Tag Archives: Naomi

Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 51-100 for girls

While the top 100 boy’s names were all relative homogeneous amongst the groups that we looked at, the girl’s names are much more varied. We’ve noted in the previous groupings how rare names of Biblical origin are compared to the boy’s names; that’s not the case for this group of names in which names of Biblical origin are equal first with names deriving from surnames. This just goes to reinforce the great diversity in feminine names!

So let’s look at those Biblical names first. Sadie (52) is of American origin, originally a nickname of Sarah (58). Sarah itself is a relatively late spelling; the intrusive -h wasn’t found before the 16th C in England. Gabriella (54) is not a Biblical name, but it is a feminine form of one. While it’s masculine counterpart was used moderately commonly, the feminine form was rare outside of Spain and Italy in the Middle Ages. Madelyn (59) and Madeline (90) are two of the many variant spellings of Magdalene, originally a byname meaning ‘from Magdala’. One might view Madelyn as a prototypical ‘modern’ spelling with the y replacing i-e. And yet, Madelyn can be found in England in 1598. It’s actually Madeline that would be an atypical spelling, medievally! We include Genesis (65) in this list not because it is a Biblical name but because it is a name with Biblical origins. The penchant for naming children after book chapters is definitely a modern one! Returning to more traditional names, Eva (75) is a Latinized form of the name; it was never especially common, but it can be found in the Czech Republic, England, France, and Italy. The spelling Naomi is a post-medieval one; before the 17th C, the usual English (and French) form was Noemy or Noemi (77). Lydia (81), like Magdalene, could also be classified as a surname, given that it was originally a locative byname referring to a kingdom in Asia Minor. The name has historically been quite popular amongst Dutch-speaking communities, particularly Protestant ones. Isabelle (94) could also perhaps go into the names of French origin; you’ll struggle to find any Isabelle in the Old or New Testaments — but you’ll find plenty of Elizabeth‘s, and Isabelle derives from an Old Provençal form of that name. Similarly, one might expect to find Gianna (96) under the Italian names, but we have included it here as it is a feminine form of John. Both it and Giana can be found from the 13th C on.

It’s an eclectic group of surnames that turn up in this group. First we have the locatives: Kaylee (61) can be from either the French Cailly or the Lancashire Cayley. Hailey (64) is either from Hailey in Oxfordshire, or a descriptive for anyone who lives near a clearing filled with hay. Peyton (72) is the name of cities in both Essex and Suffolk, and Ashley (85) ‘clearing filled with ashes’ is the name of many medieval English placenames. In this subgroup we can perhaps also include Kylie (66). The origin of this name is disputed, and certainly we have no evidence that it was used in the Middle Ages. However, it is sometimes considered to be a feminine form of Kyle, which itself was a medieval placename, in Scotland. Next we have the occupationals, with Piper (68), of Old English origin and found from at least the 12th C on, and Taylor (76), of French origin, and also found from the 12th C on. The last four are all Irish patronymics in origin. Kennedy (57) is a an English form of Cennétig or Cinnéide, a rare name in Ireland used in the 12th and 14th C, and which first shows up in Scotland in the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214). Mackenzie (73) is an English or Scottish form of the patronymic byname mac Coinnich ‘son of Coinneach’. An earlier form of Coinneach, Cainnech, was used in Ireland between the 6th and 11th C. Quinn (97) is an English form of Irish Cuinn, the genitive (possessive) form of Conn, a masculine name used from the 10th to 16th C. Reagan (99) is also an anglicized form, of the masculine name Riacán used from the 9th to 12th C.

The next two biggest groups are those of Latin and Greek origin. The former kicks off with a name we’ve discussed before: Despite what many modern baby name websites nad books might say, Stella (51) is not a modern name, but can be found in 15th and 16th C Italy. Lucy (55) is a vernacular English form of a popular saint’s name, Lucia, though even in England Luce was the more typical form than Lucy. Bella (74) can be a pet form of any of various names including Isabella and Jacobella, but it can also be simply the Latin word for ‘beautiful’. The root of Ruby (83) is the gemstone name, but the name of the gem itself derives from Latin rubeus, rubea ‘red’. This is another name which many people consider to be a modern coinage which is not. With imperial roots, it is no surprise that Julia (89) has had a long history of use from classical Rome to the modern era. Some people credit Shakespeare with the introduction of the name into England, but this is false; the name was already in use there by the 13th C. Vivian (95) as the name of two early saints, but despite this the name was rarely used by women medieval. We have one late-period Italian example. Clara (98), on the other hand, enjoyed steady, if not excessively popular, usage throughout Europe.

Turning now to the Greek names, we’ve see two variants of Arianna (56), as well as one of Khloe (100). Maya (69) and Aurora (79) are two names of Greek origin (though Maya actually has more than one origin!) for which we have not yet found any evidence of medieval usage — though this is not to say that we won’t! Melanie (80) has also already shown up on this blog before, when we discussed names deriving from the color black. It was only rarely used medievally, in significant contrast to Katherine (84), one of the most popular women’s names of all time. Next, we have Alexis (86); a name which was found in the Middle Ages, but which was exclusively masculine. Its use as a feminine name is modern. Finally, we have Cora (88); we haven’t yet found an instance of the root name, but it gave rise to diminutive forms which are witnessed, including Corella and Corina.

There is but a handful of names of German origin. Mila (53) is a feminine form of Milo. The masculine form was quite common, but the feminine form was almost unused. Caroline (62) is a diminutive of Carol, a feminine form of Charles. We haven’t found any medieval examples of Caroline, but the diminutive forms were much more common than any of the full forms, with both French Charlotte and Italian Carlutia found in the late period. French-influenced Aubree (78) does not have the same origin that Aubrey has; the root name is Germanic Alberada or Alberadis. Alice (87) is an English form of a name that was popular throughout Europe in many different variants and diminutives; Alyssa (93) is one such, and while we haven’t yet found an explicit medieval instance of it, we would not be surprised to do so.

Next we have a group of names which have medieval roots as words, but were not used as names before the 19th C. The word Hazel (63) is Old English in origin, and you can read the entry for it in the Middle English Dictionary here. Autumn (67), on the other hand, is from an Old French word, used in Middle English from the 14th C. Medieval names were not generally taken from the stock of ordinary words; but one exception to this is the rise of virtue names such as Faith (91) in the 16th C. Serenity (71) is a modern coinage (it derives from Latin Serena); this word was not used in Middle English and only imported into English later.

Two names have long historical lineages but need to be classified as uncertain in origin. The usual tale of Eleanor (60) is that it’s from the phrase alia Aenor ‘another Aenor’, but this is unlikely given the early examples of the name, many of which include a -d-. Annabelle (92) has been in use in Scotland since the 12th C, and appears to be either a variant of or a misspelling of Amabel.

Brianna (82) is a feminine form of Irish Brian, and another name people point to as a modern coinage. However, Briana occurs as a name of a character in a 16th C Spanish romance, Espejo de Principe y Cavalleros. This poem was translated into English in 1578 and published under the title of The mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood: wherein is shewed the worthinesse of the Knight of the Sunne, and his brother Rosicleer, sonnes to the great Emperour Trebetio: with the strange loue of the beautifull and excellent princesse Briana, and the valiant actes of other noble princes and knightes. Now newly translated out of Spanish into our vulgar English tongue, by M.T. On an onomastically unrelated note, the “M.T.” here is one Margaret Taylor, the first woman to translate a Spanish romance into English and the first woman to have published a romance in English.

As the month draws to a close this is probably our last post in this series (perhaps until next year?), and it only seems fitting that we end with a name which in a sense epitomizes modern-day American naming practices, and which has no medieval roots whatsoever: Nevaeh (70), which is simply ‘heaven’ spelled backwards.

We hope you enjoyed this tour of the medieval roots of popular modern names!


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Protestant names: Old Testament influences on women’s names

In our previous post we highlighted three types of names which are distinctly Protestant, by which we mean that the majority of them came into use (or came into common use) in the second half of the 16th C as a result of their uptake by Protestants. The first class of these was Biblical names, and we’ll devote this post and the next three to these — separating out Old Testament from new Testament names, and separating out women’s names from men’s names. In this post, we kick things off looking at women’s names from the Old Testament, surveying the ones in the Dictionary that we have found used in French, Dutch, and English Protestant contexts.

Abigail: One of the wives of King David. Bardsley [1] notes that of all the OT feminine names, “none had such a run as Abigail” in England (p. 66). We find this name in all three of our contexts, from the 1560s on.

Deborah (entry available in next edition): The name of one of the Israelite judges. Our evidence so far is purely on the Dutch side, from the 1570s on, but this is an artefact of our incomplete data, nothing more. Withycombe [2] notes that Deborah was popular among Puritans in the 17th C, with Bardsley describing it as “an especial pet of the fanatics” (p. 66) — though he also says that the use of this name was the product of the Reformation more generally and not the Puritans more narrowly (as our data evidences).

Eve: The name of the second person created (and first woman), the wife of Adam. While the Biblical character went through a period of disrepute in the early Middle Ages, her name, unlike the others we were looking at, was in use prior to the 16th C, and was also used much more broadly than some of the other Old Testament names, being found in the Czech Republic, and in England and France from the 12th C. Bardsley attributes the popularity of Eve in England to the mystery plays (p. 35).

Judith: The eponymous character of one of the books of the Apocrypha. This name was also in use before the 16th C (in England as early as the 9th C!), but it wasn’t until the 16th C that it became common — common enough that the diminutive form Juda is found in England in 1577 and Judie is found in France in 1563. Outside of this 16th C Protestant usage, the name can be found in Germany, Latvia, and the Czech Republic in the 13th and 14th C.

Naomi: The name of Ruth’s mother-in-law in the Book of Ruth. Withycombe says the name did not come into use in England until the 17th C. Our single example comes from France in 1564.

Orpah: Another character in the Book of Ruth, Orpah was Naomi’s other daughter-in-law. This name was not used outside of England, and it was rare in England.

Rachel: A wife of Jacob and hence one of the matriarchs of Israel. Withycombe says the name was popular amongst Jews but not used in England until the 16th C. This name is perhaps the clearest indication of Protestant influences: Our only examples come from French, Dutch, and English contexts in the second half of the 16th C.

Rebecca: The wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. We find examples of this name amongst Dutch and English Protestants.

Ruth: The eponymous character of an Old Testament book, the daughter-in-law of Naomi and the sister-in-law of Orpah. It was more popular than either of these, but still never common.

Sara (entry still being written): The name of the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac. To be honest, the only reason this entry isn’t yet available is because it’s the entry for my own name, and I feel a higher level pressure on it than any other. But we already have amassed a large number of examples of the name, which was found in England and France from as early as the 12th C. A handful of other scattered examples can be found between then and the 16th, but the appropriateness of including this name in our discussion of Protestant influences is evidenced by the huge jump in examples that are found in the second half of the 16th C, again across English, French, and Dutch contexts.

Susan (entry still being written): The name of a character in the Apocrypha, the name is found in England from the 12th C (again another result of the mystery plays), but wasn’t common there until the 16th C. It’s popularity, in England, is somewhat earlier than some of the other newly adopted Old Testament names: Our earliest 16th C example is from 1530. A similar pattern of us can be seen in France; it is found, rarely, in the 12th-13th C, and then suddenly relatively popular in the Protestant registers in the late 16th C.

Tamar: The name of three Old Testament characters, the most prominent of which being the daughter of King David, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon. As a result, Tamar’s reputation was not highly regarded in the medieval and post-medieval periods; Bardsley notes that “surely Tamar and Dinah were just as objectionable as Venus or Lais…Bishop Corbett brought it as a distinct charge against the Puritans, that they loved to select the most unsavoury stories of Old Testament history for their converse” (p. 71). Half of the fun of reading Bardsley is seeing his 19th C social commentary, which is again in evidnece when he says “Arising out of the Puritan error of permitting names like Tamar and Dinah to stand, modern eccentricity has gone very far, and it would be satisfactory to see many names in use at present forbidden” (p. 76). But Bardsley shouldn’t be laying the blame on this name with the Puritans, for the name was used by Protestants more broadly; our single example (so far) comes from France.


[1] Bardsley, C.W., Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (London: Chatto & Windus, 1880).

[2] Withycombe, E.G., Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).


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