Tag Archives: Polish

Mystery Monday: Zuhalo

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today’s name is Polish — or at least, it occurs in a Latin record from Poland, and it isn’t obvious Latinized, so it’s most likely a representation of some genuinely Slavic name or Slavic spelling.

We have no idea what. Do you have any thoughts? If so, please share in the comments!


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Protestant names: New Testament influences on men’s names (part 1)

The month is nearing the end, but what we have to say about Protestant influences on naming practices in the second half of the 16th C certainly isn’t! The list of men’s names drawn from the New Testament is long enough that we may not get through all of it in one post, but let’s give it a go and see how far we can get. As we did with the woman’s names, we’ll organize these according to linguistic origin — Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Other — with the exception of two groups of four names.

If there’s one group of Biblical names whose popularity was thoroughly entrenched in Christian Europe from a relatively early date, it’s the names of the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Two of the names are Hebrew in origin, one is Greek, and one is Roman: And all four were enduringly popular. It is hard to say, given our current data, when their popularity dates from, specifically, but there is clear evidence that there was a sea-change in naming practices across Europe in the 12th C: At the beginning of the century, secular Germanic names are still numerous throughout much of continental Europe, while by the end, John in all its variants is clearly beginning to be favored; this century marks the beginning of ascent to the position of “most popular name”, a position it dominated in pretty much every western Christian culture from then until the late 20th C. The names of the other evangelists were never as popular — in comparison, Luke was relatively rare — but the names were equally embraced by Protestants, Catholics, and Puritans alike.

The other group of four names is mark out by the conspicuous absence of one of them: Of the names traditionally given to the four archangels, only Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael ever made it into common use (all three were used throughout Europe, but only Michael can be said to have been popular). In the more than two decades that I have been researching names, I have not yet found a pre-1600 person named Uriel. (Which is not to say we won’t still, in our research: If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it’s to never say never. If you hunt long enough, you’ll find pretty much any name.)

Names of Hebrew origin

Ananias: In our previous post we noted that Ananias was so closely associated with Puritanism in England that it became a cant term, and we also pointed out that both Ananias and his wife Sapphira are surprising choices of people to name your child after. So it is especially interesting that the one example of this name that we have so far isn’t even from English contexts, much less Puritan. Instead, our single example is French.

Joachim: This name was both the apocryphal name of the father of Mary as well as the name of a number of minor Old Testament characters, so it could be classified as either a NT or an OT name. Evidence that it was the father of Mary more than the Old Testament characters that influenced the use of this name comes from the surprising lack of examples of this name in the three Protestant contexts that we are particularly interested in. We have no English examples, and only one each in Dutch and French contexts. This name was markedly loss popular than a lot of other otherwise obscure Old Testament names.

Nathaniel: The name of one of the disciplines, we find it in 16th C Dutch and English contexts, but it was rare elsewhere and elsewhen (interestingly, hearkening back to our discussion of nicknames, there are a number of 16th C diminutive forms of it in 16th C Estonia). A curious fact about the name: The earlier spelling of the name was Nathanael, more clearly reflecting the Hebrew form, but it was later altered to match the spelling of Daniel.

Tobias: Not strictly speaking a New Testament name, this was the name of the main character in the apocryphal Book of Tobit. The name was rare in England before the Reformation, and we have no French examples, but in the 16th C, it was a moderately popular Dutch name (and continues to be so today).

Zacchaeus: The data we have for this name is singularly curious: A single 16th C citation from England, a single 12th C citation from Germany, two 13th C examples from Italy, and a 13th C example from Poland. Quite why this name was used when and where it was — rare, but dispersed — we wouldn’t even want to hypothesize. However, its English usage does provide some confirmation: It was not used before the 16th C, and became quite common in the 17th, according to Withycombe. [1]

Names of other origin

All the names we consider under this heading are Aramaic, and two of them were originally nicknames.

Bartholomew: The patronymic by which the discipline Nathanael was better known. It is instructive to compare the use of this name with Nathaniel above: While Nathaniel suddenly became significantly more popular in the 16th C, Bartholomew was perennially popular throughout Europe. While it is always extremely tricky to speculate about intentions behind the choice of names, one might be tempted to say that Nathaniel could be seen as a Protestant alternative to the popular Bartholomew.

Thomas: Another nickname, meaning ‘twin’, Thomas is one of the few names that can rival John in popularity, in certain data sets at certain times and places, and even when it wasn’t more popular than John, it remains one of the solid choices for a man’s name throughout most of Europe in the Middle Ages.

Thaddeus: This name doesn’t fit any of the patterns we’ve seen so far: It’s the name of an apostle, but it was never popular; it was rare pre-Reformation, but does not seem to have become any more popular afterwards. This is another name where only more data collection will allow us to have a better understanding of when, where, and why it was used.

This gets us through about half the list, so we’ll pick up the names of Greek and Roman origin in the next post!


[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd. ed. (Oxford University Press, 1977).


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You want nicknames? We got nicknames!

In dictionary entries, we sort our citations by modern day country borders (because trying to ascertain which country certain towns were in at which period is quite a bit of work — especially when ‘country’ isn’t a viable geographic category for much of the Middle Ages!). One particularly interesting aspect of the multi-cultural/cross-geographic data that we have is that it allows us to trace certain patterns or trends across these boundaries, and one such pattern is the prolificness (or not) of diminutives. We touched on this in the previous post when we briefly commented on the percentage of names that are diminutives in any given era. In this post, we thought we’d explore this further, with some stats and some bar graphs; it’s been too long since we’ve had a nice graph!

Table of diminutive numbers and percentages

Country No. of dims. No. of non-dims. Percentage
Austria 0 60 0%
Brabant 18 191 8.6%
Czech Republic 241 912 18.5%
England 554 15457 3.4%
Estonia 612 905 40.3%
Finland 58 205 22%
France 1181 11744 9.1%
Germany 153 3973 3.7%
Iceland 0 63 0%
Ireland 12 294 3.9%
Italy 525 2387 18%
Latvia 201 1079 15.7%
Malta 0 10 0%
The Netherlands 36 862 4%
Norway 0 3 0%
Poland 21 123 14.5%
Portugal 2 384 .5%
Scotland 47 824 5.3%
Spain 62 1556 3.8%
Sweden 27 589 4.3%
Switzerland 102 543 15.8%
Ukraine 6 82 6.8%
Wales 46 391 10.5%

In some contexts, it is clear that we don’t have enough data to draw any sort of robust conclusions — Austria, Iceland, Malta, Norway, the Ukraine. But omitting these from discussion (and also omitting England, second from the bottom, and France, no. 8, since their much larger numbers make the graph inelegant), we are left with an interesting picture of the relative percentages of nicknames and diminutives across different geographical areas:

The four outstanding areas are Estonia, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Italy. We’ve already discussed the nicknames in Estonia and the Czech Republic when we covered German and Slavic forms; so next up, we will explore diminutive and nicknames forms in Finland and Italy.


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Nicknames: Slavic diminutives

What is fascinating about diminutive suffixes is how you can trace linguistic contact and language relationships through diminutive forms. We saw that in our previous post, with the similarity between German and Dutch diminutives, and we will see it again when we look at the French diminutives -el and -in. In this post, we look at Slavic diminutives — suffixes used in Poland, the Ukraine, and the Czech Republic — which share a clear relationship with Low German -ke(n). We concentrate on the two most common suffix types: -ko and -ek for men and -ka and -ek(a) for women.

As with the German suffixes, these show up in Latin contexts at least as early as the 13th C. [1,2] But unlike some of the German diminutive forms, which for the most part were rarer than the root names, Slavic diminutives often eclipsed the root name in popularity — for example, in the Czech Republic, diminutive forms of Judith far outstrip the full form.

In what is now modern-day Czech Republic, the suffix -ka was often spelled -ca (especially in Latin contexts where k was often avoided) or with an added sibilant, either before or after the \k\, resulting in -zca, -zka, -kza, etc. Examples of this include Anka (from Anne) and Elsca, Elzca, and Elzka (from Elizabeth). Often, this suffix was added not to the full form of the name, but to a hypocoristic from — as in the forms of Elizabeth just noted. In particular, native Slavic names were often truncated before the diminutive suffix was added, as we see in the names Sdynka, Zdincza, Zdinka (from Zdeslava) and Budka, Budcza (from Budislava). As a result, it can be often difficult to identify what the root name is, which is the case with many of the masculine examples we currently have. Given their linguistic and geographic context, masculine names such as Boczko, Czenko, Daszko, Luczko, Parcko, Raczko, Steczko, and Wyrsko are almost all certainly diminutives, though as of yet we haven’t yet confidently identified the root names.

Our data from Poland, at this point, is still relatively limited, but even amongst the handful of diminutive forms that we have, we can see the influence of the Slavic construction in forms such as Ludeko (from Louis), another example of which we find in Lübeck a few years later. What we tend to see more in our limited Polish data is similarity with German suffixes, in particular one which we didn’t discuss in our previous post: -el. When we discuss German masculine diminutive suffixes, we’ll return to this!

Finally, let’s look at Ukraine. As with Poland, our data from the Ukraine is still quite limited, and yet, even amongst that limited data we have a surprisingly large percentage of diminutive forms (making up nearly 7%!) [3]. We see both the -(z)ko and -ek suffixes in this data, as witnessed by Iaczko (from Jacob), Iwanko (from John), and Muszyk (root name not yet identified), on the masculine side, and Marsucha (from Mary) on the feminine side.

One must be leery of drawing any strong conclusions from the limited data that we’ve gathered so far. Nevertheless, even in this small data set we have ample illustration of the variety of ways in which diminutives could be formed, and evidence of their popularity.


[1] Artsikhovskii, A. V., et al. Novgorodskie gramoty na bereste, Vols I-VII. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1953-78, no. 348.

[2] Moroshkin, Mikhail. Slavianskii imenoslov ili sobranie slavianskikh lichnykh imen. Saint Petersburg: n.p., 1867, p. 124.

[3] Compare that with, say, England or Spain, where diminutives make up 3%, or Sweden, where it is 4%.


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Color names: Blue and Purple

We’re combining blue and purple into one post because of the difficulty there can be in knowing just how to classify one interim term that gave rise to a number of different names: violet!

Violet itself is of Old French origin, and thus its primary use is in places with connections to France. In the 16th C, it was quite popular in Scotland. The root word is Latin viola, itself used as a name. In connection with a research project on the roots of Shakespearean names, the editorial team specifically investigated this name before the publication of the current edition, finding out that it was unexpectedly popular in Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine.

It wasn’t only the Latin word for the flower that was used in names; the Greek compound of ιολη ‘violet’ and ανθος ‘flower’ was used, recognizable in the modern spellings Yolanda and Violante. These tended to be used more in western Europe than the Latinate counterpart mentioned above.

The next two names that fall under this post’s purview also have a connection with flowers. Greek ὑάκινθος was the name of both a flower and a precious gem of blue color, probably sapphire, and gave rise to both masculine and feminine names. Hyacinth was used intermittently in France, Italy, and Portugal; there was also a Polish saint by the name so while we haven’t found any Polish examples yet, this is due more likely to the fact that we have yet to start in on Polish names in any systematic fashion (the current edition has only 107 citations from Poland) than anything else. Hyacinthe was somewhat rarer; we have, to date, a single example from early Italy.

Finally, we have one surprise: Indigo. The word, referring to a blue dye imported from India, only entered the English language in the 16th C, so its occurrence as a given name at the very end of that century, in England, is extremely unusual. It’s also a name well worth considering for modern revival — unusual, but recognizable, and evocative of lovely things.


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Publication of Edition 2015, no. 3

We’re pleased to announce the publication of Edition 2015, no. 3 of the Dictionary, the last edition planned for this year. The new addition has over 1700 entries (up from 1359 in the previous edition), with over 35,900 citations (more than 8,000 more than the previous edition). There are 633 feminine names and 1083 masculine names, and two of uncertain gender. This edition broadens our coverage to the following regions/countries: Ireland, Portugal, Brittany, Wales, Lithuania, Ukraine, and substantially deepens our coverage of the following countries: Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Estonia, Finland (as well as having new citations for Italy, Germany, France, England, etc.).

Come, spend a few minutes browsing, maybe you’ll find a new favorite name, such as Belhonor or Frotbald or Llywellyn, Wistrilde or revisit old favorites to see what new and unusual spellings you can find.

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Another milestone hit: 1000 entries

When it looked like time would prevent our technical guru from completing things to his (exceedingly high) standards in time for our original target date, we decided to make use of the extra time to make the first edition as big and bold as we could. We recently reached 20,000 citations, and tonight we hit another major number.

If you went over to our list of entries, and counted all the entries, you’d find that we now have a round 1000 (one thousand) entries queued up for publication. 1000 entries with 20,000+ citations distributed over them, from A to Z from Portugal to Poland, from Ireland to Italy, from the 6th C to the 16th C, it is quite the onomastic feast that we will be serving you soon!

The 1,000th citation is for the name Sicleholde, a rather rare name of Old German origin with (so far) a single citation from early 9th C France.

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