Tag Archives: Memorantia

Two case studies in massive cross-cultural onomastic corpora (1)

Yesterday we went down to Sheffield for the very interesting In the Name of History conference organised by James Chetwood. One of the themes of the day was what type of information historians can get from names that they can’t (easily/necessarily) get from other types of sources.

Medieval personal names encode unique data about cultural context that is often available in no other source. This information could function at the individual scale, such as when a tax role from Paris has a l’Anglais and a l’Escot, or a census from Rome has a fiorentina and a todescha. In a documentary context where the only information we are given is a name and either a taxation amount or a number of people in a household, quite often names encode information that would be in no other way accessible.

Names can also provide evidence of local phenomenon at a micro scale, at the level of cities or parishes, where the influence of local saint or dignitaries can sometimes be seen.

Finally, names can also provide cross-cultural information at a macro scale, such as how languages change and develop, how linguistic fads move, how (and when and where) names and naming pattern propagate. This macro scale can only be studied through massive cross-cultural onomastic corpora.

In our talk, we sketched two case studies of the type of things that can be seen from such a cross-cultural corpus, drawn from the data we’ve collected for the Dictionary (both published and unpublished citations): (1) Protestant naming practices in the late 16th C, and (2) the eclipse of Germanic names over the course of the 12th C.

We’ve discussed Protestant names before on the blog, but our point today was to use this data to argue against a conclusion which may seem appropriate when considering the English data alone, but which, in the presence of relevant contemporary French and Dutch data, is no longer warranted.

C. W. Bardsley in his Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature draws a distinction between Puritan names/naming practices and the effect of the Reformation more generally. He says:

We must at once draw a line between the Reformation and Puritanism. Previous to the Reformation, so far as the Church was concerned, there had been to a certain extent a system of nomenclature. The Reformation abrogated that system, but did not intentionally adopt a new one. Puritanism deliberately supplied a well-weighed and revised scheme (pp. 42-43).

If you look at English data — particularly after 1600 — it is certainly true that the Puritans adopted some distinctive names and naming types (“Praisegod”, “Fly-Fornication”, etc.) However, as our previous blog posts have shown, there is a distinctively Protestant trend in given names that can be identified if the French, Dutch, and English data is all analysed together. This cross-cultural analysis is required: Some of the trends that are visible across all three contexts would be merely a handful of isolated incidents if only one cultural context were considered. For example, if we consider New Testament masculine names exclude the names of the apostles, each of the three cultures have only a handful of examples. But when we compare the name lists from each, we see that there is a significant amount of overlap — while no name occurs in all three contexts, almost half occur in two, and not always the same two.
New Testament masculine names
From this, it is clear that these individual examples are all a part of a wider trend.

The case is similar when we look to virtue names. Virtue names are in many respects a quintessentially English phenomenon — almost all of the examples of virtue names used before 1600 occur in English contexts and also occur ONLY in English contexts. However, not all of them do, and there are some names which are best classified as virtue names which occur outside of England. Again, on their own, these handful of names would not be enough to provide any evidence for a wider pattern or trend. However, when we view all of the virtue names together, they do:
Virtue names
Memorantia and Opportune are both found in Protestant contexts, and are extremely atypical names for the wider Dutch and French naming pools in the 16th C (or earlier). They are best understood as being examples of a Protestant-wide trend towards virtue names, forcing us to look beyond the narrow scope of Puritanism.

This is but one case-study of the sorts of trends that you can only witness if you look at a broad set of data. We’ll cover another case-study in a future post!


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Protestant names: Virtue names

The final place where the influence of distinctly Protestant naming practices can be seen are in virtue names. Virtue names were rare before the 16th C, but from about 1550 on, a wide variety of virtue names, some still in use today, spring up. They were most common in English, but a handful can be found in other languages, as well. Withycombe points to the popularity of virtue names in England as a specifically Puritan — rather than more broadly Protestant — practice: Since the Protestants had co-opted a number of the obscure Biblical names (as we’ve seen in previous posts), those religious zealots who wanted to truly distinguish their child by their names opted for a wholly new category.

First, we have the three cardinal virtues: “feith, hope, and charite” (as the Wycliffite Bible of 1395 gives them; though the 1525 Tyndale New Testament has the more usual “fayth hope and love”). Faith is perhaps a quintessentially English name: It is extremely unlikely to be found elsewhere given that its root is Anglo-Norman feid, feit, fait (about which you can read more in the Anglo-Norman Dictionary‘s entry: fei). Hope too is uniquely English, as the modern word derives from Old English hopa (from Proto-Germanic *hupōną, the root of German hoffen (v.) and Dutch hopen (v.)) in contrast with the usual forms on the continent deriving from Latin spes. We do not yet have any examples of the name, but it’s only a matter of time before we do; Bardsley notes a child baptised Hope in 1598 in Cambridge (p. 140). The Old English word for ‘love’, lufu, was a common Anglo-Saxon name, but mostly fell out of use with the Conquest. Instead, it was Charity, deriving from Latin caritas ‘love’, that was used. This name can be found in England as early as 1540, and we have not yet found any examples outside of England.

Virtue names can be one of two types: They can either name the virtue itself (as in the three above), or they can ascribe the virtue to the child adjectivally. In general, the nominative forms were more common in England, and when virtue names were used outside of England, adjectival forms tended to be more common. One virtue name that we found outside of clearly Protestant contexts derives from Latin sperantia ‘hopeful’. It was used both by men (Esperance) and by women (Esperanza) in Italy and Spain.

While Grace, like other virtue names, wasn’t used much in England before the 16th C, unlike the others it was used earlier on the continent, showing up in France, Italy, and Portugal as early as the 13th C, and in Spanish not much later.

Memorantia, identical to the Latin word for ‘remembering’, is a beautiful and unusual virtue name found in Dutch Protestant contexts. It’s one of the few non-English Protestant virtue names.

Mercy: This virtue name came into use in England in the late 16th C (not the 17th C, as Withycombe suggests).

Patience: Another virtue name in use in England at the very end of the 16th C, which Withycombe places in the 17th C.

Pleasant: A rare virtue name in 16th C England, this name can occasionally be found much earlier in France. Along with this we might also count as a virtue name the name Savory, from Anglo-Norman sauverré, savure, savré ‘sweet, pleasant, fragrant’.

Prudence, from Latin prudentia ‘prudence; discretion; good sense’, is found in both England and in Italy.

Sapience is another rare and unusual virtue name; we have found one instance of it in England at the end of the 16th C.

Temperance, another name found only in England so far, was somewhat more common than some of the other virtues.

What is curious is that the virtue names are almost exclusively feminine. We suspect this is an accident of data, for certainly there are virtue names that were used by men, but we simply have not yet come across any. We may have to revisit this post in the future after we have!


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