Tag Archives: Laurencia

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 viĆ°r 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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