

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.

The most fun medieval names are the ones that look like they are made-up. Like, someone who doesn’t know much about medieval names looked at some names, and then decided to make up their own, but they didn’t really quite get how to do it right, so you end up with some laughably funny options.

Today’s mystery monday name is one of those: Doesn’t Wexbert sound like it’s someone’s idea of what a medieval name is, rather than being an actual medieval name? We have a 12th C Latinised example from Germany, so the deuterotheme is obvious — it has to be from Proto-Germanic *berhtaz ‘bright’. But Wex-? What’s that?!

Wexbert

Have you got any thoughts? Know of any other examples of names with this prototheme? Please share in the comments!

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Archie and Harrison: Royal baby names?!

Whether or not you’re a fan of the British monarchy, if you’re a fan of names, it’s hard not to get excited about the announcement of the name of the Queen’s new great-grandson.

But when the news came out yesterday afternoon that the new royal baby is named Archie Harrison (not even Archibald!), many of the conversations I overheard, online and in person, were uncertain. Americans find Archie/Archibald fusty and old-fashioned (it’s much less so in Britain!); Brits find Archie unendurably diminutive — what’s wrong with good old Archibald?! Others felt that Harrison was a bit too en pointe for a son of Harry.

One advantage of dealing with names of historical people is that all the people whose names we discuss in this blog are dead — if we poke a bit of sly fun, no one will be hurt. It’s different went the names being analysed are the names of actual, living people, with parents who chose that name with care and with love. So I don’t want to get into any analysis of whether Archie Harrison is a “good” or a “bad” name for royal baby (or any baby) — that’s none of our business.

But what we can do is talk about the names themselves! Archibald is a curious name in that it’s most iconic spelling is actually its most idiosyncratic, if you look at its origins. The name is a dithematic Germanic name, with the root themes being Old High German erchan ‘sublime, special; chief; genuine, true’ and Old High German bald ‘bold’. (For Tolkien fans, the prototheme is a cognate with Old English eorc(n)an, as in the Arkenstone.) The -n often turned to -m before -b (which was sometimes also spelled -p), and a variety of spellings retaining that nasal consonant can be found in Austria, France, Germany, and Poland between the mid 9th century and the early 13th century; in the latter Middle Ages, the name was increasingly less popular on the continent.

This can be contrasted with the rise of the name in the British Isles, and particularly in Scotland. Scottish Latinisations tended to drop the -n- or -m-, as well as to shift the initial vowel from E- to A-, which is how we get the familiar (in English-speaking countries) spelling Archibald or Archibold. The name was common amongst the earls and dukes of Douglas, Moray, Argyll, and Angus from the 13th century onwards; it was its popularity amongst Scottish nobility that eventually caused the name to spread southwards, with examples occurring in England in the 16th century.

One question is — how did the name get to Scotland? It first shows up at the end of the 12th/beginning of the 13th century, which is around the time that it is fallen out of popularity on the continent, so a continental explanation seems unlikely. There was a corresponding Old English cognate, Eorc(n)anb(e)ald [1]; but this native name appears to have fallen out of use in England after the Conquest, so is also not a clear candidate for migrating up north. There is one other twist to the story: Often, in Scotland, Archibald wasn’t really Archibald — it was a way that Latin-writing scribes rendered the Gaelic name Giolla Easpuig!

So much for Archibald — which, after all, isn’t even the new baby’s name! What about the diminutive Archie? Well, we haven’t yet found any examples of this form in the data we’ve surveyed. This is due in large part to the fact that diminutives are, across the board, less well represented in documentary forms, so, just as modernly, medieval people recorded as Archibald in a formal charter or a birth certificate may very well have been called Archie by their friends and parents. Diminutive forms are not excluded from formal documents, so we may still yet find evidence for this specific form before 1600.

The curious thing is that Harry, the root of Harrison and Archie’s father’s name, is sometimes itself considered a diminutive! Whether it’s a nickname or just a variant form of Henry depends on your ontology of nicknames, and is not a question we want to answer decidedly here. Harry simply represents how the French forms Henry and Henri were pronounced, with the nasalisation of the first vowel very light, and we can see Harry being used in English contexts as an alternative to Henry from the early 15th C onwards (as well as other variants such as Hare, Harre, Harri, and Harrie.) Such was the prevalence of the -n-less forms and pronunciations in England, that the surname Harrison was far more popular than, e.g., Henrison. (And one should of course not forget the vast number of Henrys that have sat upon the English or British throne!)

So while neither element of the name is classically medieval, both have a strong traditional history specific to Britain, making them perfect choices for a British royal baby.

Notes

[1] Found in the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England.

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Mystery Monday: Uliana

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 especially interesting one because of the complicated context in which it is found. We have recently been working through a collection of notarial documents relating to enslaved pepole in Florence from the early 1360s on. The documents are fascinating for the wealth of data that they provide, not only on Florentine slave-owner names and the names of the people that they enslaved, but also the cultural and geographical origins of the enslaved people, their ages, and their physical characteristics. Reading through the records is sobering business: It is hard not to feel the weight of the unhappy story behind each entry. Most of the enslaved people are women; many of them are still children.

Most of the people were renamed after they were enslaved, with the documents often saying that someone was so named “in lingua latina”; a handful include the name the person was previously known by, “in lingua sua” or “in lingua tartare” (most frequently). Both data sets provide interesting material: On the side of the new names, certain classic Italian names are vastly over represented — probably 1/3 to 1/2 of the enslaved women were renamed some variant of Caterina or Margarita — both popular names in Italy in the 14th century, but not that popular. And on the side of the people’s original names, we get intriguing glimpses as to how names in Greek, Slavic, and Turkic languages were rendered into Latin. (For instance, the two Greek women who were named Cali or Chali in their original language may have in fact been named from καλή, the Greek word for ‘beautiful’).

What’s also interesting is that the pool of “Latin” names that were given to the enslaved people is not merely a subset of the names born by Florentines. Today’s mystery name is one that was the “new” name of two enslaved women (one of Tartar origin, the other not specified), and which we have not otherwise seen in Italy: Uliana.

Is it a form of Juliana/Iuliana? Is it a variant of Eliana (which itself may be a form of Juliana, or possibly a form of Ellen)? Is it distinct from either of these? We don’t know. We hope you might have some thoughts. Please share in the comments!

And if you are interested in knowing more about the enslaved people in 14th-century Florence, we are tweeting the names from the records on the anniversaries, at @FlorentineSlave.

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Mystery Monday: Oiko

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.

Of all the periods that we study, I often feel that the 11th-12th C is the toughest. That’s when we’ve got a huge proliferation of records, but it’s before the eclipsing of native Germanic names with Christian names (not that the Germanic ones entirely fell out of use, but — as we’ve discussed here before — their popularity dove significantly, and many individual names did fall out of us, never to be seen again), which means many many examples of Germanic names show up once or twice in this period and then never again, which makes tracing their origins difficult.

Today’s name is one of those names, found in Austria at the turn of the 12th C. We have no other name like it, and may very well find no other name like it, and we don’t even know where to begin with it’s etymology — other than the fact that it’s almost certainly Germanic, given the context it’s found in.

Oiko

If you have any thoughts about what it’s etymological origin might be, or if you have any other examples of the name, please share in the comments!

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