Tag Archives: Latin

Secret names: Remembering rather than hiding (Part 3)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here; Part 3 is below.

Secret names: Remembering rather than hiding (Part 3)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Ultimately, these sorts of codes were made to be seen, and the names encoded within them were meant to be remembered. This was the intention of the eighth-century abbess who wrote this message by substituting the vowels with abbreviations for ordinal numbers:

Ego una Saxonica nomine Hugeburc ordinando hec scribebam

I, a Saxon nun named Hugeburc, wrote this.

This message appeared in the prologue to Hugeburc’s own work, the Hodoeporicon: a life of the Anglo-Saxon missionary saint Willebald. In it, she called herself ‘a little ignorant creature’, but both her skilled Latin and her use of code showed how untrue this was. [1] While claiming modesty, she ensured that she would be remembered for her learning.

Most ciphers seem to have been written by adults – even high-status ones, who composed their own works and were entrusted with the copying and decoration of books. But we do have one instance of a cipher used by a child, in a ninth-century manuscript of poetry probably used in an early medieval classroom. At the beginning of the book, there is a marginal note, written in a cipher in which dots were substituted for vowels. Here, however, they are also arranged roughly in the shape of the vowel itself. The note reads:

Bernardus puer me fecit.

Bernardus, a boy, made me [i.e. the note]

Many of these ciphers were written by substituting vowels, which was both common and not difficult to crack. But concealment wasn’t the point. Medieval ciphers can be compared to computer languages, encoding and recording metadata about manuscripts, and the people who made them. Ciphers were therefore meant to draw attention, to communicate their contents, and ultimately to ensure that names – and the people behind them – weren’t forgotten.

References

[1] https://thijsporck.com/2017/05/15/anglo-saxon-cryptography/.

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Secret names: What’s in a name? (Part 2)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is here; Part 2 is below; Part 3 is here.

Secret names: What’s in a name? (Part 2)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Not all monks were quiet or modest! In this manuscript from France, containing some works by St Jerome and dated to 806 CE, the scribe Agambertus covered an entire page in ciphers.

The first is a monogram, a series of letters joined together and spelling out the name of the woman who commissioned the manuscript: Hlottildis or Theodildis (since the final S is missing, this interpretation is uncertain). The monogram also contains the abbreviation ‘abbat.’ for ‘abbatissa’, meaning ‘abbess’, indicating that Agambertus’ commissioner was fairly powerful.

The second code is Agambertus’s name and an invocation, all written in Greek letters mixed in with a made-up alphabet (known as the alphabet of Aethicus Ister) and ‘Marcomannic’ runes.

After that, there is a plaintext referring to the sixth year of Charlemagne’s imperial reign, followed by a request to the reader to pray for the scribe, written by replacing each vowel with the following consonant.

The lower part of the page is filled with palindromes: three squares playing around with the words SATOR, AMOR, and AMEN; and two anagrams of the scribe’s name, one of which is arranged in the form of a cross. [1]

Agambertus evidently enjoyed experimenting with ciphers, which enabled him to show off his skill as a scribe. This page of puzzles would have intrigued its readers in the ninth century, as it does today, but it was also a more serious sign of a belief in the written word as the Word of God. This was reflected in human language and in the stories of the Bible, but it needed decoding and interpreting before it could be truly understood.

Agambertus wasn’t the only one who enjoyed visual puzzles. Monograms and monogrammatic writing, in which letters nestle within or on top of each other, were especially popular in the early Middle Ages. In this book, made in ninth-century France, the scribe Audgarius first wrote the title of the legal text he was copying. At the bottom, he added his own name and the Latin word ‘nomen’, ‘name’, as if they were also part of the title – but in a much more complicated arrangement on top of each other.

References

[1] I. Garipzanov, Graphic Signs of Authority in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 300–900 (Oxford, 2018), pp. 260–62.

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Secret names: Cracking the medieval code (Part 1)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is below; Part 2 is here; Part 3 is here.

Secret names: Cracking the medieval code (Part 1)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Medieval people often needed to write names down. They were important for witnessing documents, recording real estate, noting who had borrowed which book or owned which slaves, and ensuring that communities of people were remembered. And sometimes, names were written down using ciphers.

This was especially common between the eighth and eleventh centuries, when much writing was done in monasteries by both clergy and lay people. In later centuries, such ciphers were dismissed as the result of bored monks playing around. But we’ve recently begun to uncover the importance of marginalia – codes, notes and signs – for understanding the social spaces of monasteries and their wider communities. In such marginalia, we can hear the echo of the words and names of people from the distant past.

So why did these people deliberately try to conceal their names in the early Middle Ages, and how did they do it?

Name that monk:

Ciphered names often appear in colophons: the notes sometimes left by scribes at the end of the manuscripts they copied. Colophons usually record why a manuscript was made, for whom or by whom, where and when, or simply express relief that the long, hard work of writing was finished at last.

The scribe of this manuscript, copied in the late tenth or early eleventh century in Luxeuil, France, left behind a colophon. It appears at first to be gibberish:

Hbfc Stfphbnxs scrkpskt p[er] prfcfptb brchkinb[er]tk mbgkctrk

But this is actually a sentence encoded using a simple substitution cipher, in which vowels are replaced with the consonant that immediately follows them: a with b, e with f and so on. The decrypted sentence reads:

Haec Stephanus scripsit per precepta Archimberti magistri.

This was written by Stephanus at the command of Master Archimbertus.

The main text above the colophon is the Life of St Deicolus (or Dicuil), containing a history of the Benedictine abbey Deicolus founded in Lure, France, until the year 990. It names other abbots of Lure, including Baltram and Werdolphus (Werdulf). Perhaps all these names were an inspiration for Stephanus to record his own, and that of his master?

A similar colophon, using the same code, appears in this early eleventh-century prayerbook. Deciphered, it reads:

Frater humillimus et monachus Aelsinus me scripsit, sit illi longa salus. Amen. Ælfwinus monachus aeque decanus me possidet.

The most humble brother and monk Aelsinus wrote me, may he have boundless health… Ælfwine, monk and also deacon, owns me.

We know that in 1031 or 1032, Ælfwine became abbot of the New Minster in Winchester, in which Aelsinus (the Latin form of the name Ælfsige) was also a monk. Aelsinus therefore wrote this manuscript before this date. Was his use of cipher for the names he mentioned in this colophon an expression of monastic humility?

Interestingly, during the twelfth century someone added feminine endings to many of the prayers, suggesting that the prayerbook came to be owned by a female community — perhaps Nunnaminster, a royal monastery founded by Queen Ealhswith, the wife of Alfred the Great.

Other ciphers were much less formal than these colophons. One example was left by a scribe called Ekkehart the Fourth (c. 980–1056), who lived in the monastery of St Gall in Switzerland (and was the fourth of a series of scribes called Ekkehart). At the back of the manuscript, on a page used for doodles and pen-trials, Ekkehart left a code he called ‘clophruna’, from the Old High German verb klopfon ‘to knock, to tap, to rap’, and the word for ‘rune’. But this ‘knock-rune’ code has nothing in common with runes: it is based on the Latin alphabet. Each letter is numbered according to its place in the alphabet, and these numbers are then indicated by dots: a = 1, b = 2 and so on. [1]

In the manuscript, the series of dots marked 5-10-10-5-8-1-17-19 can be decoded as E-K-K-E-H-A-R-T (taking into account that i and j weren’t distinguished in the medieval Latin alphabet). This code enabled monks to exchange messages when they were keeping their compulsory hours of silence alone in their individual cells — tapping the messages out on the walls, letter by letter.

References

[1] R. Derolez, Runica Manuscripta: The English Tradition (Bruges, 1954), pp. 134–35.

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Mystery Monday: Idosia/Ydozia

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 a lovely 14th C feminine name from Picardy. Our single record of it is a Latin genitive form, and involves two of the rare letters of the alphabet — y and z!

Ydosia

We have hypothesized Idosia as a normalized nominative form — we haven’t actually found any instance of this spelling. We would love to have other instances/variants of this name. Do you know of any? Please share in the comments! We also don’t have even the first guess as to what it’s origins might be; if you have any thoughts, we’d love to hear them!

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Mystery Monday: Gluscudilum

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 early Germano-Gothic name from Iberia:

Gluscudilum

For such a strange name — a name unlike any other name we’ve ever seen — it turns up quite a few hits on google! But that’s because of the context it occurs in, a document from 10th C Gallicia important for all the other names it contains:

manuscript

Image from one of the cartularies of the monastery of Sobrado (Galicia), which contains copies of documents dated in the 8th-13th centuries.

(Isn’t that beautiful…)

Many of the other names in this document already occur in DMNES entries; we’d love to be able to add Gluscudilum — if we can figure out its origins! Do you have any thoughts? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Three Cuen- Names

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 giving you not one, not two, but three mystery names! Why three? Because there might be a chance that they are related to each other. All are masculine names found Switzerland in the 14th-15th C; one is recorded in Old French, one in Latin, one in Middle French; all start with Cuen-.

Cuenin

Cuenod

Cuenzy

Of the three, Cuenod is the easiest one to analyse: The -od suffix is a common Swiss diminutive suffix (cf. Perrod, Johannod, and others). If we take -in and -zy as diminutive suffixes (plausible in the case of -in, as it shows up in French; -zy is otherwise unfamiliar to us), then the root is Cuen- — possibly from Cuno or Conrad?

What do you think? Are we barking up the right tree? Have you any other examples of these names, or of names that might be related? Have you ever seen -zy as a diminutive suffix before, in Switzerland or elsewhere? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Ztrzezna

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 a feminine name found in the Czech Republic. We’ve got loads of questions about it before we even get to the question of origin. First: Are all three of these spellings variants of the same name, or do we have more than one name here? Second: Are any of these diminutives? If so, are they diminutives of each other, or of some fourth name that we haven’t yet found a record of?

Ztrzezna

(We won’t even go into the question of “how do you pronounce it?”!)

When it comes to the question of origin, here we actually do have some information. There is a (modern) Czech name Střezislava, the name of the wife of an important 10th C Bohemian nobleman who founded the Slavník dynasty and the mother of Saint Adalbert of Prague. It’s quite likely that the prototheme of her name is represented in this mystery name — modern ř was often written rz in medieval Latin renderings of Czech names. This is what leads us to think that the three forms above may be diminutives of something else, something like Střezislava.

But we’d love to have a firm basis for this speculation. If you have any evidence or information to share that would confirm or deny, please let us know in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Vudeota

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 a feminine name found in 12th C France, in two variants:
Vudeota
The Vud- / Ud- beginning makes it likely that this name is of Germanic origin, possibly deriving from a variant of Otto (which name was occasionally spelled Udo in France in the 11th and 12th century). If that is correct, then the -ot- is possibly a diminutive suffix rather than a deuterotheme; but if it is, it’s certainly not a common one in 12th C France.

We’d love to hear your suggestions about what the origin of this name might be. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Qustremiri

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 bizarre mystery name is the last of our Q-name mysteries! It’s a masculine name found in 9th C Spain, and, well…take a look at it.
Qustremiri
It’s hard to escape the feeling that there might be some sort of scribal or editorial error going on here…it just doesn’t seem to have enough vowels.

The deuterotheme can tentatively be derived from Proto-Germanic *mērijaz ‘famous’ — the same element that shows up as the root of the deuterotheme of the Iberian name Ramiro (entry available in the next edition). But it’s quite unclear what the prototheme might be, even if we stick more vowels in.

Do you have any suggestions? Some vowels you can spare? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Phyofius

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 looks like it should be easily identifiable as a classical name revived in Renaissance Italy — it has the look of a Latinized name of probably Greek origin (so many Phs…). But if that’s true, we haven’t been able to determine what the root Greek name is!

Phyofius

We have two examples, in slightly different spellings, from early 14th C Veneto, and so far we haven’t found any other instance of the name, even considering other variant spellings. There’s nothing like it in the LGPN or Liddell and Scott. So we’re rather clueless.

Do you have any thoughts? Other examples of the name? Please share in the comments!

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