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.