Tag Archives: Louis

Mystery Monday: Masoeytta

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 feminine name recorded in Latin in late 13th or early 14th C Bergamo. It’s a strange name because that central vowel cluster — oey — is definitely atypical. (In our 66,000+ citations, we have only one other instance of this cluster, in an Old French form of Louis). But the rest of the name doesn’t give us many clues to go on either — -etta is an Italian hypocoristic suffix, found in Angeletta and Bonetta, and more commonly in the masculine form -etto; and Italian forms of Thomas and Thomasse can be truncated to Maso- or Masa-, with further diminutive suffices added. So it’s possibly that Masoeytta is the result of truncating Thomasia or Thomasa and then adding -etta, but where is the -y- coming from? And why is it -o- instead of -a-?

We have no idea. Do you? Got any hypotheses about how to explain these interloping vowels? Please share in the comments!

Masoeytta

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Three French documents relating to Africa

Most of the time when we’re working through sources culling names from them, our primary interest is in the names themselves, and not the contents of the documents (though sometimes of course you find something interesting, such as a reference to a person you know (I found Peter Abelard once!) or an interesting legal dispute, or socio-economical titbits such as women owning land and donating it to the church). We recently came across a short little article [1] in a 19th C journal that had three documents in it which were absolutely fascinating both from a linguistic/onomastic point of view as well as from a historical point of view, so we thought we’d talk a bit about them here.

One of the by-products of keeping detailed geographical information for each citation is often having to go on investigations to match medieval Latin placename forms with modern places. A lot of times, it’s easy — the common names (e.g., “Parisius”) show up a lot and are linguistically related to their modern forms. Other times, the connection isn’t immediately obvious, especially when it’s a smaller, less important city. (My knowledge of French geography has increased significantly in the last five years.) Usually the first step is to plug the Latin form of the name into wikipedia, and see if there are any hits; quite often there will be some documentary quote in the entry of the relevant modern city that includes the historical form of the name, and then it’s just a matter of triangulating what we know about the city from the document it’s mentioned in to the info in the wikipedia article to confirm that we’ve got the right one (important when there is more than one city with the same, or similar, name). The title of this article, “Chartes Inédits Relatives aux États de Bougie et de Bone (1268-1293-1480)” mentioned two cities — or rather “states” — that I didn’t recognise, but since the introductory material to the article mentioned Marseille, so I figured it would be somewhere in that area.

So I was totally taken by surprised when I found out that “Bougie” is a historic French name for the Algerian city Béjaïa, and that “Bone” (more properly “Bône”) or “Bona” is an old French name for the Algerian city Annaba, aka Hippo, where the great Saint Augustine came from.

Records from/relating to Algeria! From the middle of the 13th-century, Algeria was ruled by the Hafsid sultanate, but there were close connections between it and southern France, and thus these documents fall squarely within the scope of the Dictionary.

The first document, from 1268, is in Latin, and written under the authority of Guillaume Dagenessa, “vicarius” of Marseille, on behalf of Charles, king of Sicily, and concerns the establishment of a consulate at Bougie, with one Hugues Borgonion, a merchant, nominated as consul.

The third document, from 1480, is in Middle French and is from “Loys, par la grace de Dieu, roy de France, conte de Prouvence, et seigneur de Marceille” to “le illustrissime roy de Bone nostre chier amy”, who is, alas, unnamed, but who is the son of “le roy de Thunys”, that is, Tunisia (presumably, Uthman, Hafsid caliph from 1435–1488). The editor of the treatise speculates that the person in question might be Abu Yahya Zakariya, who was caliph of Ifriqiya from 1490-1494. It truly is a shame that the letter does not name its recipient!

The second document, from 1293, is by far the most exciting one. First, it is written not in Marseille about Béjaïa — it is written in Béjaïa, to be sent back to Marseille! Second, it is the first document in Old Occitan that we have had the opportunity to work with for the Dictionary. Three men are named — Guillem de Cadenet, “cavallier et viguier de Marseilha”, the recipient of the letter; and the two authors, Peire Jordan and Peire de Gerusalem, consuls, who are written to Guillem on behalf of all the merchants from Marseille in Béjaïa. (There is something somehow fitting about how out of three men, we only get two names. The popularity of forms of Peter in southern France is distinctive and pervasive, and while we would have loved to have more variety in these scant examples, it is satisfying to see the general pattern reinforced by such a small data set.)

What tremendously exciting documents to have come across, and we look forward to the next edition of the Dictionary which will boast not only its first names in Old Occitan but also its first names from Algeria!


References:

[1] L. de Mas Latrie, ed., “Chartes Inédits Relatives aux États de Bougie et de Bone (1268-1293-1480)”, appearing in vol. 2 of Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartres (1840-41), pages 388-397.

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An onomastic calendar: July

  • July 1: Feast day of Saint Aaron.
  • July 2: Elizabeth Tudor was born in 1492.
  • July 3: Hugh Capet was crowned king of the Franks in 987.
  • July 4: Saint Ulrich of Augsburg died in 974.
  • July 5: Joan of the Tower, queen consort of Scotland, was born in 1321.
  • July 6: Richard the Lion-Heart ascended the throne of England in 1189.
  • July 7: Madeleine of Valois died in 1537.
  • July 8: Saint Grimbald died in 903.
  • July 9: Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg was born in 1511.
  • July 10: Emperor Hadrian died in 138.
  • July 11: Martin Frobisher sights Greenland in 1576.
  • July 12: Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle is printed in 1493.
  • July 13: Alexander III is crowned king of the Scots.
  • July 14: Louis VIII became king of France in 1223.
  • July 15: Saint Bonaventure died in 1274.
  • July 16: Saint Clare of Assisi was born in 1194.
  • July 17: Count Baldwin VI of Flanders died in 1070.
  • July 18: Godfrey de Bouillon, crusader knight, died in 1100.
  • July 19: Philipa of Lancaster died in 1415.
  • July 20: Claude, queen of France, died in 1524.
  • July 21: Feast day of Saint Victor of Marseilles.
  • July 22: William Wallace is defeated at the Battle of Falkirk.
  • July 23: Saint Bridget of Sweden died in 1373.
  • July 24: Mathilda of Tuscany died in 1115.
  • July 25: Casimir I the Restorer was born in 1016.
  • July 26: Pope Celestine died in 432.
  • July 27: Conrad II of Italy died in 1101.
  • July 28: Rodrigo de Bastedas, conquistador and explorer, died in 1527.
  • July 29: Olaf II of Norway died in 1030.
  • July 30: Italian painter Giorgio Vasari was born in 1511.
  • July 31: Ignatius of Loyola died in 1556.

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An Onomastic Calendar: May

  • May 1: Mathilda of Scotland died in 1118.
  • May 2: Anne Boleyn was arrested for treason in 1536.
  • May 3: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, was born in 1415.
  • May 4: John Wyclif and Jan Hus are condemned as heretics at the Council of Constance in 1415.
  • May 5: Gerberga of Saxony died in 968/9 or 984.
  • May 6: Dieric Bouts, Dutch painter, died in 1475.
  • May 7: Remigius de Fécamp died in 1059.
  • May 8: Pope Saint Benedict II died in 685.
  • May 9: Hernando de Alarcón set sail for the Gulf of California in 1540.
  • May 10: Emperor Claudius Gothicus was born in 210.
  • May 11: Anne of Bohemia, queen consort of England, was born in 1366.
  • May 12: Berengaria of Navarre was crowned queen of England in 1191.
  • May 13: Julian of Norwich experienced her mystical visions in 1373.
  • May 14: Simon de Montfort became de facto ruler of England in 1264.
  • May 15: Mary Queen of Scots married her third husband, James, Earl of Bothwell, in 1567.
  • May 16: Baldwin I was crowned Latin emperor of Constantinople in 1204.
  • May 17: Anne of Denmark was crowned queen of Scotland in 1590.
  • May 18: Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England in 1152.
  • May 19: Saint Alcuin of York died in 804.
  • May 20: Abraham Ortelius issued the first modern atlas in 1570.
  • May 21: Albrecht Dürer was born in 1471.
  • May 22: Saint Rita of Cascia died in 1457.
  • May 23: Girolamo Savonarola was burned to death in 1498.
  • May 24: Magnus Ladulås was crowned king of Sweden in 1276.
  • May 25: Pope Boniface IV died in 615.
  • May 26: Saint Augustine of Canterbury died in 604.
  • May 27: Ludovico Sforza died in 1508.
  • May 28: Caterina Sforza died in 1509.
  • May 29: Philip VI was crowned king of France in 1328.
  • May 30: Jerome of Prague was burned for heresy in 1416.
  • May 31: Manuel I of Portugal was born in 1469.

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An onomastic calendar: March

  • March 1: Louis the Pious was restored as Holy Roman Emperor in 834.
  • March 2: Dirk VI becomes count of Holland in 1121.
  • March 3: Dutch theologian Gijsbert Voet was born in 1589.
  • March 4: Saint Adrian of Nicomedia was martyred in 306.
  • March 5: David II of Scotland was born in 1324.
  • March 6: Ferdinand Magellan arrives in Guam in 1521.
  • March 7: Emperor Constantine declares Sunday a day of rest i n321.
  • March 8: Urraca of León and Castile died in 1126.
  • March 9: Saint Frances of Rome died in 1440.
  • March 10: Agnes Blannbekin, Austrian mystic, died in 1315.
  • March 11: Marie de France, Countess of Champagne, died in 1198.
  • March 12: Cesare Borgia died in 1507.
  • March 13: The bones of St Nicephorus were interred in Constantinople in 874.
  • March 14: Catherine Cornaro, queen of Cyprus, sold Cyrpus to Venice in 1489.
  • March 15: On this day in 44BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March.
  • March 16: On this day in 1485, Anne Neville, queen consort of England, died.
  • March 17: The feast of Saint Patrick.
  • March 18: Edward the Martyr, king of the English, died in 978.
  • March 19: Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286.
  • March 20: Cecily of York, daughter of Edward IV, was born in 1469.
  • March 21: St. Angela Merici was born in 1474.
  • March 22: Ferdinand II commissioned Amerigo Vespucci in 1508.
  • March 23: Margaret d’Anjou was born in 1430.
  • March 24: Harun al-Rashid died in 809.
  • March 25: Blanche of Lancaster was born in 1345.
  • March 26: Conrad II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1027.
  • March 27: Rachel Akerman, Austrian poet, was born in 1522.
  • March 28: Saint Theresa of Ávila was born in 1515.
  • March 29: Arthur I of Brittany was born in 1187.
  • March 30: Saint Quirinus of Neuss died in 116.
  • March 31: Francis I of France died in 1547.

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Nicknames in medieval Estonia

In our previous post, we surveyed the percentage of diminutive and hypocoristic forms in the Dictionary’s dataset sorted according to modern countries, and one stand-out surprise was Estonia: Over 40% of our citations are nicknames of some form! Why is it that diminutives and hypocoristics were so popular in medieval Estonia?

Well, we aren’t exactly in a position to answer the why, but we can look at the what — what are the types of nickname patterns that we see, do they differ between men and women, can we say anything interesting about these patterns vs. those in nearby countries? That’s what we will explore in this post.

First, the feminine names: Only two of the nicknames belong to women, and both come from a Middle Low German contexts. The first is, in the vocabulary we introduced, a hypocoristic, formed by taking a name and truncating it to make a pet form. The example is Barbar, from Barbara. This same diminutive also shows up in Latvia, again in MLG contexts. The second is a diminutive, formed by adding the Low German diminutive suffix -ke, to the root name Anne, to result in the form Anneke. As with Barbar, Anneke also shows up in Latvia at roughly the same time.

This leaves over 600 diminutive forms left, of which nearly 10% — 53 — are Hans, a German hypocoristic of Johannes, one of the standard Latin forms of John, and if we add variants such as Hannes, Han, Hanß, etc., the number rises significantly. From about the middle of the 12th C on, John quickly became far and away the most popular man’s name throughout Europe. In German dialects, Hans, Hanns, Hannes, etc., were often as much more popular than Johannes or Johan than these names were than the next most popular.

So, one answer to the ‘why’ is: Because Low German was a standard documentary language in late medieval Estonia, and the most popular masculine name in late medieval Low German contexts was a diminutive, so that is why there are so many diminutives in medieval Estonia. (This, however, doesn’t address the other why question, which is why the nickname forms were more common than full forms!)

Hans makes up just under 10% of the masculine nicknames; a large percentage of the remainder are covered by just a handful of other names: Cord, Kord, Kort, a Low German hypocoristic of Conrad; Hintze, Hennyng, Hennynck, Heine, from Henry; Cleys, Clauwes, Claues, Claes, Cleys, Clawes, and numerous other hypocoristics of Nicholas; Ludike and Ludeke, from Louis; and Wynyke, a diminutive of any of various names beginning with wini ‘friend’. Other less common names also give rise to hypocoristics, such as Bastian, from Sebastian; Brosius, from Ambrose; and Aßmuß from Erasmus.

So much for the ordinary, every day nicknames, your Estonian Tom, Dick, and Harry, if you will. Let’s explore some of the unusual ones!

  • Nicknames of Constantine: Coest, Kosst.
  • Nicknames of Habakukk: Habbo, Köke, Kock.
  • Nickname of Hubert: Hoppe.
  • Nicknames of Jacob: Jaeck, Jack, Jacho, Kowpy, koup.
  • Nickname of Joachim: Jachi.
  • Nicknames of Joseph: Jessa, Seppo.

One thing of note is that many of these unusual hypocoristics derive from Biblical names.

We’ll close by looking at one name which, across Europe, is one of the most prolific spawner of nicknames: Theodoric. In Estonia alone, the name rivals John in popularity, and we have seventeen different nickname forms — most of which are diminutives of hypocoristics: Tideke, Tideken, Tideman, Tidike, Tijdeke, Tijdeman, Tijdike, Tile, Tous, Tydedeynk, Tydek, Tydeke, Tydeken, Tydeman, Tydike, Tydiken, Tyman.

This will not be the last time we see Theodoric when exploring this month’s topic!

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Nicknames: Slavic diminutives

What is fascinating about diminutive suffixes is how you can trace linguistic contact and language relationships through diminutive forms. We saw that in our previous post, with the similarity between German and Dutch diminutives, and we will see it again when we look at the French diminutives -el and -in. In this post, we look at Slavic diminutives — suffixes used in Poland, the Ukraine, and the Czech Republic — which share a clear relationship with Low German -ke(n). We concentrate on the two most common suffix types: -ko and -ek for men and -ka and -ek(a) for women.

As with the German suffixes, these show up in Latin contexts at least as early as the 13th C. [1,2] But unlike some of the German diminutive forms, which for the most part were rarer than the root names, Slavic diminutives often eclipsed the root name in popularity — for example, in the Czech Republic, diminutive forms of Judith far outstrip the full form.

In what is now modern-day Czech Republic, the suffix -ka was often spelled -ca (especially in Latin contexts where k was often avoided) or with an added sibilant, either before or after the \k\, resulting in -zca, -zka, -kza, etc. Examples of this include Anka (from Anne) and Elsca, Elzca, and Elzka (from Elizabeth). Often, this suffix was added not to the full form of the name, but to a hypocoristic from — as in the forms of Elizabeth just noted. In particular, native Slavic names were often truncated before the diminutive suffix was added, as we see in the names Sdynka, Zdincza, Zdinka (from Zdeslava) and Budka, Budcza (from Budislava). As a result, it can be often difficult to identify what the root name is, which is the case with many of the masculine examples we currently have. Given their linguistic and geographic context, masculine names such as Boczko, Czenko, Daszko, Luczko, Parcko, Raczko, Steczko, and Wyrsko are almost all certainly diminutives, though as of yet we haven’t yet confidently identified the root names.

Our data from Poland, at this point, is still relatively limited, but even amongst the handful of diminutive forms that we have, we can see the influence of the Slavic construction in forms such as Ludeko (from Louis), another example of which we find in Lübeck a few years later. What we tend to see more in our limited Polish data is similarity with German suffixes, in particular one which we didn’t discuss in our previous post: -el. When we discuss German masculine diminutive suffixes, we’ll return to this!

Finally, let’s look at Ukraine. As with Poland, our data from the Ukraine is still quite limited, and yet, even amongst that limited data we have a surprisingly large percentage of diminutive forms (making up nearly 7%!) [3]. We see both the -(z)ko and -ek suffixes in this data, as witnessed by Iaczko (from Jacob), Iwanko (from John), and Muszyk (root name not yet identified), on the masculine side, and Marsucha (from Mary) on the feminine side.

One must be leery of drawing any strong conclusions from the limited data that we’ve gathered so far. Nevertheless, even in this small data set we have ample illustration of the variety of ways in which diminutives could be formed, and evidence of their popularity.


Notes

[1] Artsikhovskii, A. V., et al. Novgorodskie gramoty na bereste, Vols I-VII. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1953-78, no. 348.

[2] Moroshkin, Mikhail. Slavianskii imenoslov ili sobranie slavianskikh lichnykh imen. Saint Petersburg: n.p., 1867, p. 124.

[3] Compare that with, say, England or Spain, where diminutives make up 3%, or Sweden, where it is 4%.

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An onomastic calendar: September

Earlier this month over on Twitter, we started an #OnThisDay series, which every day highlights an individual associated with an important medieval event and gives a link to the relevant Dictionary entry for that person’s given name. Here’s a summary of the September onomastic calendar:

  • September 22: Anne of Cleves, future wife of Henry VIII, was born in 1515.
  • September 23: Yolande of Valois was born in 1434.
  • September 24: Ralph de Stafford was born in 1301.
  • September 25: Louis III of Naples was born in 1403.
  • September 26: William II of England was crowned king in 1087.
  • September 27: Ermentrude, queen of the Franks, was born in 823.
  • September 28: Gertrude, queen of Hungary, was murdered in 1213.
  • September 29: Margaret, queen of Scots, was born in 1240.
  • September 30: Yaroslav II, grand prince of Vladimir, died in 1246.

We’ll do a similar summary at the end of each month.

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The “most popular” names, for men

Last week we investigated the ‘most popular’ medieval names for women, including a long discursus on why the scare quotes. All the same caveats hold when we turn to look at the men’s names: Without access to systematic data that counts individuals only once and provides the same level of coverage in every place and time, there is no way to say definitively what the most popular medieval given names were.

Unsurprisingly, the list of men’s names that I review on a daily basis because I can pretty much guarantee some editorial assistant has added new citations of is longer than the list of women’s name. And many of the names on it will strike few as surprising (though I personally find it interesting how they cluster into pairs or triples in terms of the letter they start with, and how weighted towards the end of the alphabet they are):

These names have remained enduringly popular, with all of them showing up in, e.g., the top 100 of the Top Names Over the Last 100 Years in the US (John: 2; Robert, 3; William, 5; Richard: 7; Charles, 9; Thomas, 10; Paul: 17; Jacob: 34; Henry: 52; Peter: 55; Walter, 57; Roger, 66; Philip, ; 94note that since this counts individual variant spellings, rather than combining all variants together, this list separates Jacob from James, which comes in at no. 1).

But others on the list may be more surprising — names that have fallen out of common use, or which while still familiar nowadays may not strike one as especially typical of the Middle Ages. These names are:

Of these, the two that I found the most surprising — the ones I hadn’t really realized were as popular as they are until we started compiling such a huge corpus — are Louis and Theodoric. Louis, from its early Latinized form Hludowicus to its modern forms such as Louis, Lewis, Lodovico, Ludwig, and Luis, was an amazingly productive name, showing up in all cultures touched by the Carolingian empire, and, later, France (there being more medieval French kings named Louis than any other name). The popularity of Theodoric can be traced back to Theoderic the Great, ruler of the Ostrogoths at the fall of the western Roman empire. His deeds entered legend, and his name spread across Europe, spawing many variants and diminutives: In fact, more distinct spellings of this name are recorded than any other name we have catalogued so far (and that includes John!). In French, it became T(h)ierry; in Dutch, Derek and Dirk; in High German, Dietrich; in Low German, Diderik. The range of diminutive forms includes examples that a non-expert would scoff at as related: Who would think that Thidemann, Dytlin, Dietz, Tile, Tous, Tijdeke, and Thierrion are all nicknames of the same name?

All of these entries are already quite diverse in the citations they include, but will only become more so in the future. Mark your calendars, we are one week away from the publication of the next edition (our final one of 2015)!

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Gwendolyn, Rowena, Rhiannon, and Morgana: Medieval vs. ‘Medieval’ Names

Yesterday, DMNES editor-in-chief Dr. Sara L. Uckelman gave a talk at the Middle Ages in the Modern World conference in Lincoln on “Gwendolyn, Rowena, Rhiannon, & Morgana: Medieval vs. ‘Medieval’ Names”. This post is a summary of her talk; slides for it are available here.

The goal of the talk was to explore answers to three main questions:

  • What names do people think are medieval, but are in fact modern?
  • What names do people think are modern, but are in fact medieval?
  • Where does the mismatch come from?

Names like the ones found in the title of the talk, Gwendolyn, Rowena, Rhiannon, Morgana, were taken as proto-typical ‘medieval’ names: Names that the average non-medievalist (or maybe only dilettante medievalist) would probably classify as medieval but whose historical lineage is much more complicated.

The first clear historical use of the name Gwendolyn dates to the 19th century. However, many people think that it is much older due to the variant names which can be found medievally — not as the names of actual people, but as the names in literature. The feminine name Gwendoloena appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c1135), but his source for this name appears to be a misreading of the Old Welsh masculine name Guendoleu as Guendolen (an easy mistake in many medieval scripts!).

Rhiannon likewise appears in medieval literature, uniquely as the name of a legendary/divine character in the Mabinogion. Though the name has become popular in and out of Wales in modern times, there is no evidence that it was used by real people during the Middle Ages.

Rowena is another literary name, best known because of the character in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

Morgana, of the four, is the exception. It, too, is a literary name, best known as the name of the Arthurian enchantress Morgan le Fay, whose name occurs in many forms (Morgen, Morgain, Morgaine, Morgana) in medieval accounts. Unlike the other names, it was used outside of literature: Morgana can be found in Rome in the early 16th C.

But it is not just that people assume many modern names are medieval which are in fact not, but also the reverse happens. We have discussed some of these here previously, in consideration of made-up names. What is interesting when surveying these examples is that many of the names which people in the English-speaking world incorrectly point to as modern coinages were not used in English historically, but rather in other languages (Amanda being an exception); thus, if we interpret these people as saying that use of these names in English is modern, then perhaps we have less to complain about their assertion. Secondly, some names that people incorrectly think are modern they think are because there is a clear post-medieval moment of creation that can be pointed to: e.g., Cedric in Ivanhoe, Wendy in Peter Pan. Here we must be careful to not say that Scott and Barrie did not coin the names, for the process by which a name is coined is not one that can only occur once. Scott and Barrie may have seen themselves as creating a new name for their characters, and if they did not have any knowledge of the previous uses of these names, then there is nothing to prevent us from saying that they did coin these names for their characters, it just happens that the names they coined had previously been coined. Thus, we must differentiate between the actual use of a name throughout history from our epistemic access to its use: One who does not know (and further, could not reasonably have been expected to know) of the previous existence of a particular name can plausibly lay claim to having (re-)coined it.

Having surveyed examples of names which fall on both sides of the line, the third question considered was “Where does the mismatch come from?” Why is it that non-specialists views of what counts as a “medieval name” or a “modern name” are so far off the actual mark? This is a complex issue with many possible contributing factors. Two important factors were singled out:

  • Literature
  • Shifting standards of cultural and personal identity

Literature: Many of the names cited above have close connections with literature. People read books which are apparently set in the Middle Ages, and assume that the names being used there are appropriate for the setting, because they are rarely told otherwise. The renewed interest in the Middle Ages of the Victorians brought with it new access to medieval literature and legend which provided fertile fodder for the desire of the Victorians to romanticise the Middle Ages. The roots of our modern historical and romantic views of the Middle Ages can both be located in these Victorian developments, and there often was no clear line drawn between the two, allowing literary names to pass easily from fiction into fact. Thus, the inheritance of the 20th and 21st C of the Victorian views of the Middle Ages brought with it a stock of names which naturally came to be viewed as “medieval” without distinguishing whether they came from medieval fact or medieval fiction.

But this summary shouldn’t be taken as saying “Oh, the Victorians couldn’t tell the difference between fact and fiction”; and this is because there are reasons why one might not feel the need to distinguish names from historical sources from literary ones, and that is because medievally one fertile source for names was in fact literature. We are familiar with the use of Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain, and Guinevere outside of literature in the Middle Ages; the popularity of these names is directly attributable to the popularity of the various songs, stories, and legends that circulated throughout Europe. But Arthurian cycles were not the only source of literary names in the Middle Ages. Other sources include the related tales of Tristan and Isolde, stories of Greek heroes and other legendary characters such as Hector, Alexander, Lavinia, and Hercules, Germanic romances such as the tales of Roland, and lays and troubador songs which are less well-known to modern audiences but which gave us the characters of Digory, Crescentia, and Griselda. And let us not forget the non-human characters, such as crafty Reynard the Fox, whose name became so closely associated with foxes that the term renard came to simply mean ‘fox’ in medieval French. Given that so many medieval names were in fact drawn from myth, literature, and legend, it is excusable for the non-specialist to assume that other important medieval literary names were also used by real people in the Middle Ages.

All of this so far has been directed at the level of individual given names, but misperceptions about medieval naming patterns also exist. These — most often in the form of insistence on a precise spelling of a name or on the belief that multiple languages can, and were, combined in the same name — have their origins in other factors. Specifically, we argue that the standards of personal and cultural identity that people have today are closely tied up with their names in a way that simply wasn’t the case medievally. In most western countries, people have a canonical form of their name which is instituted upon them soon after birth and which requires legal action in order to change. The centrality and importance of the name which is instituted upon them along with the difficulty involved in changing it means that this originally instituted name, in precisely the form in which it was instituted, has primary significance. Sara is not the same name as Sarah, and one who refers to the former by the latter will be reprimanded. This emphasis on the originally instituted name in exactly the way it was instituted as the legal marker of personhood of a person is simply not the way names were viewed medievally. Because orthography was not, for the most part, standardized (though this does not mean — as some people take it — that you can spell any name any way you wish!), Willyam was the same person as Wylliam who was the same person as Guilliam: It was the name, rather than the spelling, that was emphasized.

Identity: The second contributing factor is the close relationship between cultural and personal identity that many people have today. When you are introduced to someone, quite often one of the first questions you are asked is “Where are you from?” And if the answer you give conflicts with other evidence present in the conversation – for example, someone with an overt American answer giving her origin as the north of England, or someone with an obviously Polish surname giving his origin as southern France – then this usually immediately triggers further questions to explain the apparent clash between name, location, and origin. On a view of personhood and identity where where you are from and where your ancestors were from play an important role, then you expect that at least some of this information is indicated by a person’s name. And it is true that you see this sort of information encoded in (some) medieval names, specifically bynames which are locative in origin or which are ethnic descriptives such as ‘English’, ‘German’, ‘French’; these are quite common medievally and show that, similarly to us, medieval people were cognizant of cultural background and origin and deemed it important enough to codify in people’s names. But whereas modern people of mixed cultural backgrounds often have names which display multiple aspects of this mixed cultural (think for example of two people whose surnames are clearly tied to a specific language or culture who give their child the hyphenated form of their names), the combination of multiple languages into a single name is not something that was done, medievally. Though this cultural background is important and relevant, it was not inflexibly encoded into the name. Instead – and this ties back to the idea that variation in spelling does not necessarily indicate variation in name – the form of the name would depend on the linguistic context in which it was being used. A magnate from the Low Countries writing letters in the 14th C will say “Ego Lodevicus”, “Wij Lodewijk”, or “Nous Loys” depending on whether he is writing in Latin, Middle Dutch, or Middle French. John Hawkwood, notorious English mercenary, was known as Giovanni Acuto amongst his Italian friends. Other examples are easily found.

Having discussed the mismatch and some of its causes, it’s worth concluding by briefly considering the question “What can we do about it?” The most straightforward way to minimize the mismatch between what we think happened in the Middle Ages and what actually happen is through the dissemination of information, which goal was one of the original motivations for creating the Dictionary.

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