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The ‘elements’ of name: Water

Continue our tour of the four elements, we now come to the slipperiest, wettest one: Water.

Water names, especially ones derived from topographic elements relating to water such as Brooke, River, and Lake, but also other weather-derived names such as Rain, are pretty common in modern anglophone naming practices: But nature names like these are one of the few general categories of names which are distinctly modern. The evidence we have for water-elements in medieval names comes from three main types: compound names containing an element meaning or referring to water; names derived from named bodies of water; and names reference some water-based origin.

Of the first, we have, in England, the Old English word ‘sea, lake’, which was used as a prototheme in various compound names, both masculine and feminine. In our data, we have examples of Sehild (f.), Saulf (m.), Seaborn (m.), Seman (m.), and Serich (m.). Unlike other compound Germanic names, where the same themes show up in Germany, England, and Scandinavia, we have only found this element in English contexts with one exception — we have one example of a Swedish cognate of Seaborn in Finland (not yet in the dictionary: Sebijörs, gen.)

Of the second, we have Tiberius, a classical Roman name deriving from the river Tiber. Tiberius was the name of a Roman emperor, and, later, four Byzantine emperors. The name shows up in Germany and Italy quite early (most likely references to these emperors), and then there is a big gap before the name was revived in Italy in the 15th and 16th C, as part of the Renaissance fashion of mining classical names. In this context we should also mention the names Jordan (m., entry not yet available) and Jordana (f.). While the etymological root of the masculine name is almost certainly not the river in the Holy Land, the popularity of the name was significant increased because of its similarity to the river name, with many Crusaders returning with Jordan water and naming their children for it.

Of the final category are the names Marin (m.)/Marina (f.) and Pelagius (m.)/Pelagia (f.), Latin and Greek, respectively, for ‘of the sea’. In connection with Pelagius we should also note the name Welsh Morgan, which is etymologically unrelated to anything sea-like, but has historically been connected with Pelagius due to a false etymology of the protheme as deriving from Proto-Celtic *mori ‘sea’.


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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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