Tag Archives: Nathan

Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 26-50 for boys

Moving on to nos. 26-50 on the list of top boy’s names in the US for 2015, we continue the trend of the largest category being the names of Biblical, providing a nice mix of both Old and New Testament names. First we have John (26), a name regarding which we can be surprised for finding it so low. Since the 12th century it has been, almost without fail, the most popular man’s name across Europe, and it’s only in the last few decades that it has fallen out of favor in America. Part of the reason it has dropped rankings is because of the rising popularity of variant forms and diminutives, which the US Social Security tracks separately, but which we include in a single entry. Thus, here we should also note Jack (no. 40), a diminutive which has its origins in Middle Dutch Jankin. Other names in this category include Luke (no. 28), which we saw in an earlier post in the Greek-influenced variant Lucas; Andrew (no. 30), which we could also have included under the “Greek” heading below, and which was relatively common throughout Europe; and then various Old Testament names like Isaac (no. 31), more commonly used earlier by Jews but becoming popular amongst Protestant Christians in the 16th C; Joshua (no. 33), Caleb (no. 37), Nathan (no. 38), Jonathan (no. 48), and Isaiah (no. 49), names almost unheard of before the 16th C and still rare then; and Levi (no. 42), used almost exclusively by Jews medievally.

The next most common type of name in this group are the ones deriving from medieval surnames: Hunter (no. 41), an occupational byname deriving from Old English hunta ‘hunter, huntsman’; Jaxon (no. 44), a purely modern spelling of Jackson, which we saw in an earlier post; Landon (no. 46), a French surname found (among other examples) in the early 15th C in the city of Choisy; and Grayson (no. 47), a Lancashire and Yorkshire form of Graveson ‘son of the greyve (steward)’.

Of equal number are the names of Germanic origin. Two are classics: Henry (no. 29) and Charles (no. 50), the names of kings, emperors, and saints. In particular, the eight English kings named Henry have helped ensure the popularity of this name in the English-speaking world, and Charlemagne, one of the Nine Worthies, was a well-respected figure throughout Europe. The third, however, may surprise people by occurring in this category: Wyatt (no. 34). This is an English form of French Guiart or Wiard, with W- forms being typical of Normandy and Picardy, which in turn derives from two German elements. (Despite this, the name was vastly more popular in France than anywhere else).

We next have four names, two of Greek and two of Latin origin. The Greek names are names of saints: Christopher (no. 32) and Sebastian (no. 35), both of which were used throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. Finally, we have one religious and one secular Latin names: Christian (no. 43), identical in origin to the proper adjective, never extremely popular but found more often in Germanic and Scandinavian contexts; and Julian (no. 45), a name of imperial status, most common in Italy and France and found rarely elsewhere.

We’re left with a handful of origins each witnessed by one name. We have another name of Irish origin: Ryan (no. 39) is an English form of the Old Irish name Ríán, which was used during the 9th-11th C. It then fell out of use, and was revived in modern times. And in this batch of names we get our first name of Welsh origin: Dylan (no. 27) is a name found in Welsh mythology, and like many such names, we have no evidence that it was used by real people during the Middle Ages.

Finally, we have one name which is best described as complicated: Owen (no. 36). This spelling is a modern English form of a name which occurs in medieval Welsh as Owain, deriving from Old Welsh Ou(u)ein. This name is often connected with Old Welsh Eug(u)ein, explained as an adoption of Greek Eugene. The early Welsh Ou(u)ein or Eug(u)ein was the name of an Arthurian character, a son of Urien, with the result that the name was also used in French, developing into Yvain. It has been questioned, though, whether Ou(u)ein is related to Eugene — for it would make it an unusual example of a Greek name imported into Old Welsh at a very early date. It may be that the name has an independent origin, only later retro-actively connected to the Greek name. Hence, as we said, it’s complicated!

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Protestant names: Old Testament influences on men’s names (part 3)

In this post we finish up looking at Old Testament names, and whether we can see evidence of correlation between Protestant influence and the use of these names by men in the Middle Ages. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Manasses: This name, the name of a patriarch and a king of Judah, seems almost designed to ruin all of our hypotheses. It is a relatively obscure Biblical name, and yet we have no 16th C citations of it (yet). Instead, the name was moderately common in France in the 12th and 13th C, with a few examples earlier and a few examples later.

Meshach (entry available in next edition): The second of the three brothers who visited the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel (we saw the first one two posts ago, and the third shows up later in this list), Meshach was spelled Misaac and Mysaac in the Wycliffite Bible of 1395, and the former spelling is also the French spelling; we have one instance of Misaac in Caen in 1563.

Mordechai (entry available in next edition): The name of the father of Esther, we have one example of the name in 16th C France.

Moses (entry available in next edition): Moses wasn’t unheard of in England before the 16th C, its use amongst non-Jews attributable to the popularity of the story of Moses in medieval mystery plays. But in the 16th C, all our examples come from Protestant contexts, with one exception — a Swedish citation of Moisze in 1582. Was this Moisze a Jew? Was he a Protestant? Neither? Who knows!

Nathan: The name of a number of Old Testament characters, we have one example of Nathan in 16th C England.

Noah: Bardsley notes (p. 35) that this name was used in England prior to the Reformation as a result of the medieval mystery plays, but we have not yet collected any English examples. The two examples from 16th C Caen clearly reflect the pattern under investigation.

Sampson: This name was moderately common in France and English in the 12th C, due in part to the 6th C Welsh Saint Sampson who travelled from Wales to Brittany. After a period of reduced use, the name shows up again at the end of the 16th C.

Samuel: The name of the eponymous character of two OT books, Samuel was quite popular among Jews, and the 12th C examples of the name in England that we have are likely borne by Jews. The name experienced a resurgence in French, Dutch, and English contexts in the 16th C.

Shadrach: The third brother from the fiery furnace, our single example of this name was not identified as such until we researched how the name shows up in early vernacular Bible. In the Wycliffite Bible of 1395, the name is spelled Sidrac, which our identifictation of the 1583 English citation of Sidrack that we have certain.

Solomon: The son of King David and author of the Proverbs and some of the Psalms, his name was nearly as popular as his father’s name throughout the Middle Ages; in comparison with other Old Testament names, this name saw a reduction in use in England in the 16th C.

Uriah: The name of a number of minor OT characters, this name was spelled in a variety of ways — Urie, Vrie, and Vrye in the Wycliffite Bible, and Ury, Urye, and Urias (like Josias and Elias that we’ve seen earlier) in 16th C England.

Zachary: This name could be treated as either an OT or a NT name, since it shows up in both, the name of a prophet in the former and the father of John the Baptist in the latter. This name was not exclusive to the 16th C, and what is most curious about it is not when and where it was used, but how it was spelled when it was! The early medieval form in England dropped the Z-, leading to Latin spellings such as Acharias and Middle English spellings such as Acris. Not many names have variants at both the beginning and the end of the alphabet!

With this we’ve come to the end of our tour of the influence of the Old Testament on men’s names in Protestant contexts. Next up: The New Testament!

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