Tag Archives: Latvian

Mystery Monday: Bulrebecca

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 curious feminine name from Latvia. We’ve rather punted on the standardized/normalized form: We have no idea whether the name does in fact include rebecca, etymologically, or whether this is a false friend.


The context makes it clear that this is a feminine name, which is why we think rebecca may be a player in the analysis here, but another alternative is that the -(e)ke ending is simply the standard Low German diminutive suffix. In which case, the root name would be something like Bulreb(e) — which, we have to confess, is entirely opaque to us.

Have any thoughts on what this name might be? Please share in the comments!



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Mystery Monday: Dedike

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.

Let’s head to Latvia! In the 13th and 14th C, names were predominantly of Low German origin, and this is clear even when the names occur in Latin documents, as our two examples of today’s mystery name do:
It is clear that this is a diminutive of something — the -ke ending is a giveaway. When the name is used by men, it is a diminutive of Theodoric, via the Low German form Dederik. However, the two examples that we have here are definitely feminine. For example, here is the entry for one of them:
Dedike in Latvia
There is no way “Lady Dedike, wife of Hinrich Westfal” could be anything but a woman. The question is: What name is this a diminutive of? Do you have any thoughts?


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Medieval roots of modern names: The feminine US top 10

Having looked at the top ten boys’ names in the US for 2015 in this post, we now turn to the top 10 girls’ names for the US in 2015, according to the data released earlier this month.

  1. Emma: This classic British name gets its roots from Old German, via the element ermen or irmin, used as a first element in many compound names. Such compound names were often reduced to diminutive form by truncating the second element, result in Irma or Erma, which in turn developed into Emma. The name was used throughout Germanic Europe in the early part of the Middle Ages, but it only remained popular in England, due to the high regard with which Queen Emma, queen consort of England, Denmark, and Norway in the 11th C, was held. The name developed its own hypocoristics, with Em(m)ot(t) and Em(m)et(t) being used. Both of these read as masculine names nowadays, but Latinate forms such as Emota or Emmetta would both work as feminine names in the 21st C.
  2. Olivia: Olivia is an Italian or Latin form of Olive, and Shakespeare is often credited for the use of the name in England. This is not the case. While Oliva may have been a more common Latin form of the name, variants Olivia and Olyvia can be found in England as early as the 13th C.
  3. Sophia: With roots going back to the ancient Greek word for wisdom, σοφία, and the name of some early Christian martyrs, it’s no surprise that Sophia has been used widely for a very long time. It was never especially popular in the Middle Ages, but examples can be found from Brabant and France to Latvia and the Ukraine. Interestingly, we have not yet found any examples of the name in England; Withycombe s.n. Sophia notes that the name came into use there in the 17th C, along with other Greek virtue terms such as ἀλήθεια ‘truth’ and χάρις ‘love, charity’.
  4. Ava: This extremely popular modern name has a curious history. It is likely from Old German avi, of uncertain origin and meaning, and is only rarely evidenced medievally. Instead, its diminutive form Avelina (and variants) takes the stage as a relatively common name in France and England. We recently did an in-depth search for examples of Ava at the request of a reader, and were surprised at how few instances we found!
  5. Isabella: This Latin form of Isabel itself derives from Hebrew Elizabeth, via the Old Provençal form Elisabel, which was later interpreted as el Isabel ‘the Isabel’. The name first shows up in the 12th C, and while in some parts of Europe its connection to Elizabeth was quickly lost, in England even in the 16th C you can find examples of the same woman recorded in one context as Isabel and another as Elizabeth, and spellings such as Elizabella, Elsabel, etc., show the difficulty in confidently ascribing these forms to one name or the other.
  6. Mia: It’s not often one can point to a precise origin for the use of a name in the US, but Mia may be one such name. The first best-known example of the name is Mia Farrow, whose birthname was Maria. So far, we have found no evidence for this contracted form before 1600.
  7. Abigail: Abigail was essentially unused before the middle of the 16th C, and became quite popular, in certain circles, afterwards. It isn’t uncommon to find the name spelled with two ls during that period, which would make a lovely, slightly unusual variant spelling nowadays.
  8. Charlotte: There’s no doubt that the popularity of this name was influenced by the birth of a new princess, but interestingly, Charlotte itself is a relative late-comer into the pool of English names, first introduced in 1626 (see Withycombe s.n. Charlotte). It is a diminutive form of Carla, the feminine of Carl (cf. Charles), and can be found before 1600 in both France and Italian (though there this diminutive took the form Carlotta). It is curious, given how popular Charles was throughout the Middle Ages, how unpopular the feminine form appears to be.
  9. Harper: This is our first non-given-name (in origin, at least) on the list. Like Mason in the boys’ top 10, this surname was originally an occupational byname, deriving from Old English hearpere ‘harper’. The same byname can be found in England spelled Harp(o)ur, from Anglo-French harpour or Old French harpeor.

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You want nicknames? We got nicknames!

In dictionary entries, we sort our citations by modern day country borders (because trying to ascertain which country certain towns were in at which period is quite a bit of work — especially when ‘country’ isn’t a viable geographic category for much of the Middle Ages!). One particularly interesting aspect of the multi-cultural/cross-geographic data that we have is that it allows us to trace certain patterns or trends across these boundaries, and one such pattern is the prolificness (or not) of diminutives. We touched on this in the previous post when we briefly commented on the percentage of names that are diminutives in any given era. In this post, we thought we’d explore this further, with some stats and some bar graphs; it’s been too long since we’ve had a nice graph!

Table of diminutive numbers and percentages

Country No. of dims. No. of non-dims. Percentage
Austria 0 60 0%
Brabant 18 191 8.6%
Czech Republic 241 912 18.5%
England 554 15457 3.4%
Estonia 612 905 40.3%
Finland 58 205 22%
France 1181 11744 9.1%
Germany 153 3973 3.7%
Iceland 0 63 0%
Ireland 12 294 3.9%
Italy 525 2387 18%
Latvia 201 1079 15.7%
Malta 0 10 0%
The Netherlands 36 862 4%
Norway 0 3 0%
Poland 21 123 14.5%
Portugal 2 384 .5%
Scotland 47 824 5.3%
Spain 62 1556 3.8%
Sweden 27 589 4.3%
Switzerland 102 543 15.8%
Ukraine 6 82 6.8%
Wales 46 391 10.5%

In some contexts, it is clear that we don’t have enough data to draw any sort of robust conclusions — Austria, Iceland, Malta, Norway, the Ukraine. But omitting these from discussion (and also omitting England, second from the bottom, and France, no. 8, since their much larger numbers make the graph inelegant), we are left with an interesting picture of the relative percentages of nicknames and diminutives across different geographical areas:

The four outstanding areas are Estonia, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Italy. We’ve already discussed the nicknames in Estonia and the Czech Republic when we covered German and Slavic forms; so next up, we will explore diminutive and nicknames forms in Finland and Italy.


Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic