Tag Archives: Phoebe

Looking into history: modern and classic forms of medieval names

A number of the girls names that show up in the ONS lists for 2018 are ones where there are a variety of different spellings for an individual name, some of which are modern, some of which are medieval. In this post, we explore some names that fit into this category.

  • No. 12 name Charlotte was originally a Middle French feminine form of a diminutive of Charles. While feminine forms of Charles were never as common in the Middle Ages as masculine forms, we can still find quite a variety, including Carla (560), Carlotta (2340), Carlota (2499). Karolina (701), Carolina (1013), Caroline (1013), Charlene (2340), Carolyn (5666) are other feminine diminutive forms, though this we are not sure if they were used medievally or not. Similarly, popular modern spellings Karla (1649) and Carol (4684) don’t appear to have been used medievally.

    Modern diminutives Charlie (745), Charley (767), and Charly (4684) are now often used as a unisex name, though even a couple of decades again, they were primarily only masculine. The variants Charleigh (1887), Charlee (2674), and Charli (4684) are pretty strongly coded as feminine, and the modern diminutives Lottie (63), Carly (1234), Carrie (1649), Cari (1887), Loti (2187), Lotti (2187), Lotte (2674), Carlie (3985), Carley (4684), Karli (4684), Lotta (4684), Kari (5666), and Karlie (5666) have pretty much always been primarily feminine.

    Like many other popular names, there are a number of modern compounds, including Lottie-Rose (1711), Charlotte-Rose (2340), Charlee-Rose (5666), and Charlie-Rose (5666); Lottie-Mae (1887), Lotte-Mai (2674), and Lottie-May (3985); Lottie-Rae (2901); Lottie-Grace (3178); Lottie-Anne (5666); and Carla-Maria (5666) and Lottie-Marie (5666).

  • No. 15 is a name that beautifully indicates how trends change over time; to my ear, Florence or Florance (4684) is the name of my grandparents’ generation; to my daughter, it’s a name of her generation! I have to wonder how the name was read in 16th C England — was it fresh and new and modern, or was harkening back to medieval French and Spanish romances?

    I would’ve thought that Florence was enough of a name by itself; but, no, the modern compounds Florence-Rose (3178); Florence-May (4684) and Florence-Mae (5666); and Florence-Ivy (5666) show up in the ONS data. The diminutive Flo (2090) is also modern.

  • The name coming in at no. 16 is a modern diminutive: Evie. This can be a nickname for Eve or for Evelyn, a variant of Aveline. Many people are surprised to find out that Eve was moderately common in the Middle Ages, thinking that the ill reputation of the Biblical character would prevent religious Europeans from naming their children after her. But you’d be surprised what sorts of names people gave their kids…

    Unsurprisingly, there are a number of modern compounds using this diminutive — Evie-Rose (560); Evie-Mae (602), Evie-May (1436), and Evie-Mai (1711); Evie-Grace (952); Evie-Rae (1649) and Evie-Rey (5666); Evie-Jane (2499) and Evie-Jean (5666); Evie-Leigh (2901), Evie-Lea (3985), and Evie-Lee (5666); Evie-Marie (3985); Evie-Louise (4684); and Evie-Ann (5666). The variants Eevee (2187), Evee (2674), Eevie (2901), Eviee (3178), Evy (3985), Evi (4684), and Evey (5666) are also modern.

  • Evelyn itself shows up (in this spelling) as name no. 19. Medieval forms of the name almost all retained the initial A-, which makes me wonder when the shift to E occurred (probably in the 16th C; that’s when all the vowels shifted in English!) It does mean that the wealth of variations of the name in the ONS data are pretty much all modern, including Evelina (574), Evalyn (701), Eveline (920), Evelynn (920), Evelin (1035), Evelyne (1083), Avleen (1526), Avalyn (2340), Evelynne (2499), Evlyn (2499), Evaline (3985), Evalina (4684), Evelyna (4684), Avaline (5666), Avalynn (5666), Evalyne (5666) Eveleen (5666), Evelinne (5666), and Evleen (5666) — but Aveline (3178) is medieval! — and especially including the compounds Evelyn-Rose (1272), Evelyn-Grace (3985), and Evelyn-Louise (5666).
  • The name coming in at no. 21, Phoebe, has its roots in the Greek New Testament, but it was quite rare before the Protestant reformation in the 16th C, where it was occasionally used in France. Variants such as Pheobe (1887) and Phoebie (2674) and compounds like Phoebe-Rose (1711); Phoebe-Grace (2499); Phoebe-Rae (2499); Phoebe-Mae (2674) and Phoebe-May (3985); Phoebe-Louise (4684); and Phoebe-Leigh (5666) are modern, while Phebe (2901) is reflective of Middle French orthography.
  • Name no. 22 brings us to an immense category of names: Nicknames of Elizabeth. There are so many of these, in addition to so many variants of the full name itself, that we’ll look at the full forms separately from the diminutives, and just focus on those here. How many modern nicknames of Elizabeth are found medievally? The ones in the following list in bold are all variants we’ve found before 1600: Elsie (22), Eliza (39), Betsy (145), Elise (216), Libby (248), Elisa (350), Betty (408), Elsa (437), Elissa (729), Beth (864), Elsi (1035), Lisa (1083), Betsie (1136), Elyse (1170), Bessie (1272), Elizah (1526), Elysia (1526), Elisia (1649), Liza (1711), Betsi (1887), Elis (1887), Eliz (1977), Betsan (2187), Eliska (2187), Libbie (2187), Elissia (2499), Elyssa (2499), Bettie (2674), Elyssia (2674), Lizzie (2901), Bess (3178), Beti (3178), Elsey (3178), Elysa (3518), Lissie (3518), Elize (3985), Elize (3985), Ellise (3985), Ellissia (3985), Ellsie (3985), Elyza (3985), Betsey (4684), Elysse (4684), Ilsa (4684), Lizzy (4684), Ellesse (5666), Ellisia (5666), Ellysia (5666) Elys (5666), Elza (5666), Elze (5666), Iliza (566), Ilse (5666), Lise (5666), Lissy (5666), and Liz (5666). It’s funny how even when a name has been in pretty much continuous use for more than a thousand years, you can still pick out trends in the diminutives.

    (None of the compounds are medieval, of course: Elsie-Mae (527), Elsie-May (720), Elsie-Mae (1314), Eliza-Mae (1788), Eliza-May (3178), Libby-Mae (3518), Betsy-Mae (3985), Betsy-May (4684), and Eliza-Mai (5666); Elsie-Rose (761), Eliza-Rose (1788), Betsy-Rose (3518), Elsa-Rose (4684), Betty-Rose (5666); Elsie-Rae (1136) and Betsy-Rae (4684); Eliza-Grace (2187), Elsie-Grace (2499), and Elsa-Grace (5666); Betsy-Lou (3178), Elsie-Lou (3518), and Betty-Lou (5666); Elsie-Jo (3985); Elsie-Marie (3985) and Lisa-Marie (4684); Elsie-Jayne (4684); Elsie-Leigh (4684) and Elsie-Lee (5666); Elsie-Ann (5666); and Elsie-Louise (5666).)

  • Name no. 24, Alice, is definitely a classic name, with roots going all the way back to the 9th C (and probably even earlier). It’s popularity means there’s a wide variety of spellings both medievally and modern — of the following ONS forms, beyond Alice itself, the ones in bold are all medieval: Heidi (86), Alicia (195), Aliza (211), Alyssa (229), Alessia (268), Alisha (274), Alicja (314), Alys (497), Alyssia (519), Aleeza (523), Alisa (602), Alesha (701), Alissa (778), Alesia (1083), Alizah (1170), Ailsa (1343), Alysia (1436), Alison (1490), Alissia (1526), Alisia (1711), Alysha (1788), Alise (1887), Allie (1887), Aleesha (2090), Allison (2090), Ailish (2340), Alessa (2499), Aleesa (2674), Alizay (2674), Alyza (2674), Eilish (2901), Ally (3178), Alaiza (3518), Alaysia (3518), Alecia (3518), Aliz (3518), Alyzah (3518), Eilis (3518), Elicia (3518), Aleasha (3985), Aleezah (3985), Aleezay (3985), Aleisha (3985), Alizeh (3985), Allyssa (3985), Alicija (4684), Alishah (4684), Allyson (4684), Aleida (5666), Aleysha (5666), Allyssia (5666), Alycia (5666), Alysa (5666), and Alyse (5666). (There are also quite a number of medieval forms that are not included in the above list!)

    None of the following compounds are medieval: Alice-Rose (2340), Alyssa-Rose (3518), Alissia-Rose (4684), and Alyssia-Rose (5666); Alessia-Maria (3985); Alicia-Mae (3985), Alice-Mae (4684), Alice-May (4684); and Alice-Grace (5666).

  • Name no. 32 is Mathilda, whose medieval variant forms go all the way from Mechthyldis to Mold. Of the modern variants found in the ONS, the ones in bold are also medieval: Matilda (31), Tilly (163), Tillie (587), Matylda (1059), Mathilda (1111), Matilde (1111), Tilda (1977), Mathilde (2187), Maude (2499), Maud (2674), and Matlida (5666). Unsurprisingly, none of the compounds are medieval: Tilly-Rose (1649), Matilda-Rose (2340), Tillie-Rose (3518); Tilly-Mae (2187), Tillie-Mae (2674), Tilly-May (3518), Tillie-Mai (3985), Matilda-May (5666), and Tilly-Mai (5666); Tillie-Ann and Tillyanna (both jointly 5666); and Tillie-Marie (5666).
  • The other name that Evie can be a diminutive of first shows up in the ONS data at no. 33, Eva. This particular spelling was most commonly found in Latin contexts in the Middle Ages, but other variants, including Eve (183), show up in the vernacular, and we can also find the Latin form Ewa (1887) and the diminutive Evita (5666). But forms like Ieva (1526), Evaa (3518), and Evah (5666) and compounds like Eva-Rose (1136); Eva-Maria (1788), Eva-Marie (3518); Eva-Grace (2187); Eva-Mae (2340), Eva-May (2499); Eva-Rae (3985); Eva-Louise (4684); Evaleigh (4684), Evalie (4684); Eva-Jean (5666); Eva-Lily (5666); and Eva-Noor (5666) are (all together now!) distinctly modern…
  • We said we’d treat Elizabeth and its variants separately from its diminutives, and we first run into this name at no. 47: Elizabeth (47). Other ONS forms include (those in bold are also medieval spellings) Elspeth (745), Elisabeth (864), Elisabeta (2090), Elsbeth (2187), Elisheva (3178), Elizaveta (3178), Elisabetta (3985), Elizabete (3985), Elzbieta (4684), Elisabella (5666), and Elisaveta (5666). Looking for an unusual form of Elizabeth for a future child? Check out the DMNES entry for many variants not shown here!

And this takes us through the classic names found in the top 50 girl’s names!

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Protestant names: New Testament influences on women’s names

Having completed the Old Testament, we now move on to the New Testament. When Bardsley discusses the rise of what he identifies as a specifically Puritan naming system (though we have already begun to argue against this in our first post on the topic), he labels the trend “the Hebrew invasion” [1], giving the impression that it was names of Hebrew origin, specifically, that were being taken from the Bible. When we look to the New Testament, we see that this is not the case: Plenty of Greek and Aramaic names were first adopted in the second half of the 16th C. Accordingly, we divide the women’s names that we look at into those of Hebrew origin and those not.

Names of Hebrew origin

Anne: This name could be classified as either an Old Testament name or a New Testament name. In the OT, this was the name of the mother of Samuel (more often modernly transliterated as Hannah); in the apocrypha, Anne is usually identified as the mother of Mary, though she is not named explicitly in the NT. Whatever the origin and whatever the spelling, this name was always common; it was, in fact, one of the most common feminine names throughout all of Europe throughout the Middle Ages, due primarily to the early veneration of the mother of Mary. The name was so well entrenched that the Protestant turning away from the veneration of the saints did not cause any reduction in its popularity.

Elizabeth: The name of Mary’s cousin, this name, too, was popular throughout the Middle Ages. In England, the popularity of the name was maintained in the latter part of the 16th C, with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Joan: Many people may not realize that this is in fact a Biblical name, the name of a woman healed by Jesus and who later accompanied him as a disciple. She was later venerated as a saint, but it was the use of this name by many medieval queens, in addition to the “Maid of Orleans”, Joan of Arc, that helped the name maintain its place as one of the most popular women’s names throughout history.

Martha: This is the first of the names in this post which was not already in common currency by the 16th C. The name was used occasionally throughout Europe, but it shows a sharp increase in use in England and France in the 16th C.

Mary: The name of the mother of Jesus, Mary was one of the earliest adopted of all the Christian names; examples can be found in France as early as the beginning of the 9th C. The same root which gave rise to Mary is also found in the Old Testament, in the name of the sister of Moses, modernly usually spelled Miriam. While the use of Mary cannot be used to differentiate Catholics from Protestants in the 16th C, the single example of Mariam (used as a nominative form, and not to be confused with Mariam, the Latin accusative of Maria) that we have is from England in 1573.

Salome: A derivative of the same root as Solomon, Salome is a curious name to be used in any sort of venerative contexts, given that the best-known historical Salome was the cause of the death of John the Baptist. The name was never common, but we do have a single example in Dutch from 1592.

Names of other origin

The remainder of our NT feminine names are all of non-Hebrew origin.

Dorcas: Of Greek origin, Dorcas was used as a translation of Aramaic Tabitha. Both names were used in England in the second half of the 16th C; Tabitha was also used rarely in Dutch contexts.

Lois: The name of the grandmother of Timothy, the eponymous character of one of the NT books, her name was occasionally used in England after the Reformation. We have, so far, not found any non-English examples.

Lydia (entry available in next edition): Lydia, also spelled Lidia, became common in Dutch contexts in the latter part of the 16th C, but was rare in England before the 17th C.

Magdalene: Magdalene, like Lydia, was originally a locative byname, not a given name, the most famous bearer being Mary Magdalene in the NT. The name was used in German from the 15th C, but otherwise it first reaches predominance in the 16th C, with a huge upswing in popularity in French, Dutch, and English.

Phoebe: The name of a minor character in the book of Romans, Withycombe’s earliest instance of Phoebe in England is from 1566 [2], and our earliest instance in France is from two years later.

Priscilla: Our sole example of an NT name with a Latin origin, Priscilla was used by both the English and the Dutch.

Sapphira: Like Salome above, the use of Sapphira may be surprising, given the negative light in which she is found in the NT. Bardsley highlights her name, along with that of her husband Ananias, as “New Testament names, whose associations are of evil repute” (pp. 72-73), noting that “Ananias had become so closely associated with Puritanism, that not only did Dryden poke fun at the relationship in the ‘Alchemist’, but Ananias Dulman became the cant term for a long-winded zealot preacher” (p. 73). Despite these unpleasant associations, we’ll see this name again when we discuss the New Testament influence on men’s names, in our next posts.


References

[1] Bardsley, C.W., Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (London: Chatto & Windus, 1880).

[2] Withycombe, E.G., Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), s.n. Phoebe.

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