Tag Archives: Mary

Traditional names are still the most popular

The highlight of the onomastician’s calendar is always the publication of the babyname statistics for various countries — when the US Social Security baby name data for the previous year is released (usually in May), you can see the excitement sweep across the onomastic portion of the internet. (Even those of us who focus on medieval names rather than modern names will still block out an evening to do nothing but scroll through the new lists!). Yesterday, the BBC reported on data from the Office for National Statistics with the top 10 boys’ and girls’ names in England and Wales for 2016.

Despite the plurality and diversity of naming options facing modern parents, especially in anglophone countries where it is common for parents to adopt names from many different cultural contexts, the most popular names tend to be relatively conservative, in the sense that they do not change much from year to year (though they change enough that generational and regional trends are easy to see); they tend to favor “standard” spellings of names; and they tend to be names with a long pedigree. Names like Daenarys and Khaleesi may have made it into top 1000 lists for both the US and the UK, and they may be climbing steadily, but it will be a long while before they’ve been around long enough to make it into the top 10. (If Martin’s books are still being read at that point, a few centuries in the future, he should be well pleased!)

But just how long a pedigree do the names in the top 10 for England and Wales have? That’s the focus of today’s post!

Top 10 girls’ names in England and Wales

  1. Olivia: Olivia reflects the modern tendency to prefer polysyllabic, Latinate, explicitly gender-marked forms of names. The name is often cited as being an invention of Shakespeare, but that is manifestly not true; not only did he not invent it, he was not the instigator of its use in England. Forms of this name have been used in England from at least the 13th C onwards, and this particular spelling can be found in Latin documents in 1296 and 1321. On the continent, the name was used even early, from at least the 9th C in France.
  2. Amelia: Amelia sounds like it follows the same Latinate pattern as Olivia, due to its similarity to the Roman gens name Aemilia, but in fact it derives from Proto-Germanic *amal ‘vigor, bravery’, and could have been used as a diminutive of any of various names beginning with this element (such as Amalhilde, Amalgilde, Amaltrude, or Amalswintha).
  3. Emily: Now this name is the one derived from Aemilia. While the masculine form Emil was moderately popular medievally, Emily was always uncommon. In England, the name is best known, in the Middle English spelling Emelye, as the princess in Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale”.
  4. Isla: Isla as a name, and especially as a feminine name, is distinctly modern. It derives from the name of an island, and the pattern of naming children after geographical regions such as islands, cities, duchies, and states is quite recent (relatively speaking).
  5. Ava: Ava is a strange name in that we have a pretty long history of its usage — particular in the diminutive form Aveline — but other than being able to identify it as Germanic in origin, it is not clear further what its linguistic roots or etymology are.
  6. Isabella: Isabella fits neatly in with Olivia as the Latin form of a common medieval name, Isabel, which itself arose from another common medieval name, Elizabeth. Even as late as the 16th C, one and the same woman could be recorded as Isabel(la) and Elizabeth interchangeably, and hybrid forms like Elsabell can also be found in that era.
  7. Lily: It’s almost overdetermined that Lily would appear in the “most popular” girls’ names of the present era. The name both reflects the penchant illustrated by Isla above to name children after naturalistic elements, and it bears its original usage not from the flower but from a nickname of Elizabeth, and is still sometimes nowadays used to honor relatives named Elizabeth.
  8. Jessica: Jessica is another name, like Olivia, which is thought to be invented by Shakespeare but wasn’t actually. Forms of this name were used by Jewish women living in England before the expulsion in 1290.
  9. Ella: This trim, spare name might hearken to the -bella names, but it is another name of Germanic origin, deriving from Proto-Germanic *allaz ‘all, whole, every’. It was rare, but has been used since at least the 15th C.
  10. Mia: Mia is the one outlier of the entire bunch; it’s use is prettty much purely modern. It can be used as a nickname of various names, including Mary, Amelia, and Emily, and is identical with the Italian and Spanish word ‘mine’, from Latin mea. Mea, now, does have a long history of usage — but as a nickname of Bartholomea.

Top 10 boys’ names in England and Wales

  1. Oliver: With Olivia number 1 for the girl’s, Oliver might strike many people as simply the masculine equivalent — but the truth is much more complex. It may be a derivative of Latin oliva just as Olivia is, but it could equally well be a form of Olaf developing in Normandy, or a form of Aylward via Alvaro spellings. Whatever it’s origin, the name has a long history, showing in Belgium, France, England, and Ireland by the end of the 12th C, spreading outward from there in the 13th and 14th centuries, and being pretty well established across Europe by the end of the 16th C.
  2. Harry: What do you get when you take a Germanic name pronounced by Frenchmen and write it down by an English speaker? Why, Harry of course! Due to the numerous kings and saints named various forms of Henry, it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular masculine names in all of European history.
  3. George: No doubt about the pedigree of this name; the eponymous saint that slew the dragon and kickstarted the name’s popularity lived in the 3rd-4th C. It was never a hugely popular name in England before the 16th C, but from then on, it has been well-established, getting extra boosts from a couple of kings.
  4. Jack: How Jack developed as a nickname of John is a perennial question, and one we’ve discussed before. In our own data, we have examples from the 14th C onwards.
  5. Jacob: After John, Jacob is probably the most popular medieval man’s name of Hebrew origin — though as with other names of Biblical origin, Jacob was rare before the 12th C. The majority of the few 9th C examples we have were of clerics or people closely associated with the church, where the use of this name instead of a name of Germanic origin was a strong signal of the family’s Christianity. By the end of the 16th C, James was perhaps slightly more popular than Jacob in England, but both remained strong contenders.
  6. Noah: This Old Testament name came into use amongst English and French Protestants in the 16th C, but it was also used occasionally before then, influenced by the medieval mystery plays.
  7. Charlie: This name has a relatively short history in England; before the 16th C, it was quite rare, and many of our pre-1500 examples in England are actually foreign visitors. The name was, however, vastly popular on the continent due to its most famous bearer, Charlemagne. It’s not clear when the diminutive form Charlie developed; we haven’t yet found any pre-1600 examples yet. Thus, of all the names in this list, Charlie can be taken to be the most “modern”.
  8. Muhammad: Muhammad is clearly a name with a long history, but many people probably think that history is almost exclusively Middle Eastern — but that is because people often tend to forget how much Arabic settlement, trade, and migration there was during the medieval period. In the 1510 census of Valencia, seven men named Mahomat are listed; in Italy, a “Saracen” named Machemet is recorded in 1160. And this is to not even delve into the records from al-Andalus, where this name was extremely popular, accounting for over 30% of the men.
  9. Thomas: As with other names of Biblical origin, Thomas first gets its purchase in England in the 12th century; from then on, it was consistently and continuously one of the most popular names in the country.
  10. Oscar: This name has two distinct origins. First, and most commonly, it is a compound of Old English ōs, Old High German *ans, ans-, ansi-, Old Icelandic áss, óss ‘god, deity’ + Old English gār, Old High German, Old Saxon gēr, Old Icelandic geirr ‘spear’. The name was quite popular in France and Germany in the 9th-12th C, but it mostly fell out of use after that. The modern popularity of the name is probably due more to the second origin it has, Irish os ‘deer’ + cara ‘friend’. This name was vanishingly rare in medieval Ireland, but was used by James Mcpherson in The Works of Ossian (1765), through which (via Napoleon and his grandson) the name entered the Swedish royal line. This combination of Irish heritage and Scandinavian foreignness makes it no surprise that the name is as popular in England as it is today, even though there was a centuries-long gap in its usage.

So there you have it! Unsurprisingly, the most popular boys’ and girls’ names in England and Wales last year are strongly rooted in a long historical tradition in which many of these names have been amongst the most popular for millennia.

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The return of -cock and -kin

Over a year ago we discussed two unusual English diminutive suffices, -co(c)k and -kin. At the time, we said of -co(c)k:

This suffix was never common, and we don’t currently have any examples in our data, but look forward eagerly to the day when we do!

Well, now we do! So we thought we’d devote a post to revisiting these suffices.

We have recently been working through the 1379 poll tax of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which is delightful in that not only has a number of given names recorded in diminutive form, but also — despite being recorded in Latin — a surfeit of vernacular matronymic and patronymic bynames based on diminutives. In addition to adding the given name citations directly to the Dictionary’s database, we have also been adding the evidence from the bynames to the body of the relevant entries. This data will be available in the next edition.

-kin first. To our previous examples of -kin, we can now add diminutives of William Wilke, Wilken, Wilkin, Wilkyn, and Wylkyn. The -kyn spelling is favored in this dataset; we also have Adken, Adkyn, Atkyn, Attkyn (from Adam), Jonkyn (from https://dmnes.org/name/John”>John), and Perkyn (from Peter). The suffix was not exclusive to men; our final example, Malkyn, is a diminutive of Mary.

And, *drum rolls*, our two new examples of -cock! Adcok is another diminutive of Adam and Wilkoc is another reduction of William.

These are not the only diminutive suffices we find in this dataset, and they are certainly not the most common ones. We will set about exploring the nicknames of Yorkshire in a future post!

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Typical women’s names in early 14th C England

We’re currently working records from manorial court cases in England between 1250 and 1550 (namely, this source), and are now in the 1320s and 1330s.

One of the things that I love about court cases is how ordinary the names are; these are ordinary people, living ordinary lives. They are not royalty, they are not clerics, they are nothing that would mark their names out as unusual. So what were the typical women’s names in England at this time? Here are the ones we’ve come across so far (all in their Latin nominative forms; the actual vernacular form may have been quite different):

Margareta and Margeria, Johanna, Cecilia, Amicia, Alicia, Malota, Milisanta, Agnes, Juliana, Matilldis and Matilda, Dyonisia and Dionisia, Isabella, Emma, Athelina, Beatrice, and Katerina.

Aren’t they lovely?

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An onomastic calendar: August

  • August 1: Justinian I became sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire in 527.
  • August 2: Pope Severinus died in 640.
  • August 3: Saint’s day of Olaf II of Norway.
  • August 4: Berengar II of Italy died in 699.
  • August 5: Alexander I Jagiellon was born in 1461.
  • August 6: Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, died in 1221.
  • August 7: Otto I of Germany was crowned in 936.
  • August 8: Conrad Lycosthenes, humanist and ecyclopedist, was born in 1518.
  • August 9: Arnold Fitz Thedmar, London chronicler, was born in 1201.
  • August 10: Eleanor, the maid of Brittany, died in 1241.
  • August 11: Mary of York was born in 1467.
  • August 12: Christian III of Denmark was born in 1503.
  • August 13: Alfonso XI of Castille was born in 1311.
  • August 14: Duncan I of Scotland was murdered in 1040.
  • August 15: Carolingian military leader Roland died in 778.
  • August 16: Philippa of Clarence, Countess of Ulster, was born in 1355.
  • August 17: Cesare Borgia became the first person to resign a cardinalcy in 1498.
  • August 18: Saint Clare of Montefalco died in 1308.
  • August 19: Catherine of Bohemia was born in 1342.
  • August 20: Stephen I of Hungary was canonized in 1083.
  • August 21: Philip II of France was born in 1165.
  • August 22: Saint Columba sees the Loch Ness monster in 565.
  • August 23: William Wallace was executed for treason in 1305.
  • August 24: Italian painter Lavinia Fontana was born in 1552.
  • August 25: Anna of Saxony married William of Orange in 1561.
  • August 26: Thomas Bradwardine, logician, mathematician, and archbishop died in 1349.
  • August 27: Arthur II, Duke of Brittany, died in 1321.
  • August 28: Saint Augustine of Hippo died in 430.
  • August 29: Hungarian poet Janus Pannonius was born in 1434.
  • August 30: Amalasuntha became queen regent of the Ostrogoths in 524.

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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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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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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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