Tag Archives: Laurence

Nature names: Trees, forests, and woods

Nature names are a popular choice of names in contemporary Anglo naming practices, so we thought it would be interesting to see what sort of nature names can be found in medieval Europe. The answer is “Not many” — of all the inspirations that there were for coining or constructing new names in the Middle Ages, the option of taking as a name some nature-related word was very rarely exercised.

In this post, we look at names deriving from elements related to trees, forests, woods, etc.

Romance

Masc. Sylvius and fem. Sylvia derive from the Latin word silva ‘woodland, forest’. From this word we also have the masc./fem. pair Sylvester and Sylvestra.

The other class of forest/tree/wood names deriving from Latin origins are those which are the names of specific types of trees. Laurence and Laurencia both derive from a Roman cognomen itself derived from Latin laurus ‘laurel, bay-tree’. The masc./fem. pair Palm and Palma derive from Latin palma, which can either refer to the palm of the hand or to the branch of a palm tree. This name became popular in the Middle Ages as a name for people born or christened on Palm Sunday. The final tree-type name that we have instances of was also influenced, in its use, by its significance to Christianity, namely, Olive, from Latin oliva ‘olive tree’. (It is often hypothesized that Oliver also derives from this word; but in truth, the origin of this name is uncertain.)

Germanic

Old Saxon widu, wido,Old High German witu ‘wood, woods, forest’ was moderately common in compound names, both masculine and feminine. In men’s names, it’s almost exclusively used as a prototheme, as illustrated in the names Guiart, Guither, Witugis, and Wedekind; the one exception is the simplex name Guy.

In contrast, our only example of the element in women’s names is as a deuterotheme, in the names Alvice, Ansois, Eloise, Hawise, Herois, and Hildois.

The Old Icelandic cognate viðr can be found in the name Arvid.

Hybrid

The final name is a curious one. Modern French bois ‘woodland, woods’ can be traced back to Old French bois, from Latin boscus, but a Latin origin is not enough to put this element under the ‘Romance’ category; for boscus is actually a vulgar Latin development, a Latinization of Frankish busc or busk, and this Frankish word in turn developed from Proto-Germanic buskaz ‘bush, thicket’. So it can be considered as either a Romance element or a Germanic one!

The name we have that includes this element is itself a curious one, because it was not a given name in origin. Tallboys was originally a French nickname for a wood-cutter, or anyone who cuts wood; but in the 16th century in England, there developed a pattern of using surnames as given names (no, this isn’t a modern naming pattern as some people might think!). We have one example of Tallboys used as a given name, and it occurs in England.

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What name forms were used by both men and women in 14th-16th C France?

That’s a question we recently received, so we thought we’d devote a post to answering it!

When French developed from Latin, it retained a gendered marking for the majority of its names — marking which is most obvious when looking at masculine/feminine pairs of names. In Old French, the most common way of feminizing a name was simply adding an -e to the end, but in Middle French, especially by the early 15th C, it became more common to duplicate the final consonant and then add -e.

Some names, however, (particularly ones that already ended in -e!), were used in the same form by both men and women. Here are some examples:

Claude was used in this form by both men and women in France in the 16th C.

While the more common masculine form of the name was Dennis, both Denise and Denyse were used by both men and women at the end of the 13th C.

Gile, which can be a form of Giles or sometimes Gilo, is also the Old French vernacular form of the feminine form of both names, found in the early 14th C.

A bit of a rarity, but Guillaume was used by both men and women in the early 14th C.

Laurence was the usual Middle French vernacular for both men and women in the 16th C.

While Marin was almost exclusively masculine in the 16th C (and the expected Middle French feminine form would be Marine), we have one lone example of Marin used by a woman.

Phelippe, Phlippes, and Phlippe were all used by both men and women; the first form is an Old French one found in the early 14th C, while the latter two are 16th C Middle French forms.

Finally, Robert. Diminutive forms such as Robine and Robinette were much more commonly used by women, but Robert itself was used, albeit rarely, by both men and women.

So, there you are! These are the names we’ve found that were used in exactly the same spelling by both men and women in Old and Middle French.

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Family trees deep and broad

Most of the entries of the Polyptyque mentioned in an earlier post have, as noted, the names of parents and children, and that is it. However, a few of the entries give us more information, allowing us to reconstruct family trees of three generations, or spreading out to siblings of the parents. Sadly, these are not ones that give us much information in terms of patterns of names, but simply because they are cool, we have reconstructed three of them here:

Family tree 1

    (not named)
   ______|_____
   |          |
Hermenalda  Odila   
   |____________________________________
   |            |         |             |
Hildeardis  Willermus  Hermenalda  Hildeburgis
   |
   |
Gunterius

Hermenalda (sen.), Odila, Hildeardis, and Gunterius all live together in one household, while Willermus lives with his other two sisters, and a further crop of daughters (unnamed, and it is not clear which sibling(s) are the parents). It’s also ambiguous whether Odila is Hermenalda (sen.)’s sister or Hildeardis’s.

Family tree 2

                (not named)
          ___________|___________
          |                     |
       Waldrea             Laurentius
  ________|___________          |
  |          |        |    (unnamed sons)
Guntardus  Hugo  Richildis

This family tree is unambiguous from the information, but what is interesting here (and is also true of the previous one) is that it is the woman who is the first-named person of the household. When in the later Middle Ages it often feels like very woman is “uxor ejus” some man, it’s always nice to see a few men who are important because of their mothers, sisters, or wives!

Family tree 3

    Alburgis
   ____|____
   |       |
Alburgis  Eva
           |
       Josemberga

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An Onomastic Calendar: April

  • April 1: Eleanor of Aquitaine died in 1204.
  • April 2: Baldwin I of Jerusalem died in 1118.
  • April 3: Edward the Confessor was crowned king of England in 1042.
  • April 4: Francis Drake was knight for circumnavigating the world in 1581.
  • April 5: Isabella of Hainault, queen of France, was born in 1170.
  • April 6: Raphael, the Italian painter, died in 1520.
  • April 7: Empress Mathilda becomes Lady of the English in 1141.
  • April 8: Barbara of Hesse, Duchess of Württemberg-Mömpelgard, was born in 1536.
  • April 9: Lorenzo dei Medici died in 1492.
  • April 10: Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of Henry IV of France, died in 1599.
  • April 11: Stephen IV of Hungary died in 1165.
  • April 12: Antonio de Sangallo, Italian architect, was born in 1485.
  • April 13: Paul the Deacon, monk and historian, died in 799.
  • April 14: Abraham Ortelius, cartographer, was born in 1527.
  • April 15: Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452.
  • April 16: Adelaide del Vasto, queen consort of Jerusalem, died in 1118.
  • April 17: Bernard, king of the Lombards, died in 818.
  • April 18: Lucrezia Borgia was born in 1480.
  • April 19: Pope Leo IX died in 1054.
  • April 20: Pope Boniface VIII founded Sapienza Universita Roma in 1303.
  • April 21: Saint Anselm of Canterbury died in 1109.
  • April 22: Our editor in chief, Sara Uckelman, was born.
  • April 23: Dagobert III was crowned king of the Franks in 711.
  • April 24: William the Silent was born in 1533.
  • April 25: Sancho IV the Brave, king of Castille, died in 1295.
  • April 26: Simonetta Vespucci died in 1476.
  • April 27: Ferdinand Magellan died in 1521.
  • April 28: Edward IV of England was born in 1442.
  • April 29: Saint Catherine of Siena died in 1380.
  • April 30: Amalasuntha, queen of the Ostrogoths, died in 534/535.

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Every day is Christmas when you’re an onomast

Sometimes, when I stop and think about the scale of our undertaking, it can seem a bit daunting. EVERY name from EVERY European document for more than 1000 years? 1000 editorial assistants working 1000 years wouldn’t be enough, if you think about it rationally.

So the easiest thing to do is don’t (think about it rationally, that is). We know this is a big project, and one that will hopefully outlive us. And in the meantime, one way to make incremental steps towards breadth of coverage — rather than the depth that we could get if we, say, concentrated on 16th C English parish registers — is by keeping many pots on the stove at once, that is, working on multiple sources at once. Each editorial assistant can choose what and how many projects to have on hand at the same time, with some choosing to keep to their onomastic specialities (such as Hungarian) or to a culturally-linked but relatively under-developed area in terms of medieval onomastic research (such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland), while others of us simply flit from source to source as new possibilities become available.

One result of this tactic is that you never know what you are going to find. Those of you who follow us on Twitter know that last week thanks to a Cambridge University Press booksale we came away with 19 volumes from their “Cambridge Library Collection” on the cheap. One of them, Historic and Municipal Documents of Ireland, A.D. 1172-1320, caught my eye because we have had some people complain (with justification) that our current coverage of Ireland is quite minimal. (It’s not nonexistent, but currently we have Irish citations in only five entries, Henry, Laurence, Ralph, Robert, and William, none of which, the astute reader will note, are especially Irish.) Tonight I sat down to flip through it, and item III is a late 12th C document headed “Dublin Roll of Names” — 45 pages of them. Most of them are distinctly Anglo-Irish in origin, but casual flipping shows a little bit of the underlying Gaelic substrate peaking through, such as an occurrence of Padin, a Gaelic diminutive of Patrick; Gillafinean, a form of Gaelic Gilla Finnén; and Galgethel, at the moment unfamiliar but almost certainly to be Gaelic in origin. 45 pages of names from Dublin? It’s like Christmas has come three months early.

In addition to systematically working our way through sources transcribing names, we also often do individual consultations for people who are looking for further information about the use of a particular name, and these searches often serendipitously lead to gems. The other day, while searching for examples of Ava which were not diminutives, we found a mid-11th C charter from Ghent with the most lovely list of women and their daughters, some familiar, some distinctly unusual:

Ermengardis, Emma, Tisvidis, Ava, Ermentrudis, Memlendis, Lulend, Badin, Nodelend, Bivin, Bernewif

This afternoon, speculation on Facebook about how an early 9th C Frankish woman could’ve ended up with the given name Suspecta lead us to return to the original source to look up the names of her family members, which include father Teutfredusb (Theodefrid, mother Fulca (entry available in the next edition, s.n. Fulka), and siblings Seats (obscure, in both origin and gender), Teodarus (Theodeher), Gisledrudis (entry available in the next edition, s.n. Giseltrude), and Teodara (entry available in the next edition, s.n. Theodara).

I’ve been studying names in some form or another for more than two decades, and the thrill of finding an onomastic gem never fades. The Dictionary is, to some extent, merely an excuse to go on finding them.

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