Tag Archives: Latin

The ‘elements’ of name: Water

Continue our tour of the four elements, we now come to the slipperiest, wettest one: Water.

Water names, especially ones derived from topographic elements relating to water such as Brooke, River, and Lake, but also other weather-derived names such as Rain, are pretty common in modern anglophone naming practices: But nature names like these are one of the few general categories of names which are distinctly modern. The evidence we have for water-elements in medieval names comes from three main types: compound names containing an element meaning or referring to water; names derived from named bodies of water; and names reference some water-based origin.

Of the first, we have, in England, the Old English word ‘sea, lake’, which was used as a prototheme in various compound names, both masculine and feminine. In our data, we have examples of Sehild (f.), Saulf (m.), Seaborn (m.), Seman (m.), and Serich (m.). Unlike other compound Germanic names, where the same themes show up in Germany, England, and Scandinavia, we have only found this element in English contexts with one exception — we have one example of a Swedish cognate of Seaborn in Finland (not yet in the dictionary: Sebijörs, gen.)

Of the second, we have Tiberius, a classical Roman name deriving from the river Tiber. Tiberius was the name of a Roman emperor, and, later, four Byzantine emperors. The name shows up in Germany and Italy quite early (most likely references to these emperors), and then there is a big gap before the name was revived in Italy in the 15th and 16th C, as part of the Renaissance fashion of mining classical names. In this context we should also mention the names Jordan (m., entry not yet available) and Jordana (f.). While the etymological root of the masculine name is almost certainly not the river in the Holy Land, the popularity of the name was significant increased because of its similarity to the river name, with many Crusaders returning with Jordan water and naming their children for it.

Of the final category are the names Marin (m.)/Marina (f.) and Pelagius (m.)/Pelagia (f.), Latin and Greek, respectively, for ‘of the sea’. In connection with Pelagius we should also note the name Welsh Morgan, which is etymologically unrelated to anything sea-like, but has historically been connected with Pelagius due to a false etymology of the protheme as deriving from Proto-Celtic *mori ‘sea’.

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Latin vs. Vernacular Forms, Part 1

Two common types of requests that we get are (1) how to construct hypothetical vernacular forms of names when our only evidence is Latin documentary forms, and (2) the other way around: How to construct a plausible Latinized form of a name in a vernacular. In this post, we provide some background for answering both of these questions in the form of some basic Latin grammar recap.

Latin is a case-based language, meaning that a single word can occur in different grammatical forms depending on how it is used in a sentence. (English used to be a case-based language, but it has lost many of the distinctions of case over time. A few remain: The difference between, e.g., the standard form “John” and the possessive form “John’s”, or the difference between, e.g., ‘she’, ‘her’, and ‘hers’.) The six cases, and the grammatical contexts in which they are used, are:

  • Nominative: Used for the subject of a sentence.
  • Genitive: Used to indicate ownership or possession.
  • Dative: Used for indirect objects, and with certain prepositions.
  • Accusative: Used for direct objects.
  • Ablative: Used with certain prepositions, usually ones indicating movement ‘away’ or ‘from’.
  • Vocative: Used when identifying a person or thing being addressed.

Note that we are vastly oversimplifying here: In particular, the oblique forms (that is, the non-nominative ones) are much more complex in when and how they are used.

Because names can be found in any of these six different grammatical contexts, they can be found in any of these cases. The case that a word (including names) is in can be determined by a combination of the ending of the word and the grammatical context it is in. (For example, when the dative and the ablative forms of a word are identical, the presence of a preposition used with the ablative case can identify which case the word is.) The case endings generally follow a reliable pattern depending on which declension a word is in, and the part of the word to which the case ending is added is called the stem. Latin has five declensions, of which most names fall in the first three, so they’re the ones we’ll focus on:

Words in the first declension have fixed stems and the following case endings (in the singular):

Case Ending
Nom. -a
Gen. -ae/-e [1]
Dat. -ae/-e [1]
Acc. -am
Abl. -a
Voc. -a

Most feminine names are in the first declension.

Words in the second declension have fixed stems and the following case endings (in the masculine singular):

Case Ending
Nom. -us
Gen. -i
Dat. -o
Acc. -um
Abl. -o
Voc. -e

Most masculine names are in the second declension. (The second declension also contains words of neuter gender, which have the ending -um in the nominative, but they are not relevant for our purposes: Personal names in medieval records are always either masculine or feminine in grammatical gender.)

Words in the third declension have stems that change when an oblique case ending is added. Typically, these case endings are:

Case Ending
Nom.
Gen. -is
Dat. -i
Acc. -em
Abl. -e
Voc.

However, in some cases, the accusative form of a third declension name is identical with the nominative; and there are a variety of other slight variations amongst third declension names. Many masculine names whose nominative form ends in -o Hugo) are third declension.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll look at how one can take a name in Latin, whether nominative or oblique, and, comparing it with other Latin-vernacular pairs of similar declension and case, hypothesize plausible vernacular forms.

Notes

[1] Classical Latin -ae often was reduced to -e in medieval Latin.

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Mystery Monday: Nemfidius

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 masculine name from 11th C France, recorded in Latin. The Latin form of the name makes it tempting to render the second half of it as relating to Latin fidius ‘more faithful’; but that leaves us without any way of explaining nem, which makes it rather wishful thinking.

Nemfidius

Do you have any thoughts about the origin of the name? Any other examples of it? Please share in the comments!

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Mystery Monday: Masoeytta

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 recorded in Latin in late 13th or early 14th C Bergamo. It’s a strange name because that central vowel cluster — oey — is definitely atypical. (In our 66,000+ citations, we have only one other instance of this cluster, in an Old French form of Louis). But the rest of the name doesn’t give us many clues to go on either — -etta is an Italian hypocoristic suffix, found in Angeletta and Bonetta, and more commonly in the masculine form -etto; and Italian forms of Thomas and Thomasse can be truncated to Maso- or Masa-, with further diminutive suffices added. So it’s possibly that Masoeytta is the result of truncating Thomasia or Thomasa and then adding -etta, but where is the -y- coming from? And why is it -o- instead of -a-?

We have no idea. Do you? Got any hypotheses about how to explain these interloping vowels? Please share in the comments!

Masoeytta

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Announcement: Publication of Edition 2018, no. 1

We’re pleased to announce the publication of our first edition of 2018, now available (well, available since last night, but we’ve been traveling since then!) at www.dmnes.org. This edition has 21 new masculine names and 14 new feminine names (the full list of new entries in this edition is below), as well as many revised and updated entries – a total of 2267 entries with 56889 citations between them.

We haven’t pushed the temporal boundaries at all – no new citations earlier than our current earliest citation – but we’ve pushed the geographical ones: This edition is the first one to have any examples of European names from North Africa! (We talked about them in a post here). We’ve also increased our representation of names from Switzerland, with a selection of 15th century charters in Latin, French, and German, showing the same count of Gruyère being recorded variously as Franciscus, Francey, and Frantz. The French form is particularly interesting, because it is not a typical French spelling (that would be Francois); it clearly is showing the influence of the Swiss German diminutive construction in -i.

Thanks to the dedication of our Hungarian expert, we’ve added many more citations from Hungary, including many interesting diminutive forms, while another of our editorial team has been working through the registers of the Walloon Church at Canterbury, providing another dimension to the multiculuturalism of 16th century England.

So here are the new names in this edition! Have a fun browsing them, and the rest of the names, here. Let us know in the comments which of the new names is your favorite!

Masculine names

Adalward
Ado
Ago
Alinbert
Betto
Bonjohn
Contaminat
Crispus
Gibeon
Giselfrid
Giso
Helmbert
Peter-Angel
Peter-Paul
Reinbrand
Rene
Sichaus
Theodram
Waldefrid
Waldegaud
Waldeger

Feminine names

Alinhilde
Cassia
Dada
Gaucia
Gerhelma
Hartois
Hessa
Lena
Malitia
Paloma
Renee
Severina
Waldegilde
Waldehilde

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Mystery Monday: Lancenna

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 France in the first half of the 12th century. We have a number of examples (all in reference to the same woman as far as we can tell) between around 1147 and 1179, all spelled Lancenna or Lanscenna. It is probably of Germanic origin, with the most likely candidate for the prototheme being Old High German lant, Old Saxon land ‘land’, which becomes lanzo, lanc- in hypocoristics.

But the deuterotheme? We have no idea.

Do you have any thoughts? Have you seen this name before? Please share in the comments!

Lancenna

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How medieval is “Your Medieval Name”?

There’s a meme (due to www.abbeytournament.com) that’s been circulating around Facebook sporadically recently, allowing people to generate their “medieval name” according to their day. You’ve probably seen it:
Your Medieval Name
The first time it came up in a group that a couple DMNES staff are members of — a group not devoted to either the Middle Ages or to names — one editorial assistant put out a cry for “HALP”, and another swooped in with documentation. Now every time that meme comes around, we’re reminded of that thread, and finally decided to make a blog post out of it!

So, how medieval is “Your Medieval Name”? Actually, pretty medieval!

The feminine names are almost all good solid choices for late medieval England or France:

  • Milicent – Yes, medieval!
  • Alianor – Yes, medieval!
  • Ellyn – Yes, medieval!
  • Sybbyl – Yes, medieval!
  • Jacquelyn – Yes, medieval!
  • Catherine – Yes, medieval!
  • Elizabeth – Yes, medieval!
  • Thea – Possibly medieval but we’ve not found any evidence for it yet.
  • Lucilla – Sort of medieval: R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain I: Inscriptions on Stone — Epigraphic Indexes (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1983), RIB 1288 and 1271, note one Iulia Lucilla in a first- to fourth-century British inscription (in this name, Lucilla appears as a cognomen), and another Romano-British inscription mentioning a woman known only as [L]ucilla.
  • Mary – Yes, medieval!
  • Arabella – Yes, medieval: E.G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). s.n. Arabel(la) has a 13th C Latin example of the name.
  • Muriel – Yes, medieval: A variety of forms can be found in P.H. Reaney & R.M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (London: Routledge, 1991).
  • Isabel – Yes, medieval!
  • Angmar – Um, no.
  • Isolde – Yes, medieval!
  • Eleanor – Yes, medieval!
  • Josselyn – Yes, medieval, but not as a feminine name.
  • Margaret – Yes, medieval!
  • Luanda – Um, no.
  • Ariana – Not medieval: It’s a modern Italian form of the Greek name Ariadne, found in mythology, and in the Greek and Byzantine empires.
  • Clarice – Yes, medieval!
  • Idla – Possibly medieval. It appears that this googlebook has a Polish example of the name, but we have not been able to get more than a snippet view, to be able to confirm the date and context.
  • Claire – Yes, medieval!
  • Rya – Um, no.
  • Joan – Yes, medieval!
  • Clemence – Yes, medieval!
  • Morgaine – Yes, medieval, but only used in literature, and not by real people.
  • Edith – Yes, medieval!
  • Nerida – Definitely not.
  • Ysmay – Yes, medieval: Withycombe (op. cit.) has an example of this spelling.

The masculine names don’t fare quite so well.

  • Ulric – Yes, medieval!
  • Baird – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name. It is derived from Old French baiard or baiard ‘bay-colored’.
  • Henry – Yes, medieval!
  • Oliver – Yes, medieval
  • Fraden – Possibly medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • John – Yes, medieval!
  • Geoffrey – Yes, medieval!
  • Francis – Yes, medieval!
  • Simon – Yes, medieval!
  • Fendel – Not medieval to my knowledge, either as a given name or a surname.
  • Frederick – Yes, medieval!
  • Thomas – Yes, medieval!
  • Arthur – Yes, medieval!
  • Cassius – More Roman than medieval.
  • Richard – Yes, medieval!
  • Matthew – Yes, medieval!
  • Charles – Yes, medieval!
  • Reynard – Yes, medieval!
  • Favian – Sort of medieval, if you take it as a variant of Fabian.
  • Philip – Yes, medieval!
  • Zoricus – Not medieval to our knowledge, but it could possibly turn up at some point in future research.
  • Carac – Not medieval
  • Sadon – Not medieval
  • Alistair – Medieval, but not as the nominative form of the name, only as the genitive.
  • Caine – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Gawain – Yes, medieval!
  • Godfrey – Yes, medieval!
  • Mericus – More Roman than medieval.
  • Rowley – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Brom – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.
  • Cornell – Yes, medieval, but only as a surname, not as a given name.

All the surnames are fine for 14th-16th C English, except these:

  • Cabrera – This is Spanish, and would only have been used by women; the masculine form is Cabrero.
  • Coastillon – Not quite sure what this is but it looks like a misspelling of some French place name.

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