Tag Archives: Olive

Looking into history: The ONS baby names data for Wales/England 2018

<sings> It’s the most wonderful time of the year!</sings>

It’s the time of year that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) releases their data on names given to babies born in England and Wales in 2018! (Girls names here; boys names here).

Previously we’ve looked in detail at the US social security baby names data, devoting a whole month to the topic (starting here) in 2016, but in the past we’ve only looked at the top 10 in the English/Welsh data.

In the next series of posts, we’re going to dig deeper into the insular data. While the US Soc Sec data only goes down to the top 1000th name, the English/Welsh data contains every name given to at least three children of the same sex in the previous year. For girls, this is over 7350 distinct names, going all the way down to the joint 5666th most popular names. For boys, it’s more than 6100 distinct names, going down to the joint 4749th most popular names. (As always, the girls’ naming pool is more diverse than the boys’!)

What sorts of names can be found? So many… In this post we’ll focus on the top 10 girl’s names, pull ingspelling variants from lower down as comparative data, but in following posts we will explore the wealth of material these names provide.

Girls’ names

  1. No. 1 is Olivia, a name with a long (pre-Shakespearean!) heritage. Variant Olive (a good medieval form!) comes in at no. 120, and variants Alivia and Elivia (not so medieval) at no. 602 and no. 4684, respectively, and there are also a number of compound forms (all modern!) involving the name: Olivia-Rose (365), Olive-Rose and Oliviarose (both jointly 4684); Olivia-Grace (670); Olivia-Mae (1200), Olivia-May (1864), and Olivia-Mai (2674); Olivia-Rae (1711); Olivia-Louise (2674); Olivia-Jade (3985); Olivia-Lee (3985) and Olivia-Leigh (4684); Olivia-Jane, Olivia-Jayne, and Olivia-Jean (all jointly 4684); Olivia-Marie (4684); and Olivia-Hope (5666). Oliwia (355) shows characteristics of Slavic orthography, but we have not yet found the name in eastern Europe before 1600
  2. No. 2 is Amelia, a name which has become far more popular in modern times than it ever was medievally, despite its long medieval history. Less popular variants that turn up in the ONS data include Amelie (80), Emelia (256), Emelie (1526), Amilia (2499), Amila (2674), Ameila (3985), Amelya (3985), and Amela (4684), Amelja (5666), which are plausible medieval variants, and Ameliah (2499), Amellia (3985), Amelle (4684), Amellie (4684), Amilee (5666), and Amillia (5666), which are not.

    It is also found in a couple of purely-modern compounds, including Amelia-Rose (254), Emelia-Rose (2090), and Amelie-Rose (3985); Amelia-Grace (778), Emelia-Grace (3518), and Amelie-Grace (5666); Amelia-Lily (1526), Amelia-Lilly (2499), and Amelia-Lillie (4684); Amelia-Mae (2090), Amelia-May (2340), Amelia-Mai (3985); Amelia-Rae (2674); Amelia-Jane (3178) and Amelia-Jayne (4684); Amelia-Jade (3985); Amelia-Leigh (4684); Amelia-Hope (5666). Melia (1371) and Meliah (5666) are perhaps also variants of this name.

  3. No. 3 Ava is distinctive because it is amazingly recalcitrant to both spelling variants and diminutives — both medievally and modernly! While our entry for the name contains many instances of the diminutive Avelin(a), this is not really considered a “nickname” of Ava anymore, even if grammatically it is a diminutive. (In fact, from the 12th or 13th C on, it’s likely that even medieval people distinguished these as separate names). Modernly, we have the variants Avah (1343) — with the addition of the excrescent ‘h’ being thoroughly modern — and Aeva (4684), and it does show up in a few compounds, including Ava-Rose (256) and Avah-Rose (5666); Ava-Grace (455); Ava-Mae (513), Ava-Mai (902), and i>Ava-May (990); Ava-Marie (1200); Ava-Leigh (1314), Ava-Lea (5666), and Ava-Lee (5666); Ava-Rae (1393); Ava-Louise (1887); Ava-Lily (1977), Ava-Lilly (3178), and Ava-Lillie (5666); Ava-Jade (3518); Ava-Jayne (4684) and Ava-Jane (5666); Ava-Anne (5666); Ava-Belle (5666); Ava-Jae (5666); and Ava-James (5666).
  4. Modern name Isla clocks in at no. 4; we haven’t found any evidence for it used in the Middle Ages, though there is a similar sounding name Islana, one of our Mystery Monday names from 2017. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a popular element in modern compounds, including Isla-Rose (282); Isla-Mae (729), Isla-Mai (1788), and Isla-May (1887); Isla-Rae (778) and Isla-Rai (5666); Isla-Grace (1059); Isla-Marie (2901); Isla-Jane (4684), Isla-Jayne (5666) and Isla-Jean (5666); Isla-Jo (4684); Isla-Lily (4684); Isla-Louise (4684); Isla-Bleu (5666) and Isla-Blu (5666); and Isla-Savannah (5666). Iylah (920), Ila (1586), Islay (2187), and Aisla (2499) can perhaps be counted here as variants, though with modern coinages it can often be hard to tell when two names are variants of each other and when they are independent.
  5. No. 5 Emily is not the same name as Amelia above, even though their variant forms are similar enough that they are easily confused! The fanciful form Emilia (34) shows Latin influences, and resembles medieval Italian forms, while Francophone Emilie (328) and Slavic Emilija (826), Emiliya (3518), and Emilya (5666) were probably used in the Middle Ages, we just haven’t found any examples yet. The variant Emely (3985) is quite similar to how the name shows up in Chaucer. The variants Emilee (1887),Emilly (2340), Emili (2499), Emeli (3518), Emile (3606), and Emillie (3985) are, however, distinctly modern; while it’s not clear whether Emila (5666) is a modern or possibly medieval form.

    This name too is found in many modern compounds, including Emily-Rose (680), Emilia-Rose (1272), and Emilie-Rose (4684); Emily-May (2499) and Emily-Mae (2674); Emily-Jane (2901); Emilia-Grace (3178), Emily-Grace (3985), and Emilie-Grace (5666); Emily-Rae (3985); Emily-Anne (5666); and Emily-Louise (5666).

  6. Two years ago, no. 6 name Mia was no. 10; we don’t have anything to add to our analysis of the name from then! Just as the name itself appears to be modern, so are variants like Mya (126), Myah (494), Miya (536), Miah (806), Miyah (1013), Myia (4684), and all the compounds using it, including Mia-Rose (419), Mya-Rose (1526), Myah-Rose (3518), Miya-Rose (3985), and Miyah-Rose (4684); Mia-Grace (990); Mia-Louise (1977); Mia-Mae (2674), Mya-Mae (3985), Mya-May (4684), Mia-Mai (5666), and Mia-May (5666); Mia-Lily (3518); Mya-Rae (3718) and Mia-Rae (3518); Mia-Leigh (3985); Mia-Ann (5666); Mia-Bella (5666) and Miabella (5666); Mia-Jane (5666); Mia-Marie (5666); Mya-Jade (5666).
  7. There is no disputing that classic Isabella, no. 7, has a long and venerable history. One of the most popular feminine names in medieval England and France, the name was also used in Iberia and Italy and crept into Scotland and Switzerland via English and French influence. Of the many variants that are found in this modern data set, the ones in bold are also medieval spellings that occur in our data set: Isabelle (30), Isabel (138), Isobel (145), Izabella (370), Izabela (767), Isobelle (1083), Isobella (1136), Isabela (1436), Izabelle (1526), Isabell (1649), Izabel (2090), Izabele (2674), Izabell (3158), Izzabella (3518), Issabella (4684), Ishbel (5666), and Ysabella (5666) (and many of the ones that aren’t bolded, we have very similar spellings).

    The following compounds are all modern: Isabella-Rose (729), Isabelle-Rose (2674), Isabel-Rose (3985), Izabella-Rose (4684); Isabella-Grace (2499); Isabella-Mae (2499), Isabella-May (5666), and Isabelle-Mae (5666); Isabella-Hope (3985); and Isabella-Rae (4684). Similarly, the diminutive forms Izzy (864), Izzah (2340), Izzie (2901), Izza (3985) are a more modern development (the common medieval diminutive being Ibot(t)(a)).

  8. No. 8 Sophia is another enduring name, with a long heritage and a beautiful meaning. As with Isabella, many of the variants in the ONS data are also found medievally, including Sophie (17), Sofia (29), Soffia (3178) and Sophya (5666). We haven’t yet found Zofia (237), Sofija (1083), Sofie (1788), Sofiya (2901), Sofya (3985), or Zsofia (4684) but wouldn’t be surprised to one day find a pre-1600 example of any of these. The variants Szofia (2901) and Szofi (5666) are rather more unlikely to be medieval.

    But compounds such as Sophia-Rose (902), Sofie-Rose (1788) and Sophie-Rose (3178); Sophia-Grace (1526) and Sofia-Grace (3985); Sophia-Maria (2674) and Sofia-Maria (3178); Sophia-Mae (3518), Sofia-Mae (4684), Sophia-May (4684), and Sophie-Mae (5666); Sophie-Leigh (3518); Sofia-Louise (3518), Sophie-Louise (3985), and Sophia-Louise (4684).

  9. Beautiful no. 9 name Ella gets its modern popularity from the number of other names ending in \-ella\, of which it can be used as a nickname. (It is also sometimes treated as a nickname of Ellen and Eleanor). Despite this, it was never a common name in the Middle Ages; we have a single example from Germany. It’s also not a name that engenders many variants; Elle (507) and Aela (2901), Aella (3518) are perhaps, but may also be distinct coinages. Ellah (4864) and Elah (5666) are definitely variants, following the modern practice of sticking -h on the end of any feminine name ending in -a. Ela (478) could possibly be medieval; but given the derth of examples we have, we cannot confirm.

    It should be no surprise that none of the compounds using the name are medieval either, whether Ella-Rose (268) and Ellarose (4684); Ella-Mae (680), Ella-May (1200), and Ella-Mai (1649); Ella-Rae (1136) and Ella-Ray (5666); Ella-Grace (1234); Ella-Louise (1490); Ella-Marie (1788); Ella-Jade (3985); and Ella-Jane (3985).

  10. No. 10 name Grace is another classic, one of the few virtue names which is found outside of England before the 16th C. The nicknames Gracie (73), Gracey (2187), and Gracy (5666) are modern, as are the compounds Gracie-Mae (408), Gracie-May (761), Gracie-Mai (1035), and Graciemae (5666); Gracie-Rose (1788); Gracie-Leigh (1977), Gracie-Lee (3178), and Gracie-Lea (3985); Gracie-Anne (3178) and Gracie-Ann (5666); Gracie-Rae (3178); Gracie-Jane (3985) and Gracie-Jayne (5666); and Gracie-Loui (3985). We can probably include here both Gracelyn (5666) and Gracelynn (5666) as modern diminutives or compounds.

Moving outside the top 10, we start to get a wider variety of names, including names that have long medieval traditions and names that illustrate common modern naming patterns. We’ll take a look at some of these different patterns amongst the feminine names in the next in the next post in this series!

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Kings, Queens, and Bible Figures…or Not

It’s very easy for people with a dabbling interest in modern baby names to look at recent trends in Anglo-American naming practices (e.g., in the last century or so), compare them with what they know of modern-but-not-so-recent trends (e.g., in the 19th C or so), often taken from their own genealogical history, and then make sweeping pronouncements about “how people chose names for their children” or “what names people could name their children” before modern times. Sometimes these claims are influenced by data going even further back; everyone who knows a bit about names knows about Puritanisms like “Fly-Fornication” and “Bestiality” (oops, wait, that one’s a Pratchettism, not a Puritanism).

But it’s a mistake to think that because things changed between the 19th and the later 20th C, that everything before the 19th C was the same. Or even that because things changed in the 16th C, everything from the 16th to the 19th C was the same, and that everything before the 16th C was the same.

Today I came across someone claiming that in historical England, the only options were to name kids after kings, queens, and Bible figures. While it’s certainly true that some popular names were also the names of kings and queens (but there, the other of influence probably goes the other way: Kings and queens were given the names they were because they were common/popular, not that those names became common/popular because they were born by a king or queen) and that some popular names were also the names of important Biblical figures, this claim is problematic in a number of ways.

The first is that it overlooks a substantially-sized group of names that were quite common throughout English history: Names of non-Biblical saints, like Agnes, Margaret, Ursula, Katherine, and Cecilia, which were a particularly generative source of names for women. But even if we include that under “Bible names” (interpreting that to broadly cover “religious” names in general, rather than strictly to narrowly cover only names found in the bible), there are still numerous names — some enormously popular — that do not fit any of these categories.

Some years ago, now, we did two posts on the “most popular” women’s names and men’s names; now, these posts covered not only England, but all the names found on these lists were quite common in England. Let’s take a look at them.

Amongst the feminine names, Alice is a standout counterexample. While there were a few minor continental saints with this name, as well as an empress and a queen consort of Cyprus, these saints were not venerated in England and there’s no reason to think that the two royal women would have had any influence on the popularity of the name outside of their own lands. Yet, Alice was, and continues to be, enormously popular in England, with examples from as early as the second half of the 12th century. Another name on the list, Ellen, shows a similar trajectory: A handful of minor saints with local influence, none of whom were English, and one minor queen consort of a country other than England. And yet, we see this name in England from the early 12th C as well, it’s popularity influenced by the appearance of the name in medieval Arthurian romances (yes, medieval people named their children after literary characters, just as modern people do!).

Turning to the masculine names, Charles was never as popular in England as it was on the continent prior to the post-medieval English kings named Charles, but the name was used, despite there being no biblical, royal, or saintly connection. Another name that cannot be called biblical, royal, or saintly in England is Robert, a name whose popularity in England was driven by the Norman conquest. Sometimes, people just adopted names because they were a part of the changing cultures/fashions/fads of the times. Now, there was a minor (non-Biblical) 13th C English saint named Roger, and that might have contributed to an increase in the popularity of that name, at least in the region where the saint lived. But the name was already in use a century earlier, so the saint cannot have been the driving force (and, again, it’s more likely that a saint has a name because it was popular, rather than that the name was popular because it was given to a saint). A curious name is Walter: It is perhaps the most popular name in medieval Europe (not just medieval England) which was never the name of a saint or a ruler. This didn’t prevent it from often being in the top 5 most popular men’s names in 16th C English parish registers.

Now, these are just some of the most popular names, across all of Europe and a thousand-year-plus timespam. If we look more specifically just at England, and to some of the “not amazingly popular, but not totally unique” names, what we find there is that the number of non-religious, non-royal names proliferates. Such names include:

Feminine

Masculine

If we moved on to names that are found rarely, we’d have an even larger swathe of names to pick from.

So, yes, certainly names of kings and queens and saints (saints more so than Bible figures more generally) were popular names in England; but they were by no means the only choice of names available to medieval English people.

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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 viðr 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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Medieval roots of modern names: The feminine US top 10

Having looked at the top ten boys’ names in the US for 2015 in this post, we now turn to the top 10 girls’ names for the US in 2015, according to the data released earlier this month.

  1. Emma: This classic British name gets its roots from Old German, via the element ermen or irmin, used as a first element in many compound names. Such compound names were often reduced to diminutive form by truncating the second element, result in Irma or Erma, which in turn developed into Emma. The name was used throughout Germanic Europe in the early part of the Middle Ages, but it only remained popular in England, due to the high regard with which Queen Emma, queen consort of England, Denmark, and Norway in the 11th C, was held. The name developed its own hypocoristics, with Em(m)ot(t) and Em(m)et(t) being used. Both of these read as masculine names nowadays, but Latinate forms such as Emota or Emmetta would both work as feminine names in the 21st C.
  2. Olivia: Olivia is an Italian or Latin form of Olive, and Shakespeare is often credited for the use of the name in England. This is not the case. While Oliva may have been a more common Latin form of the name, variants Olivia and Olyvia can be found in England as early as the 13th C.
  3. Sophia: With roots going back to the ancient Greek word for wisdom, σοφία, and the name of some early Christian martyrs, it’s no surprise that Sophia has been used widely for a very long time. It was never especially popular in the Middle Ages, but examples can be found from Brabant and France to Latvia and the Ukraine. Interestingly, we have not yet found any examples of the name in England; Withycombe s.n. Sophia notes that the name came into use there in the 17th C, along with other Greek virtue terms such as ἀλήθεια ‘truth’ and χάρις ‘love, charity’.
  4. Ava: This extremely popular modern name has a curious history. It is likely from Old German avi, of uncertain origin and meaning, and is only rarely evidenced medievally. Instead, its diminutive form Avelina (and variants) takes the stage as a relatively common name in France and England. We recently did an in-depth search for examples of Ava at the request of a reader, and were surprised at how few instances we found!
  5. Isabella: This Latin form of Isabel itself derives from Hebrew Elizabeth, via the Old Provençal form Elisabel, which was later interpreted as el Isabel ‘the Isabel’. The name first shows up in the 12th C, and while in some parts of Europe its connection to Elizabeth was quickly lost, in England even in the 16th C you can find examples of the same woman recorded in one context as Isabel and another as Elizabeth, and spellings such as Elizabella, Elsabel, etc., show the difficulty in confidently ascribing these forms to one name or the other.
  6. Mia: It’s not often one can point to a precise origin for the use of a name in the US, but Mia may be one such name. The first best-known example of the name is Mia Farrow, whose birthname was Maria. So far, we have found no evidence for this contracted form before 1600.
  7. Abigail: Abigail was essentially unused before the middle of the 16th C, and became quite popular, in certain circles, afterwards. It isn’t uncommon to find the name spelled with two ls during that period, which would make a lovely, slightly unusual variant spelling nowadays.
  8. Charlotte: There’s no doubt that the popularity of this name was influenced by the birth of a new princess, but interestingly, Charlotte itself is a relative late-comer into the pool of English names, first introduced in 1626 (see Withycombe s.n. Charlotte). It is a diminutive form of Carla, the feminine of Carl (cf. Charles), and can be found before 1600 in both France and Italian (though there this diminutive took the form Carlotta). It is curious, given how popular Charles was throughout the Middle Ages, how unpopular the feminine form appears to be.
  9. Harper: This is our first non-given-name (in origin, at least) on the list. Like Mason in the boys’ top 10, this surname was originally an occupational byname, deriving from Old English hearpere ‘harper’. The same byname can be found in England spelled Harp(o)ur, from Anglo-French harpour or Old French harpeor.

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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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