Tag Archives: Nicholas

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

At this rate, we’re probably going to only make it through the top 100 before the month is out. One thing that has been interesting about each group of names that we’ve looked at is how consistent the relative popularities of different name types have been, with Biblical names being the most common amongst the boys’, and relatively unrepresented amongst the girls. We’ll see that trend continue as we move down to the top 51-100 of the boy’s names, and thus even if we don’t investigate any further, we would not be surprised to see this trend trickle even further down the list. But let’s see what else we can find!

As we noted, the Biblical again dominate this group, but this time we start to see the influence of non-English spellings on American names. Firs we have two variants of John: Evan (67), a medieval Welsh form, and Ian (76), modernly generally treated as a Scottish form but medievally actually found in the Low Countries, Germany, and Eastern Eruope. Then we have two Spanish forms: Jose (80) and Mateo (85) (this is, of course, also an Italian form!). Amongst the standard English forms of the names we have but two New Testament names — Thomas (no. 51) Nathaniel (97) — compared to a wide range of Old Testament names: Aaron (52); Eli (53); Jeremiah (55); Josiah (57); Jordan (60); Adam (73); Asher (83); Zachary (88); Ezra (92); and Elias (100).

Of these names, a few deserve extra note. First, neither Jeremiah nor Josiah are typical medieval spellings: before 1600, both were more commonly spelled with the Greek influenced form -ias. This is exactly where Elias (as opposed to Elijah) comes from, and if you check out the variants of Zachary, you’ll find -ias forms there as well. Second, we lack entries for Eli, Ezra, and Asher: This is a reflection of the fact that these names were rarely used by Christians until the 17th C, being more commonly used by Jews — and so far, our coverage has a distinct dearth of Jewish records. Third, it is debatable whether Jordan should be considered in this list. Certainly, most people associate the name with the Biblical river Jordan. And this association is ancient and honorable: The name was popular in the Middle Ages particularly amongst those who had been on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and brought back water from the Jordan River to baptise their children. However, it is unlikely that this was the original root of the name; instead, the root appears to be an Old German name Jordanes. (The complications surrounding the name are why we don’t yet have an entry for it, despite the fact that we have examples from England, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, from the 11th C to the 16th!)

We then have a slew of given names that were not originally given names, but surnames — and if we collect all four groups, locative, occupational, patronymic, and descriptive, together, they outnumber the Biblical names. The place names are almost all English in origin: Colton (59), Brayden (61), Lincoln (66), Easton (78), Brandon (82), and Bentley (93). The one exception is Xavier (90), an Old Spanish form of a Basque place name deriving from etxe berri ‘new house’ or ‘new home’. The occupationals are all medieval English: a Parker (72) maintained a park or game preserve; Chase (74) was a name for a hunter, someone who chases; a Cooper (77) made barrels while a Tyler (81) lay tiles and a Sawyer (94) sawed wood. A Ryder (98) is one who rides out, and this specific spelling is not modern, but can be found in the 16th C. In our patronymics group we have already seen a variant of Jaxson (84) in an earlier post. Hudson (65) is ‘son of Hudd‘ — a pet form of either Hugh or Richard. Nolan (71) could also be put under the “Irish” heading below: It derives from the Irish clan byname Ó Nualláin, which in turn derives from Irish nuall ‘noble, famous’. There are two descriptive: Cameron (56), from Irish camshron ‘bent nose’ and Blake (96), which has two equally plausible, and contradictory origins: It can be from both Old English blǣċ ‘pale, bright, shining’ and blæc ‘black, dark’. Finally we have Carson (89), a Scottish surname of uncertain origin. Early forms include Carsan, Acarson, and Corsan, and it may have been originally a place name.

The next biggest groups are the names of Greek and Latin origin. For the former, there is Nicholas (62), popular throughout Europe; Angel (64), concentrated in Italy and Iberia; Jason (86) and its nickname Jace (75), which we could also place in the Biblical names category above, and if we had any medieval examples of the name we probably would have — modernly, the Greek hero rather than the obscure New Testament character is the more likely root of the name; and Theodore (99), a rare name medievally and one easily confused with forms of Theodoric. In the second group, we have the imperial Adrian (58), especially popular in the Low Countries; lordly Dominic (68), also spread throughout Europe; saintly Austin (69), this form an English contraction of the larger Augustine; and Leo (91), which is equally derivable from the Latin and the Greek.

This leaves us with six names, half of which are Irish: Connor (54) is an English form of the Irish name Conchobhar, which was popular in Ireland from the 8th to the 16th C; Kevin (79) is an English form of the early Irish saint’s name Cáemgen used in the 6th and 7th C. The name was not otherwise used, until it was revived in the modern period, but the place name Caisleáin Caoimhghin was recorded in English in a variety of spellings throughout the Middle ages, including Castelkevyn in 1308 and 1547, Castle Kevin in 1590, Castlekevin in 1542, and Castrum Kevini in 1343; and Ayden (87) is a variant of Aiden, which we’ve discussed earlier in this series.

What is most surprising about this group of names is that we have but one name of German: Robert (63), which had held sway for centuries as one of the most popular names. We also have a name of Welsh that we discussed in detail a few months ago as part of our Arthurian names series: Gavin (70). Last in the group we have one name which is purely modern: Kayden (95). The most tenuous connection that we can make from this name to the Middle Ages is via the Scottish surname Cadenhead, originally the name of a place at the head of the Caldon or Cadon Water in Selkirkshire. But this is at best a retrospective connection.

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Patronymic bynames in medieval Western Europe

Today’s topic is one suggested to us via conversations on twitter, sparked by this fascinating map (found here) of the meanings of the most popular surnames in different European countries. I pointed out that as a surname ‘Martin’ means ‘child of Martin’, rather than ‘of Mars’ (a reasonable approximation of the etymology of Martin, the given name). It’s a minor point, but an important one, because it illustrates how one and the same element can have different semantic content in different contexts.

This sparked questions about why in some cultures you’d find, e.g., Martin while in others it would be Martins and in others Martinson, all to represent the same concept, ‘child of Martin’. While strictly speakings bynames are beyond the scope of the Dictionary, bynames which are derived from given names are close enough to our purview that we thought it would be interesting to devote a blog post to the topic.

Let’s begin with some vocabulary. Relational bynames are ones that indicate the bearer’s relationship to someone else. The most common type of relational byname is the patronymic, i.e., one indicating the bearer’s father’s given name. But other types of relational bynames can be found, including ones indicating the bearer’s mother (matronymics), or involving the relationships ‘wife/husband of’, ‘brother/sister of’, ‘niece/nephew of’, ‘grandchild of’, ‘foster child of’, and even more complex relationships such as ‘maternal great aunt’. (These latter ones are of course, much more rare, because only in very specialized circumstances would this information be of importance!) Because patronymics are the most common, we focus on them; some of what we say generalizes to matronymics, but not much further.

Patronymic bynames can be divided into two types: marked and unmarked. A unmarked patronymic or matronymic uses the parents’ given name unchanged (i.e., it is not marked in any way to distinguish it from the semantic form it takes as a given name). Marked forms, on the other hand, modify the given name either by changing its grammatical case or by adding a word indicating the relationship the bearer of the byname bears to the person named in the byname, or both. We call relational bynames which change the case of the given name but do not specify the relation in question implicitly marked, and ones which do specify the relation explicitly marked. With this terminology in hand, we can look at the development of patronymic bynames over the millenium after the fall of the Roman empire.

With the fall of the Roman empire came the fall of the tria nomina Roman naming system with its praenomen, nomen, and cognomen. Documents from the 7th C on tend to refer to people simply by their given names, with further descriptive information provided in special contexts, for example, clerical or regnal office. These are particularly found in witness lists to charters and diplomas, when it was important to specify, implicitly, why an individual was a suitable witness. To take a very early example, a Latin charter from around 499 (DCEL-2, charter III) is witnessed first by Chlodoveus, king of the Franks, and his queen Chlotildis, and then by:

  • Theodericus filius ejus, Rex
  • Chlodomiris Rex, filius ejus
  • Childebertus Rex, filius ejus
  • Clotarius Rex, filius ejus
  • Theodechildis filia ejus carissima

Other early examples from France include Clotarius filius Clodovei (DCEL-2, charter XXIX, dated 560), Drogo Dux Burgundiorum, filius Pipini Ducis (DCEL-2, charter CCXIV, dated to 691), Aengilbaldus filius Hildiboldi (DCEL-2, charter CCLVII, dated to 704).

This is typical of what you see in the early period: Latin records using explicitly marked patronymics, in the form of filius + the father’s name in the genitive case. Sometimes the father is indicated pronominally, as Arnallus Arnalli de Lerç et Arnallus filius ejus, “Arnal [son] of Arnal, of Lerç, and Arnal, his son” (CDCB-XV, charter MMCCVII, dated to 1090) — so in fact we have here an explicitly marked patronymic with a pronominal reference, and an implicitly marked patronymic, and evidence of three generations of men named ‘Arnal’. A similar pronominal example is seen in a Hamburg charter from 1183, which has Ernestus de Zelezen et filius eius Ernestus (HambUrk-vol1 charter CCLVII). Two other standard examples are found in another charter from the same source: Vergotus filius Dasonis and Hasso filius Heinrici (charter CLXXXVIII, dated 1149). Similar examples are easy to find by flipping through pretty much any charter book from this period. Also by this period we see evidence of the explicit marker, filius, being dropped: Petrum Rigualdi, Bernardum Guifredi, Arnallum Gaucefredi de Palera, Bertrandum Poncii de Melian, and Guillelmum Raimundi de Espasen (CDCB-XV, charter MMCCVIII, dated 1092) were the sons of Riguald, Guifred, Gaucefred, Ponce, and Raimund, respectively.

Thus in Latin records, we see marked patronymics, both implicit and explicit. Due to the fact that Latin is a strongly case-based system, unmarked patronymics are not found, because they simply do not make grammatical sense. It is only in the vernacular, in particular, languages which have gradually lost the explicit cases, that unmarked patronymics are found. Even languages that shed most of their cases often retained distinct genitive forms — for example, in English, we have both John (nom.) and John’s (gen.) — and in these contexts we can find both marked and unmarked patronymics.

With this background and terminology in hand, let’s survey the different patterns of patronymic bynames that can be found across European vernaculars.

Old English: The most common type are explicitly marked patronymics, putting the father’s name in the genitive case and using sune, sune ‘son’ or dohtor, dohter ‘daughter’. Examples: Osferð Oggoddes sune (972×992), Ælfelm Ordelmes sunu (c. 1060), Wulfeh Ordeges suna (973×987) [Tengvik, p. 161]. A less common form added -ing to the root name, e.g., Dudding ‘son of Duda’ [Reaney & Wilson, p. xix].

Middle and Early Modern English and Scots: All three types of bynames can be found in Middle and Early Modern English: Unmarked patronymics, such as Thomas Richard 1276; marked implicit patronymics, such as William Ricardes 1327; and marked explicit patronymics, such as Murdac Richardesson 1359 [Reaney & Wilson, s.nn. Richard, Richardson]. The explicitly marked forms, especially those found in the north, are often attributed to Scandinavian influence, but there is no reason not to credit the surviving influence of the Old English patterns. In the Lowlands of Scotland, the vernacular there developed out of English, and used the same types of patronymic constructions.

Old, Middle, and Early Modern Irish: Exclusively explicitly marked patronymics, using mac ‘son’ or ingen (OIr/MIr)/inghean (EMIr) ‘daughter’. Examples: Aneislis mac Domnaill (1049), Dobhailen, mac Gormghusa (885), Gormlaith ingen Donncadha (861), Rois, ingen Concobuir, mic Concobuir (1472) [Irish Annals].

Welsh: Both unmarked and explicitly marked patronymics occur. In unmarked forms, the father’s name is simply appended to the child’s name, without any modification; as a result, patronymic bynames in Welsh are often mistaken, by those who don’t know about the unmarked patronymic construction, as examples of double given names. However, multiple references to the same person can make it clear that, e.g., Jenkin Owen and Jenkin ap Owen are variants of the same name. In marked forms, the father’s name occurs unchanged after the relevant word for ‘son’ or ‘daughter’, with one type of exception. The name doesn’t change its grammatical case, but it can ‘inherit’ the end of the word for ‘son’, ap or ab. The final bilabial stop (voiced or unvoiced) sometimes attaches to the beginning of the next word, and this is the origin of modern surnames Price (ap Rys), Bevan (ab Evan), Bowen (ab Owen), etc. Sometimes in 16th C English contexts, one can find hybrid forms, such as ap Price [Hughes, passim].

French: Old French distinguished two cases, the nominative and the oblique. Marked patronymics were formed using the oblique case, either with or without the preposition de ‘of’; but from the modern perspective, most French patronymics end up looking unmarked. This is because the use of the preposition de was much less common than simply using the oblique form (though in the 1292 census of Paris, one can find bynames such as de Lorenz, de Nicole, de Nichole, de Remy, and de Touz-Sainz alongside the more common pattern without de); and, more importantly, while in other languages, it was the nominative form of the name that became the fossilized form when the case system disappeared (as happened in English), in French, it was the oblique that eventually eclipsed the nominative. As a result, Wautier, Simon, Rogier, and Jehan are the ‘expected’ forms of the names, when in fact it is Wautiers, Simons, Rogiers, and Jehans that are the nominative forms. But by the time Middle French comes around, it was the oblique that had become the default form, so that, e.g., Martin would be the form used in both Jehan Martin ‘Jehan [son] of Martin’ and Martin Jehan ‘Martin [son] of Jehan’.

Spanish and Portuguese: These two linguistic contexts can be grouped together due to their strong similarities, regardless of whether we’re looking at Galician, Castillian, Catalan, Portuguese, or other. The vast majority of the vernacular bynames in these regions were marked but implicit. Many modern day familiar surnames of Iberian origin reflect this: Sánchez from Sancho, Rodríguez from Rodrigo, López from Lope, Hernández from Hernando, González from Gonzalo, Gutiérrez from Gutierro, Martínez from Martín, etc. (All of these can be found in late 16th C records [Catalogo].) In Portuguese similar constructions can be found, such Guonçallvez from Guonçllo, Anrriquez from Annrrique, and Fernandez from Fernão. Some instances of unmarked patronymics can be found, e.g., Dinis, Duarte, Francisco, and Felipe. Quite rarely, a combination of a grammatically marked form with an explicit preposition can be found, e.g., de Lopez, d’Allvarez or d’Allvariz, and de Çesar (these all come from [Livro]).

Italian: Italian patronymics are, compared to some cultures, gloriously simple. You take the father’s name (or the mother’s name) unmodified, and place di ‘of’ before it, as is exemplified with these names from early 15th C Florence: Antonio di Donato di Nuccio da Chascia, Antonia di Nanni, Buonaghuida di Martino, Giovanni d’Andrea di Maso funaiuolo, Piera di Giovanni da Monteaghuto. Occasionally, the word for ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ is included, as can be seen in the name Simona figliuola di Simone de Bardi [Herlihy & Klapisch-Zuber].

German: Medieval German retained a strong case-based system throughout the Middle Ages, distinguishing the nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. Despite this, the most common type of patronymic byname in German contexts is the unmarked patronymic. Examples involving the addition of -sohn can be found, but they are much, much rarer. In the 15th and 16th centuries, an interesting pattern can be seen amongst women’s names: Women occasionally use as their byname their husband’s or father’s full name, but with a feminine or possessive suffix on the end, e.g., Allet Petter Schelhornyn, Katterina Crista Puffanyn, Margreth Ulrich Rottmundin, Helena Wilhelm Rumlin, Anna Fricz Ditterichs, Anna Kuncz Heßin, Kun Mertten Flinderin, Katterina Herman Schneiderin, and Kun Fricz Fruppassin [Nurn1497].

Dutch: In contrast with German, where explicit markers for ‘daughter’ and ‘son’ are rare, the default Dtuch (including Flemish/Belgian) patronymic is explicit. For example, one sees Aelbertssoen more frequently than Aelberts, Aerntssoen and Aerntszoon rather than Aerts, Claessoen and Claiszoon rather than mere Clais [Smit, passim]; nevertheless, the implicitly marked and the unmarked versions can be found, in lower frequencies.

Scandinavian: Just as we can dump all the Iberian languages together, so too can we treat the Scandinavian languages (Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and their regional dialects) in one group: Far and away the most common type of patronymic is the marked explicit patronymic, with some variation of the word for ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ followed by the father’s given name in the genitive case. Exceptions to this pattern are rare; when they occur, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the word for ‘son’ has been omitted, resulting in an implicitly marked patronymic, or whether the name has simply been abbreviated in written contexts.

We haven’t even touched on the constructions found in Eastern Europe, such as Polish, Czech, Hungarian, etc. Perhaps we can devote a future post to these!


References

[Catalogo] Luis Romera Iruela and M. del Carmen Galbis Díz, editors. Catalogo de Pasajeros a Indias Durante los Siglos XVI, XVII y XVIII, volume V (1567-1577). (Ministerio de Cultura, 1980.)

Herlihy, David and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Census and Property Survey of Florentine Domains in the Province of Tuscany, 1427-1480. Machine readable data file. Online Catasto of 1427 Version 1.1. Online Florentine Renaissance Resources: Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1996.

Hughes, H. Seymour, The Registers of Llantrithyd, Glamorganshire. Christenings, 1597-1810; Burials, 1571-1810; Marriages, 1571-1752 (London: Mitchell and Hughes: 1888).

[Irish Annals] (1) Donnchadh Ó Corráin, ed., “Annals of Tigernach” (WWW: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork, Ireland, 1996) [URL: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100002/%5D; (2) Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Mavis Cournane, ed., “Annals of the Four Masters, Volume 1” (WWW: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork, Ireland, 1997) [URL: http://www.uccre.ie/celt/published/G100005A/%5D; (3) Donnchadh Ó Corráin & Mavis Cournane, “The Annals of Ulster” (WWW: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork, Ireland, 1997) [URL: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100001A/%5D.

[Livro] Livro do lançamento e serviço que a Cidade de Lisboa fez a ed Rei Nosso Senhor no ano de 1565; documentos para a historia da Cidade de Lisboa. (Lisboa: Câmara Municipal, 1947-48).

Smit, Johannes Gradus, Bronnen voor de economische geschiedenis van het Beneden-Maasgebied: Tweede deel, Rekeningen van de Hollandse tollen, 1422-1534 (Den Haag: Instituut voor Nederlandse geschiedenis, 1997).

Tengvik, Goesta, Old English Bynames (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksells Boktryckeri-A.-B., 1938).

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An onomastic calendar: February

  • February 1: Edward III was crowned king of England in 1327.
  • February 2: Bona Sforza, queen consort of Poland, was born in 1494.
  • February 3: Douce of Provence married Ramon Berenguer in 1112.
  • February 4: Hrabanus Maurus died in 856.
  • February 5: Aegidius Tschudi, Swiss writer and historian, was born in 1505.
  • February 6: Dunnchad mac Domnaill, king of Mide, died in 797.
  • February 7: Pandulf IV of Benevento died in 1074.
  • February 8: Mary Queen of Scots was executed for treason in 1587.
  • February 9: Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII, died in 1450.
  • February 10: Robert the Bruce murdered John Comyn in 1306.
  • February 11: Elizabeth of York, queen consort of England, was born in 1466.
  • February 12: Charles the Fat was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 881.
  • February 13: Catherine Howard was executed for treason in 1542.
  • February 14: The feast day of Saint Valentine.
  • February 15: Pope Pascal II established the Knights Hospitallers in 1113.
  • February 16: German philosopher Philipp Melancthon was born in 1497.
  • February 17: Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, was born in 1490.
  • February 18: Mary I of England was born in 1516.
  • February 19: Nicolaus Copernicus was born in 1473.
  • February 20: Edward VI was crowned king of England.
  • February 21: James I of Scotland was assassinated in 1437.
  • February 22: Robert II of Scotland became king in 1371.
  • February 23: Justinian I orders the building of the Hagia Sophia.
  • February 24: Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582.
  • February 25: Theodoric the Great negotiated for peace with Odoacer in 493.
  • February 26: Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia was born in 1361.
  • February 27: Henry IV was crowned king of France in 1594.
  • February 28: Pope Saint Hilarius died in 468.
  • February 29: Oswald, Archbishop of York, died in 992.

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Masc/Fem names: When do they differ?

We mentioned in our previous post how Latin records are so nice for uniquely identifying the gender of the bearer of names — someone who is filius Edwini is the son of a man named Edwin, while if he were filius Edwine he’d be the some of a woman called Edwina.

But how often is this merely a requirement of Latin grammar, that every word have one of three grammatical genders, and how often is this reflective of the underlying vernacular practice? Naturally, this depends on what the vernaculars are, and those which descended from Latin (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) are much more likely to keep an explicit grammatical distinction in the names. In Iberia, that shows up in the preponderance of women’s names ending in -a (though, of course, there are exceptions, such as Spanish and Catalan forms of Beatrice). In Italy, you see the same marking of feminine names, but often paired with a distinctive masculine ending in -o (as can be seen in the list of masculine/feminine pairs in 15th C Florence). In France, southern dialects tend towards Iberian practices, while in northern dialects, masculine names are generally unmarked, while feminine forms are derived by adding an -e (earlier) or doubling the final consonant and then adding an -e (later).

In England, however, the Latin forms often introduced distinctions not present in the vernacular. Withycombe, p. xxxv notes that:

Latin records of the 12th to 15th centuries show that the custom of giving masculine names to girls was also common in England; they appear in Latin with feminine endings, e.g., Philippa, Nicholaa, Alexandra, Jacoba, but it is clear that girls so named were in fact baptized and called Philip, Nicholas, Alexander, James, etc….Other names which were commonly used for girls were Gilbert, Aubrey, Reynold, Basil, Eustace, Giles, Edmund, Simon, Florence.

When the only references we have are in Latin, it is difficult to obtain evidence via which to test Withycombe’s assertion about the vernacular. However, once we start seeing records in Middle English and Early Modern English, then it is possible to see to what extent the feminine vernacular forms resemble the masculine.

The majority of our examples of Philipa in England are from the 16th C, and the majority of these are variants without the terminal (in fact, most of the examples with the -a are restricted to Devon, suggesting a regional early adoption of the Latin form as the vernacular.)

Feminine forms of Nicholas were never very common in England, and inspection of the entry for Nicole is only partly confirmatory of what Withycombe says. The vernacular forms have all lost the -a, but none of them have the -as. Instead, vernacular forms like Nichol and Nycoll look much more like the French feminine form of the name (and the spelling we took as the header name). This makes it more likely that girls named Nichol in the vernacular were named in accordance with the imported French form than simply given the masculine English form.

We don’t yet have any examples of Alexandra in England; Withycombe herself has only two early 13th C examples, adding that

Alexandra is found in England in 1205 and Alexandria in 1218, and these may have been named after a 4th-C martyr, though they are more likely to be mere latinizations of Alexander used as a girl’s name….Lyford 1655 gives Alexander as a f. name, and an early-14th-C English legendary gives Alisaundre as the name of the mother of St. Thomas of Canterbury

Further data will need to be collected to see more clearly how this feminine name appears in the vernacular.

Similarly, we have very few examples of Jacoba in English contexts, and curiously, all of them are diminutive forms: Jacobin, Jackett, and Jakett, all of which could equally easily be used by men.

Of the other names Withycombe mentions, only three of them do we have feminine examples from England. We have a handful of 12th-14th C examples of Basile in its Latin form Basilia, but our only vernacular example, in the 16th C, is not Basil but Basile, the usual French form. Eustacia in the vernacular is Eustice. The third name, Florence, is curious in that we have plenty of vernacular feminine examples of this spelling, — but no masculine ones! In fact, vernacular forms of the masculine version tend to end in -t, e.g., Florent.

It wasn’t until the end of the 16th C that you regularly start seeing Latinate forms, like Olivia, Isabella, Joanna, etc., instead of Olive, Isabel, Joan, etc., used in the vernacular. This is due in no small part to the influence of Shakespeare on English naming patterns at the turn of the 17th C, as he preferred Italian or Latinate forms of names in many cases. This penchant for the Latin -a ending can still be seen today, with the preponderance of feminine names given in English-speaking countries being ones ending with that letter or sound.

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Nicknames: Latinate diminutives in -el, -et, -in, -on, -ot

In this post, we look at a collection of diminutive suffixes: -el, -et, -in, -on, -ot, and their feminine forms. Withycombe calls them French [1], and while their use in England was certainly strongly influenced by the invading Normans, the suffixes ultimately derived from Latin, and as a result can be found throughout Romance-speaking areas. These diminutive suffixes were used individually but also in combination with each other, as in the name Mathelin, a French diminutive of Matthew formed by adding -el and then -in, or in Arthurian Lancelot, formed from Lance by addition of -el and -ot.

Many common modern names reflect the use of one or more of these suffixes. For example, Marion and Alison, now often considered independent names in their own rights, derive from Mary and Alice with the addition of -on. Another familiar modern name, Colin, shows the use of -in added to Colas, a French hypocoristic of Nicholas; Col(l)ette is constructed in a similar fashion from Nicole). Harriet derives from Harry, an English spelling of the French pronunciation of Henry, while Charlotte is a feminine form of Charlot, a French diminutive of Charles; the Italian cognate is Carlotta. The same suffix added to Elias gives Eliot.

The suffix -ot was quite popular in feminine names in both England and France between the 14th and 16th C, when we can find names such as Agnesot (from Agnes), Clarote (from Clara), Em(m)ot (from Emma), Harriot (like Harriet), Margot and Marguerot (from Margaret), Mariot (from Mary), Ph(e)lippote (from Philipa). In England, Wil(l)mot was an incredible popular diminutive of Willelma in the 16th C.

In our earlier survey of where diminutive forms are the most popular, we saw that Portugal and Spain were among the regions with the lowest percentage of nicknames. What we do see in Iberia are diminutives formed by these suffixes. In Spain, the most common suffixes are -ino/-ina and -ot (for men) and -eta (for women), with examples such as Angelina (from Angela), Blanquina (from Blanche), Bernardino (from Bernard), Francina (from Frances), Huguet (from Hugh), Johanot (from John), and Loreta (from Laura). We have only two diminutives from Portugal — not enough to draw any conclusions from — and both are examples of Joaninus, an early 13th C diminutive of John.

Finally, we comment on the use of these suffixes in Italy, in particular in one data set from Imola in 1312 [2]. This dataset has 2165 men bearing a total of 734 distinct name forms, and 326 women bearing a total of 174 distinct name forms; in this data set, nearly half of the names are hypocoristics or diminutives. There are 35 distinct diminutive suffices in the data, ranging from suffixes which appear only once to one which has 105 instances. 26 are used by men, 9 by women, and one is used by both men and women. Seven of the suffixes are compound, as in the examples of Mathelin and Lancelot above. In four cases, the first suffix is -(l)in-, being compounded with -ella, -ell(i)us, and -ucius; two of the remaining three have the same second suffix, -ellus, being compounded with -in- and -con-. As a result, the data shows a strong preference for compounding with -lin- and -ellus, with only one compound suffix containing neither of these (Bertholloctus, from Berthold); and this is the only example of this compound. The penchant the Italians had for stringing together diminutive suffixes results in some rather short names having excessively long nicknames. The most amusing example of this is Ugo, an Italian form of Hugh. The root name is about as short as you can get, but take a look at the variety (and length) of the nicknames!

  • Ugetus
  • Ugucio
  • Ugutio
  • Ugollus
  • Uguitio
  • Ugutius
  • Ugolinus
  • Ugezonus
  • Ugozonus
  • Uguzonus
  • Ugucionus
  • Ugoçonellus
  • Uguçonellus
  • Ugilinellus
  • Ugolinellus
  • Ugolinucius
  • Ugolinutius
  • Ugolinellius
  • Ugunzuyellus
  • Uguitionellus

These examples put paid to the idea that the nickname is a shorter, easier-to-use form of the name!


Notes

[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. xxxii.

[2] Uckelman, Sara L., “Given Names in Early 14th-Century Imola”, article in preparation.

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Nicknames in medieval Estonia

In our previous post, we surveyed the percentage of diminutive and hypocoristic forms in the Dictionary’s dataset sorted according to modern countries, and one stand-out surprise was Estonia: Over 40% of our citations are nicknames of some form! Why is it that diminutives and hypocoristics were so popular in medieval Estonia?

Well, we aren’t exactly in a position to answer the why, but we can look at the what — what are the types of nickname patterns that we see, do they differ between men and women, can we say anything interesting about these patterns vs. those in nearby countries? That’s what we will explore in this post.

First, the feminine names: Only two of the nicknames belong to women, and both come from a Middle Low German contexts. The first is, in the vocabulary we introduced, a hypocoristic, formed by taking a name and truncating it to make a pet form. The example is Barbar, from Barbara. This same diminutive also shows up in Latvia, again in MLG contexts. The second is a diminutive, formed by adding the Low German diminutive suffix -ke, to the root name Anne, to result in the form Anneke. As with Barbar, Anneke also shows up in Latvia at roughly the same time.

This leaves over 600 diminutive forms left, of which nearly 10% — 53 — are Hans, a German hypocoristic of Johannes, one of the standard Latin forms of John, and if we add variants such as Hannes, Han, Hanß, etc., the number rises significantly. From about the middle of the 12th C on, John quickly became far and away the most popular man’s name throughout Europe. In German dialects, Hans, Hanns, Hannes, etc., were often as much more popular than Johannes or Johan than these names were than the next most popular.

So, one answer to the ‘why’ is: Because Low German was a standard documentary language in late medieval Estonia, and the most popular masculine name in late medieval Low German contexts was a diminutive, so that is why there are so many diminutives in medieval Estonia. (This, however, doesn’t address the other why question, which is why the nickname forms were more common than full forms!)

Hans makes up just under 10% of the masculine nicknames; a large percentage of the remainder are covered by just a handful of other names: Cord, Kord, Kort, a Low German hypocoristic of Conrad; Hintze, Hennyng, Hennynck, Heine, from Henry; Cleys, Clauwes, Claues, Claes, Cleys, Clawes, and numerous other hypocoristics of Nicholas; Ludike and Ludeke, from Louis; and Wynyke, a diminutive of any of various names beginning with wini ‘friend’. Other less common names also give rise to hypocoristics, such as Bastian, from Sebastian; Brosius, from Ambrose; and Aßmuß from Erasmus.

So much for the ordinary, every day nicknames, your Estonian Tom, Dick, and Harry, if you will. Let’s explore some of the unusual ones!

  • Nicknames of Constantine: Coest, Kosst.
  • Nicknames of Habakukk: Habbo, Köke, Kock.
  • Nickname of Hubert: Hoppe.
  • Nicknames of Jacob: Jaeck, Jack, Jacho, Kowpy, koup.
  • Nickname of Joachim: Jachi.
  • Nicknames of Joseph: Jessa, Seppo.

One thing of note is that many of these unusual hypocoristics derive from Biblical names.

We’ll close by looking at one name which, across Europe, is one of the most prolific spawner of nicknames: Theodoric. In Estonia alone, the name rivals John in popularity, and we have seventeen different nickname forms — most of which are diminutives of hypocoristics: Tideke, Tideken, Tideman, Tidike, Tijdeke, Tijdeman, Tijdike, Tile, Tous, Tydedeynk, Tydek, Tydeke, Tydeken, Tydeman, Tydike, Tydiken, Tyman.

This will not be the last time we see Theodoric when exploring this month’s topic!

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