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’!)
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.