Tag Archives: Latin

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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Mystery Monday: Mieszko / Mikso

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’ve got two entries which we’re pretty sure are ultimately one entry. It’s a masculine name with examples found in Poland and the Czech Republic, in Latin and in Middle High German.

Mikso

Mieszko

One reason that these haven’t yet been combined into a single entry is because it’s not clear what the canonical name form should be, if we did. And the reason why it’s not clear what the CNF would be is because this is pretty clearly a diminutive — so it shouldn’t be in an entry of its own, but instead these citations should all be folded into the entry for the full form of the name. The question is: What is that form? What is this name a nickname of? Michael? Nicholas? Something else? This mystery should be pretty straightforward to solve, and we’d love your assistance! Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Looking into history: Unexpected finds

In this post, we take a look at some of the names in the ONS girls’ names data from England and Wales (up through the first 300) which may surprise some people by turning up in the Middle Ages.

First up is no. 41 Imogen — historically thought to have first appeared post-1600 as a typo in a Shakespearean play, the name has an alternative history, dating back to medieval Germany.

Ancient Greek name Penelope (no. 48) came into use in England in the 16th, part of a fad for classical names. (Nickname Penny (no. 198) is more modern, though.)

No. 65 Ada has an old-fashioned feel to it — but did you know it’s roots go back at least to the 9th C in France?

Biblical names Lydia (no. 130), Leah (no. 136), Esther (no. 173), Naomi (no. 178), Rebecca (no. 186), Tabitha (no. 204), Lois (no. 215), and Rachel (no. 323) became popular amongst French, Dutch, and English Protestants in the 16th C, as did virtue names like Faith (no. 135). Interestingly, Hope (no. 139) is a virtue name that we haven’t yet found any pre-1600 examples of, though Esperanza from Latin sperantia ‘hope’ is found in 15th-16h C Spain and Italy (but not in the ONS data!)

Modern name Ottilie (no. 164) is a variant of medieval Odile, popular in France especially in the diminutive form Odelina.

No. 169 Laura first became popular after Petrarch as the poetic name for his love; it spread from Italy to France, Italy, and England over the 14th and 15th centuries.

Here’s a surprising one: Maia (no. 176). The DMNES entry is still in draft form, but we have two Low German examples from the 16th century; variant Maja (no. 192) is not an unreasonable alternative medieval spelling.

French-origin name Amy (no. 189) was popular in England from the 14th C onwards.

No. 196 Alba occurs in Catalan in the early 16th C.

Golden name Aurelia (no. 212) was used in Renaissance Italy. While name no. 361 Sapphire is generally interpreted as a gem name, when the medieval form Sapphira was used in 16th C England, it was more likely in reference to the New Testament character.

Did you know that Alana (no. 216) is a medieval name? It’s the Latin feminine form of Alan, and appears rarely. (Variants that add extra ls or ns or hs, such as Alannah (no. 472), Alanna (no. 650), Allana (no. 1788), Alanah (no. 1887), and Allanah (no. 3178) and compounds like Alana-Rose (no. 2901) and Alana-Rae (no. 5666) are not generally medieval.)

Nickname Effie (no. 236), usually a pet form of Euphemia (no. 4684), shows up in 16th C England (as does the full name itself) — a rare instance of an -ie or -y diminutive ending in medieval England!

Name no. 243, Talia we have examples of in 13th and 16th C Italy; there’s no entry for the name yet, as the etymological origin of the name is uncertain.

Names of classical gods and goddesses became popular in the Renaissance, including Diana (no. 275) found in both England and Italy (Diane (no. 3178) is a French form; Dianna (no. 3985) and Dyana (no. 48684) are modern forms). In general, the Latin names were preferred over the Greek — which means while we don’t have Athena (no. 239), Atene (no. 5666), Athene (no. 5666) (or the compound Athena-Rose, no. 4684) in the DMNES data, we do have Minerva (no. 2187). (The compound Diana-Elena (no. 5666) is also modern.)

Modern-day Melody (no. 312) is found in the Latin form Melodia in England during the fad for fanciful Latinate names in the 13th C. It’s during this period that we also find Amanda (no. 602).

Name no. 213 Remi shows up in medieval France — but as a masculine name, not a feminine name. Similarly, Alexis (no. 323) can be found right across Europe, but only as a man’s name.

The roots of Christmas name Natalie (no. 354) go all the way back to the early Middle Ages — it shows up multiple times in the 9th C, which makes it an incredibly well-witnessed early French feminine name!

We’ll tackle names from no. 400 down in a future post.

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Looking into history: modern and medieval patterns

In this post we continue our tour of the ONS baby name data for England/Wales 2018, specifically the girls’ names.

As we noted in our previous post, moving outside the top 10, we start to get a wider variety of names, including names that have long medieval traditions and names that illustrate common modern naming patterns.

Among the latter is the penchant for naming children after flowers and plants, which we find in the names Poppy (11), Poppie (614), Poppi (1977), and the compounds Poppy-Rose (936); Poppy-May (1343), Poppy-Mae (1887), Poppy-Mai (2674), and Poppie-Mae (5666); Poppy-Rae (1649); Poppy-Louise (2674) and Poppie-Louise (5666); Poppy-Ann (3178); Poppy-Grace (3985); Poppy-Leigh (3985); Poppy Lou (3985); Poppy-Jane (4684); Poppie-Rae (5666); and Poppy-Marie (5666). But while the name is modern, the word is certainly medieval — it is from Middle English popy, popie, from Old English popiġ, popeġ, popæġ, which ultimately takes its origin from Late Latin papaver, and it was occasionally used in England as a byname.

Other modern flower and plant names include Ivy (14), Ivie (815), and its compounds Ivy-Rose (306); Ivy-Grace (902); Ivy-Mae (902), Ivy-May (1136), and Ivy-Mai (4684); Ivy-Rae (972); Ivy-Leigh (1788) and Ivy-Lee (5666); Ivy-Jean (2674) and Ivy-Jane (2901); Ivy-Willow (2901); Ivy-Belle (3518); Ivy-Marie (3985); Ivy-Alice (4684); Ivy-Ann (4684); Ivy-Beau (4684); Ivy-Lou (4684); Ivy-Louise (4684); Ivy-Blu (5666) and Ivy-Blue (5666); and Ivy-Rain (5666); as well as Willow (20) or Wyllow (5666) and its compounds Willow-Rose (864), Willow-Grace (1200), Willow-Mae (2090), Willow-Rae (2187), and Willow-Jade (4684); Daisy (28), Daisie (826), Daisey (3985), and Daisee (5666), and their compounds Daisy-Mae (574), Daisy-May (886), Daisy-Mai (1526), and Daisie-Mae (5666); Daisy-Rae (1711); Daisy-Anne (3518); Daisy-Leigh (3518); Daisy-Rose (3518); Daisy-Lou (4684); Daisie-Grace (5666); and Daisy-Belle (5666); Holly (56), Hollie (158), Holli (5666), and their compounds Holly-May (2674), Hollie-Mae (3518), Holly-Mae (4684), and Hollie-Mai (5666), Hollie-Rose and Holly-Rose (both jointly 3518); Jasmine (75), Yasmin (321), Jasmin (657), Yasmine (778), Jazmin (1136), Jazmine (1234), Yasmina (1393), Jasmina (1788), Yasmeen (2187), Yazmin (2187), Jasmeen (3518), Jazmyn (3518), Jasmyn (3873), Yasemin (3985), Jazzmin (5666), and the compound Jasmine-Rose (4684); Hazel (179); Primrose (213); Blossom (365); Meadow (378); Fern (427); Juniper (478); Rosemary (596), Rosemarie (2187), Rose-Marie (3518), Rosie-Marie (3985); Saffron (602); Dahlia (767), Dalia (990), and Daliah (3518); Heather (952); Azalea (1136); Bluebell (1136) and Bluebelle (1526); Delphine (1694); Camelia (1711) and Camellia (3985); Tigerlily (1887), Tiger-Lilly (4684), and Tiger-Lily (5666); Lilac (3178); Lotus (3518); Maple (3985), Posey (3985); Rhoda (3985); Dalya (4684); Cedar (5666); and Forest and Forrest (both jointly 5666). Then there are names like Aster (1887) which could be either a flower name, or the Latin word for ‘star’. (Either way, we haven’t found any examples of it used in the Middle Ages as a name.)

Not every flower name is purely modern, though — Violet (53) shows up in 16th C Scotland (though the spellings Violette (1586) and Violett (4684) aren’t witnessed…yet), and forms of Viola (815) were scattered throughout Europe (though the compounds Violet-Rose (1887), Violet-Rae (3985), Violet-Grace (4684), Violet-May (4684), Violet-Ivy (5666), and Violet-Vienna are purely modern.) We haven’t found any examples of Violeta (3178) or Violetta (3178) yet, but suspect it’s only a matter of time until we do some place in Italy. Viola and Violet are Latin in origin, but the Greek root of the flower name, Yolanda (3985) was also used as a name in the Middle Ages! The Latin word for flower, flor or flos, was also itself used as a name; of the modern variants found in the ONS data, we’ve only found Flora (323) medievally; while none of Fleur (342), Florrie (843), Flossie (2340), Flori (3518), Florie (3518), or Florina (3985) have yet turned up in our data, as you can see by inspecting the entry for the name, we’ve found quite a few very similar variants! The Welsh form Fflur (1887) would, however, be atypical of medieval naming patterns.

We can’t complete our discussion of this pattern without discussing two medieval names that look like flower names but aren’t (originally). The first is name no. 13, Lily, which was originally a nickname of Elizabeth. There is little doubt that the similarity to the flower is part of why the name continues to be so popular in modern times, even if the connection with its original root name has been lost. In addition to the no. 13 spelling, the ONS also has variants Lilly (67), Lillie (189), Lilia (408), Lili (587), Lillia (990), Lilli (2340), Lilla (2901), Lilya (2901), Lilliah (3178), Liliya (3518), Liliah (3985), and Lile (5666), and compounds Liliana (177), Lillian (330), Lilian (540), Lilianna (843), Lilliana (1013), Lilly-Ann (1314), Lily-Ann (1586), Lilly-Anne (1887), Lillianna (1977), Liliane (2499), Lily-Anne (2499), Lillie-Ann (2901), Lilyana (2901), Lilien (3518), Lilyanna (3518), Lillie-Anne (3985); Lily-Anna (3985), Lilly-Anna (4684), Lillyanna (5666), Lillyanne (5666), Lilyann (5666), and Lilyanne (5666); Lily-Rose (363), Lilly-Rose (472), Lillie-Rose (1111), Lilia-Rose (3985), Lilyrose (3985), Lillia-Rose (4684), and Lilley-Rose (5666); Lily-Mae (467), Lilly-Mae (545), Lilly-May (657), Lily-May (729), Lillie-Mae (791), Lily-Mai (1436), Lilly-Mai (1887), Lillie-May (2499), Lillie-Mai (3178), Lillymay (3985), and Lilymay (5666); Lily-Grace (1272), Lilly-Grace (2187), and Lillie-Grace (2674); Lily-Rae (1586), Lilly-Rae (2187), and Lillie-Rae (2340); Lilly-Marie (3518), Lily-Marie (3518), and Lillie-Marie (3985); Lilly-Jane (3985), Lily-Jane (3985), Lilly-Jayne, Lilly-Jean, and Lily-Jayne (all jointly 5666); Liliarna (4684) and Lilliarna (5666); Lily-Belle and Lilybelle (both jointly 4684); Lillie-Jo (5666); Lilly-June (5666); Lilly-Louise (5666); and Lily-Ella (5666). (Geez. Whoever knew there were so many ways to combine Lily and Anne into one name?).

And the other name is Rose [yes, we know the link doesn’t work yet; it will be available in the next edition], which everyone thinks is from the name of the flower, but is actually of Germanic origin (though the similarity of the name to Latin rosa ‘rose’ influenced later spellings, and, as will Lily, contributed to the continued popularity of the name). In the ONS data, the diminutive Rosie comes in the most popular, at no. 26, with Rose itself being no. 55 and Rosa at no. 156. Both of these latter spellings are found in the Middle Ages, though the variant Roza (1526) is not typical of medieval spellings (we’ve found one instance of Roze in 16th C France). And while we haven’t yet found Rosie, Rosy (2340), or Rosey (3178), we have found Rosye! The diminutive Rosella (2901) is also medieval. Looking at the compounds, Rosanna (574) is — perhaps surprisingly — a medieval name, occurring once in London in 1222 (we haven’t yet finished the entry for this name); the spellings Roseanna (972), Roseanne (1977), Rosie-Ann (3518), Rose-Anne (4684), Rosie-Anne (4684), Rosanne (5666), and Roseann (5666), most influenced by the flower name, are more modern. Other compounds, such as Rosie-Mae, Rosie-May (both joint 1314), and Rosie-Mai (2499); Rosabella (1649), Rosabelle (2090), and Rosabel (5666); Rosie-Rae (3518); Rosie-Grace (4684); Rosie-Jane (4684); and Rosie-Louise (5666), and the diminutives Rosina (1343), Rosetta (2340), and Rozina (5666) are all modern as far as we can tell.

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Looking into history: The ONS baby names data for Wales/England 2018

<sings> It’s the most wonderful time of the year!</sings>

It’s the time of year that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) releases their data on names given to babies born in England and Wales in 2018! (Girls names here; boys names here).

Previously we’ve looked in detail at the US social security baby names data, devoting a whole month to the topic (starting here) in 2016, but in the past we’ve only looked at the top 10 in the English/Welsh data.

In the next series of posts, we’re going to dig deeper into the insular data. While the US Soc Sec data only goes down to the top 1000th name, the English/Welsh data contains every name given to at least three children of the same sex in the previous year. For girls, this is over 7350 distinct names, going all the way down to the joint 5666th most popular names. For boys, it’s more than 6100 distinct names, going down to the joint 4749th most popular names. (As always, the girls’ naming pool is more diverse than the boys’!)

What sorts of names can be found? So many… In this post we’ll focus on the top 10 girl’s names, pull ingspelling variants from lower down as comparative data, but in following posts we will explore the wealth of material these names provide.

Girls’ names

  1. No. 1 is Olivia, a name with a long (pre-Shakespearean!) heritage. Variant Olive (a good medieval form!) comes in at no. 120, and variants Alivia and Elivia (not so medieval) at no. 602 and no. 4684, respectively, and there are also a number of compound forms (all modern!) involving the name: Olivia-Rose (365), Olive-Rose and Oliviarose (both jointly 4684); Olivia-Grace (670); Olivia-Mae (1200), Olivia-May (1864), and Olivia-Mai (2674); Olivia-Rae (1711); Olivia-Louise (2674); Olivia-Jade (3985); Olivia-Lee (3985) and Olivia-Leigh (4684); Olivia-Jane, Olivia-Jayne, and Olivia-Jean (all jointly 4684); Olivia-Marie (4684); and Olivia-Hope (5666). Oliwia (355) shows characteristics of Slavic orthography, but we have not yet found the name in eastern Europe before 1600
  2. No. 2 is Amelia, a name which has become far more popular in modern times than it ever was medievally, despite its long medieval history. Less popular variants that turn up in the ONS data include Amelie (80), Emelia (256), Emelie (1526), Amilia (2499), Amila (2674), Ameila (3985), Amelya (3985), and Amela (4684), Amelja (5666), which are plausible medieval variants, and Ameliah (2499), Amellia (3985), Amelle (4684), Amellie (4684), Amilee (5666), and Amillia (5666), which are not.

    It is also found in a couple of purely-modern compounds, including Amelia-Rose (254), Emelia-Rose (2090), and Amelie-Rose (3985); Amelia-Grace (778), Emelia-Grace (3518), and Amelie-Grace (5666); Amelia-Lily (1526), Amelia-Lilly (2499), and Amelia-Lillie (4684); Amelia-Mae (2090), Amelia-May (2340), Amelia-Mai (3985); Amelia-Rae (2674); Amelia-Jane (3178) and Amelia-Jayne (4684); Amelia-Jade (3985); Amelia-Leigh (4684); Amelia-Hope (5666). Melia (1371) and Meliah (5666) are perhaps also variants of this name.

  3. No. 3 Ava is distinctive because it is amazingly recalcitrant to both spelling variants and diminutives — both medievally and modernly! While our entry for the name contains many instances of the diminutive Avelin(a), this is not really considered a “nickname” of Ava anymore, even if grammatically it is a diminutive. (In fact, from the 12th or 13th C on, it’s likely that even medieval people distinguished these as separate names). Modernly, we have the variants Avah (1343) — with the addition of the excrescent ‘h’ being thoroughly modern — and Aeva (4684), and it does show up in a few compounds, including Ava-Rose (256) and Avah-Rose (5666); Ava-Grace (455); Ava-Mae (513), Ava-Mai (902), and i>Ava-May (990); Ava-Marie (1200); Ava-Leigh (1314), Ava-Lea (5666), and Ava-Lee (5666); Ava-Rae (1393); Ava-Louise (1887); Ava-Lily (1977), Ava-Lilly (3178), and Ava-Lillie (5666); Ava-Jade (3518); Ava-Jayne (4684) and Ava-Jane (5666); Ava-Anne (5666); Ava-Belle (5666); Ava-Jae (5666); and Ava-James (5666).
  4. Modern name Isla clocks in at no. 4; we haven’t found any evidence for it used in the Middle Ages, though there is a similar sounding name Islana, one of our Mystery Monday names from 2017. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a popular element in modern compounds, including Isla-Rose (282); Isla-Mae (729), Isla-Mai (1788), and Isla-May (1887); Isla-Rae (778) and Isla-Rai (5666); Isla-Grace (1059); Isla-Marie (2901); Isla-Jane (4684), Isla-Jayne (5666) and Isla-Jean (5666); Isla-Jo (4684); Isla-Lily (4684); Isla-Louise (4684); Isla-Bleu (5666) and Isla-Blu (5666); and Isla-Savannah (5666). Iylah (920), Ila (1586), Islay (2187), and Aisla (2499) can perhaps be counted here as variants, though with modern coinages it can often be hard to tell when two names are variants of each other and when they are independent.
  5. No. 5 Emily is not the same name as Amelia above, even though their variant forms are similar enough that they are easily confused! The fanciful form Emilia (34) shows Latin influences, and resembles medieval Italian forms, while Francophone Emilie (328) and Slavic Emilija (826), Emiliya (3518), and Emilya (5666) were probably used in the Middle Ages, we just haven’t found any examples yet. The variant Emely (3985) is quite similar to how the name shows up in Chaucer. The variants Emilee (1887),Emilly (2340), Emili (2499), Emeli (3518), Emile (3606), and Emillie (3985) are, however, distinctly modern; while it’s not clear whether Emila (5666) is a modern or possibly medieval form.

    This name too is found in many modern compounds, including Emily-Rose (680), Emilia-Rose (1272), and Emilie-Rose (4684); Emily-May (2499) and Emily-Mae (2674); Emily-Jane (2901); Emilia-Grace (3178), Emily-Grace (3985), and Emilie-Grace (5666); Emily-Rae (3985); Emily-Anne (5666); and Emily-Louise (5666).

  6. Two years ago, no. 6 name Mia was no. 10; we don’t have anything to add to our analysis of the name from then! Just as the name itself appears to be modern, so are variants like Mya (126), Myah (494), Miya (536), Miah (806), Miyah (1013), Myia (4684), and all the compounds using it, including Mia-Rose (419), Mya-Rose (1526), Myah-Rose (3518), Miya-Rose (3985), and Miyah-Rose (4684); Mia-Grace (990); Mia-Louise (1977); Mia-Mae (2674), Mya-Mae (3985), Mya-May (4684), Mia-Mai (5666), and Mia-May (5666); Mia-Lily (3518); Mya-Rae (3718) and Mia-Rae (3518); Mia-Leigh (3985); Mia-Ann (5666); Mia-Bella (5666) and Miabella (5666); Mia-Jane (5666); Mia-Marie (5666); Mya-Jade (5666).
  7. There is no disputing that classic Isabella, no. 7, has a long and venerable history. One of the most popular feminine names in medieval England and France, the name was also used in Iberia and Italy and crept into Scotland and Switzerland via English and French influence. Of the many variants that are found in this modern data set, the ones in bold are also medieval spellings that occur in our data set: Isabelle (30), Isabel (138), Isobel (145), Izabella (370), Izabela (767), Isobelle (1083), Isobella (1136), Isabela (1436), Izabelle (1526), Isabell (1649), Izabel (2090), Izabele (2674), Izabell (3158), Izzabella (3518), Issabella (4684), Ishbel (5666), and Ysabella (5666) (and many of the ones that aren’t bolded, we have very similar spellings).

    The following compounds are all modern: Isabella-Rose (729), Isabelle-Rose (2674), Isabel-Rose (3985), Izabella-Rose (4684); Isabella-Grace (2499); Isabella-Mae (2499), Isabella-May (5666), and Isabelle-Mae (5666); Isabella-Hope (3985); and Isabella-Rae (4684). Similarly, the diminutive forms Izzy (864), Izzah (2340), Izzie (2901), Izza (3985) are a more modern development (the common medieval diminutive being Ibot(t)(a)).

  8. No. 8 Sophia is another enduring name, with a long heritage and a beautiful meaning. As with Isabella, many of the variants in the ONS data are also found medievally, including Sophie (17), Sofia (29), Soffia (3178) and Sophya (5666). We haven’t yet found Zofia (237), Sofija (1083), Sofie (1788), Sofiya (2901), Sofya (3985), or Zsofia (4684) but wouldn’t be surprised to one day find a pre-1600 example of any of these. The variants Szofia (2901) and Szofi (5666) are rather more unlikely to be medieval.

    But compounds such as Sophia-Rose (902), Sofie-Rose (1788) and Sophie-Rose (3178); Sophia-Grace (1526) and Sofia-Grace (3985); Sophia-Maria (2674) and Sofia-Maria (3178); Sophia-Mae (3518), Sofia-Mae (4684), Sophia-May (4684), and Sophie-Mae (5666); Sophie-Leigh (3518); Sofia-Louise (3518), Sophie-Louise (3985), and Sophia-Louise (4684).

  9. Beautiful no. 9 name Ella gets its modern popularity from the number of other names ending in \-ella\, of which it can be used as a nickname. (It is also sometimes treated as a nickname of Ellen and Eleanor). Despite this, it was never a common name in the Middle Ages; we have a single example from Germany. It’s also not a name that engenders many variants; Elle (507) and Aela (2901), Aella (3518) are perhaps, but may also be distinct coinages. Ellah (4864) and Elah (5666) are definitely variants, following the modern practice of sticking -h on the end of any feminine name ending in -a. Ela (478) could possibly be medieval; but given the derth of examples we have, we cannot confirm.

    It should be no surprise that none of the compounds using the name are medieval either, whether Ella-Rose (268) and Ellarose (4684); Ella-Mae (680), Ella-May (1200), and Ella-Mai (1649); Ella-Rae (1136) and Ella-Ray (5666); Ella-Grace (1234); Ella-Louise (1490); Ella-Marie (1788); Ella-Jade (3985); and Ella-Jane (3985).

  10. No. 10 name Grace is another classic, one of the few virtue names which is found outside of England before the 16th C. The nicknames Gracie (73), Gracey (2187), and Gracy (5666) are modern, as are the compounds Gracie-Mae (408), Gracie-May (761), Gracie-Mai (1035), and Graciemae (5666); Gracie-Rose (1788); Gracie-Leigh (1977), Gracie-Lee (3178), and Gracie-Lea (3985); Gracie-Anne (3178) and Gracie-Ann (5666); Gracie-Rae (3178); Gracie-Jane (3985) and Gracie-Jayne (5666); and Gracie-Loui (3985). We can probably include here both Gracelyn (5666) and Gracelynn (5666) as modern diminutives or compounds.

Moving outside the top 10, we start to get a wider variety of names, including names that have long medieval traditions and names that illustrate common modern naming patterns. We’ll take a look at some of these different patterns amongst the feminine names in the next in the next post in this series!

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What’s really in a name? Onomancy in the Middle Ages (Part 2)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a two-part guest blog by Dr. Joanne Edge. Dr. Edge’s PhD research focused on “onomancy”, a type of medieval magic based in a person’s name, a topic we thought would be of interest to readers of the blog!

Part 2 is below; you can read Part 1 here.

What’s really in a name? Onomancy in the Middle Ages (Part 2)

Dr. Joanne Edge, Latin Manuscripts Cataloguer at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

On first impressions, onomancy might seem pretty ridiculous. How can the numbers that correlate to the letters of someone’s name tell you anything about them? To answer this, we need to consider various modes of medieval European thought. The first issue to note is that, since the late Roman Empire, divination had been condemned alongside magic as illicit, and, from at least the time of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) was against orthodox Christianity for three reasons. Firstly, divination went against the idea of man’s Free Will; secondly, it was counter to the notion of Divine Providence (that only God can know the future); and finally, it worked via the agency of demons – whether the operator knew it or not. So, divination was decidedly illicit in a Christian context; though whether those doing it knew that is another matter.

BL MS Royal 6 E.VI

A magician practices geomancy while demons watch. London, BL MS Royal 6 E VI, f. 535v.
Photo © The British Library

Setting aside these theological objections, what gave this method of divination its agency? Let’s first take names. The debate over whether names were signifiers or whether they contained some essence of the bearer had been lively since at least ancient Greece, with a discussion of the meaning of names in Plato’s Cratylus (written c.360 BCE). Written as a dialogue between Cratylus and Hermogenes, here is what it says about names:

Cratylus, whom you see here, Socrates, says that everything has a right name of its own, which comes by nature, and that a name is not whatever people call a thing by agreement, just a piece of their own voice applied to the thing, but that there is a kind of inherent correctness in names, which is the same for all men, both Greeks and barbarians.1

Later Neoplatonic philosophers of the third to the sixth centuries CE held that an individual’s name contained an essence of the bearer. So, in the Neoplatonic tradition, names were much more than signifiers: someone’s name said something about them.

Numbers, too, held great significance in mainstream scholastic thought. Ancient number-theory was transmitted to the Middle Ages largely via Plato’s Timaeus which conceived of numbers as the building-blocks of nature. Here he describes the creation of the world:

So god placed water and air between fire and earth, and made them so far as possible proportional to one another, so that air is to water as water is to earth; and in this way he bound the world into a visible and tangible whole. So by these means and from these four constituents the body of the universe was created to be at unity owing to proportion; in consequence it acquired concord, so that having once come together in unity with itself it is indissoluble by any but its compounder.2

Following the Neoplatonists, fifth-century thinkers such as Augustine and Macrobius emphasised the importance of numbers in creation, and from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth centuries, there was a revival of Augustinian study, which placed number theory at its centre.3

So, far from an illogical method of working out the future, onomancy’s agency was grounded in the authority of Plato, Augustine and high medieval scholasticism. Anxieties about the future – and especially around death and dying – meant that medieval manuscripts contained a variety of predictive methods, and onomancy – in the form of the Sphere – seems to have been the most popular. There are several possible reasons for this: it was relatively short, and therefore a handy space-filler; and its diagram made it look authoritative. But perhaps the most convincing explanation is that provided by Jean-Patrice Boudet, that the Sphere‘s corruption in translation, as copyists and translators tried to find the ‘correct’ version, meant that multiple examples carried on being copied together in a bid to discover the original.4

Notes

[1] Plato, Cratylus, in Plato in Twelve Volumes vol. XII, trans. Harold N. Fowler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1921), p 383.

[2] Plato, Timaeus V:32, in Plato, Timaeus and Critias trans. H. D. P. Lee (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), p. 44.

[3] Russell A. Peck, “Number as a Cosmic Language”, in Essays in the Numerical Criticism of Medieval Literature, ed. Caroline D. Eckhardt (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1980), p. 16.

[4] Jean-Patrice Boudet, Entre science et nigromance: astrologie, divination et magie dans l’occident médiéval (XIIe-XVe siècle) (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2006), p. 43.

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