Tag Archives: Old High German

Color names: Silver/White/Grey

This post wraps up our series on color names for October’s monthly topic, and looks at names deriving from words for white/fair, silver, grey, and the like.

Because whiteness was strongly associated in many cultures with purity and innocence, it’s no surprise that these words gave rise to names, particularly in cultures (like Italian) that liked to give augurative names — names that express a desire for the child or child’s future.

Looking at names with elements meaning ‘white’, starting at the beginning of the alphabet, we have a masc./fem. pair Albo and Alba. These names have two possible origins: Either Old High German alb ‘elf’ or Latin albus (m.) or alba (f.) ‘white’. The masculine name Albin can either be a derivative of albus or a nickname for Albert. Looking at Latin roots, we also have a single example of Argenta, derived from an identical Latin word meaning ‘silver’.

Next is another masc./fem. pair, Blanch and Blanche. These could also be said to be of Latin origin, but Latin blancus (m.) or blanca (f.) is ultimately a borrowing of Old High Grman blanc(h) ‘white, pale’. This word also occurs in compound names, such as the amazingly beautiful Blanchefleur ‘white flower’.

The next set of names are Celtic in origin, deriving from Old Welsh gwyn (m.) or gwen (f.) ‘white, fair, blessed’. The Welsh roots of the name Gavin are disputed, but the second element may be gwyn. The feminine form gwen is quite common in Welsh names, both as a standalone name and as a part of compounds such as Gwenllian, Madwen, and Winifred. And the origins of the Arthurian heroine name Guinevere go all the way back to the Proto-Celtic root *windo. The same Proto-Celtic root gave rise to a Germanic tribal name, for the Wends. Tribal names are an interesting subset of elements that show up in dithematic Germanic names, and while words for the Wends were not as common as those for the Goths, they still show their traces in the names Wintbert and Wintbald.

Finally, we have the Old English word for ‘white’, hwīt, which was used in compounds such as Whitehelm as well as a standalone name or as a nickname of any of the compounds using hwīt.

The ‘grey’ names are of interest for two reasons; first, because we covered some of them already in the post on Color Names: Brown, as the root of the element brun has aspects of both brown and grey in its meaning; second, because looking beyond those we have only uncertain hypotheses. Despite its familiarity, the origins of the name Caesar are not entirely known. One folk etymology offered in the late Antique Historia Augusta is that it derives from Latin oculis caesiis ‘grey eyes’. And the origin of the fem. name Griselda is often connected with Proto-Germanic *grēwaz ‘grey’, but there is no clear evidence that this name was used in Germanic contexts, or for any other name which uses *grēwaz as a prototheme or deuterotheme.

We hope you enjoyed our first monthly theme! Next month, in conjunction with National Novel Writing Month we will look at ways in which you can improve your character naming practices when writing historical fiction.

1 Comment

Filed under monthly topic

Color names: Gold

Words meaning ‘yellow’ do not appear to be especially productive in terms of contributing to the development of names. And if you think about it, why should it be — when there are words meaning ‘gold’ instead!

(Well, onomastically and linguistically, that’s a very bad argument: We do not know the thought process driving the use of color terms in names, whether in dithematic Germanic constructions or derivatives of Latin and Greek color terms, and so drawing conclusions of this sort is not well-grounded. But it makes for a nice story about why we’re looking at words relating to ‘gold’ instead of words relating to ‘yellow’.)

Proto-Germanic *gulþą ‘gold’ turned into gold in both Old English and Old High German, and the element was used as both a prototheme and a deuterotheme (though it was more common as a prototheme in names of insular origin and more common as a deuterotheme in names of continental origin), and it was used by both men (cf. Goldwine, Mangold, and Meingold) and women (cf.Goldiva).

“What about Latin aureus or aurum?” we hear you ask. This word was used, rarely, as a personal name in early France, both as a masculine name (Aureas) and a feminine name (Aurea), and it may be the root of the Roman gens Auria, to which derivative forms such as Auriana can be traced. Another name often associated with the Latin word(s) is Aurelius, which was also originally the name of a Roman gens. An earlier form of this name was Auselius, which may call into question the relationship with aureus — except that the earlier form of aurum was ausum, from Proto-Italic *auzom (and in fact, in writing this post we have revisited the etymology for the name; the next edition will have that entry updated!). This may be a name where we can never be entirely sure if the connection is true or if it was made post hoc.

Looking beyond Latin and Germanic roots, Proto-Slavic *zoltъ ‘gold’ was also used in both masculine and feminine names, though we don’t — yet! — have any examples of any of them.

4 Comments

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

Color names: Brown

If we were following the colors of the rainbow, after doing red, we’d next do orange. But, not surprisingly given that words referring to that color are relatively late developers, we don’t have any names involving words meaning ‘orange’. So today we’ll look at a closely related color — brown.

There are two elements with this meaning that primarily contribute to names. The first is Old English dunn ‘brown, dun’, which can be found in the names Dunstan and Dunwine. The Old Irish cognate, donn, with the same meaning, also appears in names, most famously in Duncan.

The other element is of Germanic origin, and the origin of the modern English word ‘brown’: Old English brún, Old Frisian and Old High German brûn, Old Icelandic brún, adopted into medieval Latin as brunus, becoming bruno in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, and brun in French and Provençal. The word meant not only ‘brown’ but also ‘burnished’ and hence ‘shining’ — so it’s not nearly as dull a color as one might think to use in a name! This color term was used as a standalone name, both in masculine Brun and in feminine Bruna, as well as in compounds such as Brunhard.

2 Comments

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

Color names: Red

In this, our first post on our monthly topic of color names, we look at names deriving from words for ‘red’.

Old High German rōt, Old Saxon rōd ‘red’ is occurs as a prototheme in a handful of Germanic names, including Rothard and Rothward.

Two Latin words meaning ‘red’ both gave rise to names: Latin rubeus (the same root as the English word ‘ruby’) was used as a masculine given name in Italy, while russa was occasionally used as a feminine name.

One interesting pair of names derive from a word referring to a bright red tincture, while the root of that word is in fact a Latin word meaning ‘little worm’: Vermilia and Vermilius come from Old French vermeillon ‘vermillion, bright red’, because of the bright red dye or paint that could be made from the small insect Kermes vermilio (note that the other word in the Latin name, kermes is cognate to the word ‘crimson’!)

2 Comments

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

99 Carolingian Charters

It sounds like the start of a bad drinking song: “99 Carolingian charters to transcribe, 99 charters to ‘scribe, write names down, share them around, 98 Carolingian charters to ‘scribe!”

But what it really is is what I completed today. In the midst of taking down enough citations for Karolus, Ott(h)o, Lotharius, and Fridericus that even I began to find them boring, there were also more fun aspects — the random and unexpected feminine name (one in a matronymic byname!); a pair of testators Gerardus albus and Gerardus niger; a man called Dodo (where’s the byname avis to go with it?); a fascinating example of a tri-thematic Germanic name (Gerbtratwine); and the question of what fonts will we be able to use on the Dictionary website in order to properly display the Gothic alphabet. In the course of working through the etymologies of the names in these charters, I’ve learned just how much I have to learn about the difference between Old High German and Old Saxon, and I’ve marveled and, really, just how few themes you need to have to create a complex and elaborate system of dithematic names. 20+ years doing onomastics, and there’s still so much to learn.

Leave a comment

Filed under dictionary entries