Tag Archives: nature names

Nature names: Sun, stars, and sky

Let’s turn our attention from the trees and the forests up to the heavens! In this post we consider names with linguistic roots in the celestial.

Stars

We’ve talked about Stella on the blog before, as an example of a name which many people think is modern, but which has actually been in use since at least the 15th C. It’s identical with the Latin word for ‘star’.

The origin of the Biblical name Esther is disputed, but one possible origin is the Persian word for ‘star’. This is a canonical example of a Protestant name, coming into use in the 16th C in French, Dutch, and English contexts.

The sun

Old Breton sul ‘sun’ (related to Latin sol) was a common prototheme in compound Breton names. We have examples of Sulhoiarn, Sulwal, and Sulwored (coming out in the next edition), as well as the monothematic name Sulon.

Next we have another Biblical name, Sampson, deriving from a Hebrew word for the sun. This name was surprisingly popular in France and England in the 12th century, though it was used sporadically in other times and places.

In this context let’s include names relating to dawn and sunrise: Orienta and Aurisma are both found in early 9th C France, and have etymological connections with dawn.

The heavens

The heavens generally are the root of two masc/fem pairs of names of Latin origin: Celeste and Celestus, and their derivatives Celestina and Celestine

Gods and goddesses

Lastly, we have two names which are connected to celestial phenomenon via the name of a god or goddess. The popular Welsh name Llywellyn derives from two god names, the second being the name of a sun god perhaps related to Apollo. The feminine name Tamar has two distinct origin; the examples we have so far represent the Biblical name of Hebrew origin, but the name also occurs in Georgia as the name of a sky goddess.

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Nature names: Trees, forests, and woods

Nature names are a popular choice of names in contemporary Anglo naming practices, so we thought it would be interesting to see what sort of nature names can be found in medieval Europe. The answer is “Not many” — of all the inspirations that there were for coining or constructing new names in the Middle Ages, the option of taking as a name some nature-related word was very rarely exercised.

In this post, we look at names deriving from elements related to trees, forests, woods, etc.

Romance

Masc. Sylvius and fem. Sylvia derive from the Latin word silva ‘woodland, forest’. From this word we also have the masc./fem. pair Sylvester and Sylvestra.

The other class of forest/tree/wood names deriving from Latin origins are those which are the names of specific types of trees. Laurence and Laurencia both derive from a Roman cognomen itself derived from Latin laurus ‘laurel, bay-tree’. The masc./fem. pair Palm and Palma derive from Latin palma, which can either refer to the palm of the hand or to the branch of a palm tree. This name became popular in the Middle Ages as a name for people born or christened on Palm Sunday. The final tree-type name that we have instances of was also influenced, in its use, by its significance to Christianity, namely, Olive, from Latin oliva ‘olive tree’. (It is often hypothesized that Oliver also derives from this word; but in truth, the origin of this name is uncertain.)

Germanic

Old Saxon widu, wido,Old High German witu ‘wood, woods, forest’ was moderately common in compound names, both masculine and feminine. In men’s names, it’s almost exclusively used as a prototheme, as illustrated in the names Guiart, Guither, Witugis, and Wedekind; the one exception is the simplex name Guy.

In contrast, our only example of the element in women’s names is as a deuterotheme, in the names Alvice, Ansois, Eloise, Hawise, Herois, and Hildois.

The Old Icelandic cognate viĆ°r can be found in the name Arvid.

Hybrid

The final name is a curious one. Modern French bois ‘woodland, woods’ can be traced back to Old French bois, from Latin boscus, but a Latin origin is not enough to put this element under the ‘Romance’ category; for boscus is actually a vulgar Latin development, a Latinization of Frankish busc or busk, and this Frankish word in turn developed from Proto-Germanic buskaz ‘bush, thicket’. So it can be considered as either a Romance element or a Germanic one!

The name we have that includes this element is itself a curious one, because it was not a given name in origin. Tallboys was originally a French nickname for a wood-cutter, or anyone who cuts wood; but in the 16th century in England, there developed a pattern of using surnames as given names (no, this isn’t a modern naming pattern as some people might think!). We have one example of Tallboys used as a given name, and it occurs in England.

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