Tag Archives: Robert

Ireland vs. England: Are Protestant Names Different Than Puritan Names?

In the process of finding literature for Dr. Uckelman’s project on Protestant and Puritan names, I came across a very interesting paper about naming customs in medieval Ireland and how they compare to medieval England: 

Tait, Clodagh. “Namesakes and Nicknames: Naming Practices in Early Modern Ireland, 1540-1700.” CONTINUITY AND CHANGE, vol. 21, pp. 313–340. https://search.proquest.com/openview/00ff26214014a0f70a55c2e539f048ce/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=37442

It goes into some interesting ideas about individuality and naming, but what really drew my attention was its analysis of the impact of Protestant naming trends after the Reformation in Ireland, a country that “retained a majority Catholic population” (Tait 320). 

She starts with a surprising fact: in the 1540s, some Protestants cared less that their child was baptized by a Protestant than that their child was baptized with a Protestant appropriate name. This goes to show how important people considered names in terms of their religious identity. Tait remarks that in addition to connecting people to members of their own religion, names could also distinguish people from those of other religions, highlighting religious differences. In short, names can bring people together… and tear them apart.

Tait’s paper draws from baptism records from the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church to analyze the distribution of names across different Christian ideologies. She remarks that many of her findings about Catholic names draw only from one register, so they could be attributed to one overzealous priest, but she did find some supporting evidence from other sources. 

Tait found that in an Irish Protestant population, half the children baptized received one of the top 5 names— “John/Jonathan, James, Jane/Janet, Mary and Elizabeth” (315). Similarly, in England at the same time, half the children baptized received one of the top 6 names— “William, John, Thomas, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary” (315). Although Puritan naming is often considered unique, Protestant naming trends in Ireland seemed to progress similarly in terms of most popular names. 

Still, the two countries were not wholly alike. Tait lays out three types of naming traditions observed in pre-1500s Ireland: the Gaelic names already popular in Ireland, saints names commonly used by Catholics, and names brought by settlers, including English names. 

Gaelic: Tait says one might expect the saint names, pushed by the Catholic church during the Reformation, and English names, handed down to descendants of settlers, to overtake and eradicate the use of Gaelic names as it did in England (315). She found this was not the case. Irish natives and settlers each retained their own naming systems, preserving them both. In the 1660s, she finds the top 6 names used by native Irish families remained largely Gaelic– Patrick, Bryan, Hugh, Owen, Thorlogh, and Shane, while the top names used by the descendants of settlers remained largely English– John, Thomas, William, Robert, James, and Richard (316). This supports her idea of names serving to bond communities while revealing their differences from other communities. 

Settler: It makes sense that English settlers would continue to use English names, but Tait observes that their naming practice evolved differently than it did among people who stayed in England. In Ireland, many English settlers used English names that were no longer popular in England, such as “David, Gerald, and Maurice” (315). This demonstrates how the names create connection between the settlers and England, while also revealing differences between them. 

Saint names: Tait observes that “16th and 17th century Catholics, especially those with Old English backgrounds, [kept using] the medieval idea of personal ‘name’ saints, a practice that was further encouraged by the Counter Reformation clergy” (317). These names were often chosen by proximity of the Saint’s feast to the child’s birthdate. People devoted to these name saints and associated honoring them with honoring themselves. This commitment to date association affected even the otherwise most popular names, creating a noticeable difference between Ireland and England, as well as between Protestants and Catholics. Anne and John, very popular names among Protestants and in England, only see usage around their Saints Days for Irish Catholics, according to the Wexford register. 

Despite this, older Protestant traditions still cropped up amongst Catholics. Tait remarks that some children were baptized into both churches either because of mixed marriages, to avoid fines from the Protestant clergy, or as a relic of past beliefs (318). This reflects the way some names were used by both populations, such as Anne and John. This implies that Protestants, despite being outnumbered, still had significant sway over naming practices in Ireland, so one might expect to see Protestant naming trends become more mainstream. 

In the 17th century, Tait observes Protestants began using more Old Testament and virtue names, but she highlights that they did not begin to use the “Puritan-meaningful names like ‘Fear-God’ and ‘Lord-is-near’ that were briefly popular in later-sixteenth century England” (319). Is this because Ireland’s predominantly Catholic population discouraged such naming practices? Or did the Irish Protestant population, otherwise able to exercise markedly Protestant naming customs, simply not gravitate to this style of naming? Does this mean that Puritan naming customs were prevalent in England, but failed to translate to Ireland the way other naming trends did? Or was their prevalence exaggerated even in England?

Although Tait noticed a distinct style of naming amongst Catholics, with their preference for saint names, she did not notice the old-fashioned sounding Puritan names commonly believed to be popular among Protestants after the Reformation in England. This suggests that Puritan names were either exactly as limited to Puritans as many scholars believe, or that they were never as prevalent as previously thought. If the “distinctly Puritan” names were common albeit limited to England, though, what explains the use of other English and Protestant names in Ireland while these Puritan names were ignored?

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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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How do you get Peggy from Margaret?

We recently answered a few questions about how certain nicknames/name forms came to be associated with their full forms over on FB. These comments seemed to generate enough interest that we figured we’d expand on them here in a couple of posts.

First up is a question that has probably puzzled a lot of English speakers at some point or another — just how did Peggy come to be a nickname of Margaret? Or Dick from Richard, Bob from Robert, Ted and Ned from Edward, etc.? In this post we’ll focus on Peggy and Margaret, but the same pattern of development happened for all these names. (We’ll make use of the terminology for nicknames that we introduced here).

So, how does Margaret become Peggy?

Margaret is the radiconym; take it and cut the name down to the first syllable, and you get Marg. In certain dialects, that r is going to be very lightly pronounced, giving us Mag. Magge (pronounced with two syllables) can be found in England as early as 1200, and not much later after that, you can find that hypocoristic form augmented with a diminutive suffix: Magota 1208 (this is a Latin form and would’ve been Magot in the vernacular). (We’ll give you three guesses as to why this name is no longer popular today….). By the end of the century, there are examples of the -a- shifting to -e-, e.g., Megge 1254, 1275, 1279, etc. You can also see it in Megota 1309 (also Latinized).

So that gets us Meg. From there, Peg is straightforward: It’s a rhyme.

The shift from something like Magge, Megge, or Pegge to Maggie, Meggie, or Peggy comes in the 16th C with the Great Vowel Shift — what used to be an unstressed schwa sound shifts to \ee\. And then eventually the spelling caught up, but that happened late enough that we don’t have any specific data. (Yet.)

References

Reaney & Wilson, s.nn. Dick, Dicken, Dicketts, Madge, Maggot.

Withycombe, s.nn. Edward, Margaret, Robert.

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What name forms were used by both men and women in 14th-16th C France?

That’s a question we recently received, so we thought we’d devote a post to answering it!

When French developed from Latin, it retained a gendered marking for the majority of its names — marking which is most obvious when looking at masculine/feminine pairs of names. In Old French, the most common way of feminizing a name was simply adding an -e to the end, but in Middle French, especially by the early 15th C, it became more common to duplicate the final consonant and then add -e.

Some names, however, (particularly ones that already ended in -e!), were used in the same form by both men and women. Here are some examples:

Claude was used in this form by both men and women in France in the 16th C.

While the more common masculine form of the name was Dennis, both Denise and Denyse were used by both men and women at the end of the 13th C.

Gile, which can be a form of Giles or sometimes Gilo, is also the Old French vernacular form of the feminine form of both names, found in the early 14th C.

A bit of a rarity, but Guillaume was used by both men and women in the early 14th C.

Laurence was the usual Middle French vernacular for both men and women in the 16th C.

While Marin was almost exclusively masculine in the 16th C (and the expected Middle French feminine form would be Marine), we have one lone example of Marin used by a woman.

Phelippe, Phlippes, and Phlippe were all used by both men and women; the first form is an Old French one found in the early 14th C, while the latter two are 16th C Middle French forms.

Finally, Robert. Diminutive forms such as Robine and Robinette were much more commonly used by women, but Robert itself was used, albeit rarely, by both men and women.

So, there you are! These are the names we’ve found that were used in exactly the same spelling by both men and women in Old and Middle French.

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An onomastic calendar: June

  • June 1: Anne Boleyn was crowned queen of England in 1533.
  • June 2: Richilda of Provence died in 910.
  • June 3: Peter Abelard was condemned as a heretic in 1141.
  • June 4: Adela of Champagne died in 1206.
  • June 5: Saint Boniface was murdered in Frisia in 754.
  • June 6: Gustav I of Sweden was elected king in 1523.
  • June 7: Robert the Bruce died in 1329.
  • June 8: Italian poet Gabriello Chiabrera was born in 1552.
  • June 9: Irish saint and missionary Columba died in 597.
  • June 10: Frederick Barbarossa drowned crossing a river in 1190.
  • June 11: Blessed Yolanda of Poland died in 1298.
  • June 12: Cosimo dei Medici was born in 1519.
  • June 13: Wat Tyler led the Peasant’s Revolt into London in 1381.
  • June 14: Orlande de Lassus, Flemish painter, died in 1594.
  • June 15: Lisa del Giocondo was born in 1479.
  • June 16: Saint Lutgardis died in 1246.
  • June 17: Bolesław I the Brave died in 1025.
  • June 18: Painter Rogier van der Weyden died in 1464.
  • June 19: Saint Juliana Falconieri died in 1341.
  • June 20: Blessed Margareta Ebner died in 1351.
  • June 21: Leonhard Rauwolf was born in 1535 and Leonardo Loredan died in 1521.
  • June 22: Saint Alban was martyred, in an uncertain year between around 209 and 304.
  • June 23: Saint Æþelðryþe died in 679.
  • June 24: Philippa Hainault was born in 1314.
  • June 25: Eleanor of Provence died in 1291.
  • June 26: Roman emperor Julian died in 363.
  • June 27: The martyrdom of Crescens is celebrated.
  • June 28: Charlotte queen of Cyprus was born in 1444.
  • June 29: Abel, king of Denmark, died in 1252.
  • June 30: Saint Theobald of Provins died in 1066.

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Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 51-100 for boys

At this rate, we’re probably going to only make it through the top 100 before the month is out. One thing that has been interesting about each group of names that we’ve looked at is how consistent the relative popularities of different name types have been, with Biblical names being the most common amongst the boys’, and relatively unrepresented amongst the girls. We’ll see that trend continue as we move down to the top 51-100 of the boy’s names, and thus even if we don’t investigate any further, we would not be surprised to see this trend trickle even further down the list. But let’s see what else we can find!

As we noted, the Biblical again dominate this group, but this time we start to see the influence of non-English spellings on American names. Firs we have two variants of John: Evan (67), a medieval Welsh form, and Ian (76), modernly generally treated as a Scottish form but medievally actually found in the Low Countries, Germany, and Eastern Eruope. Then we have two Spanish forms: Jose (80) and Mateo (85) (this is, of course, also an Italian form!). Amongst the standard English forms of the names we have but two New Testament names — Thomas (no. 51) Nathaniel (97) — compared to a wide range of Old Testament names: Aaron (52); Eli (53); Jeremiah (55); Josiah (57); Jordan (60); Adam (73); Asher (83); Zachary (88); Ezra (92); and Elias (100).

Of these names, a few deserve extra note. First, neither Jeremiah nor Josiah are typical medieval spellings: before 1600, both were more commonly spelled with the Greek influenced form -ias. This is exactly where Elias (as opposed to Elijah) comes from, and if you check out the variants of Zachary, you’ll find -ias forms there as well. Second, we lack entries for Eli, Ezra, and Asher: This is a reflection of the fact that these names were rarely used by Christians until the 17th C, being more commonly used by Jews — and so far, our coverage has a distinct dearth of Jewish records. Third, it is debatable whether Jordan should be considered in this list. Certainly, most people associate the name with the Biblical river Jordan. And this association is ancient and honorable: The name was popular in the Middle Ages particularly amongst those who had been on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and brought back water from the Jordan River to baptise their children. However, it is unlikely that this was the original root of the name; instead, the root appears to be an Old German name Jordanes. (The complications surrounding the name are why we don’t yet have an entry for it, despite the fact that we have examples from England, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, from the 11th C to the 16th!)

We then have a slew of given names that were not originally given names, but surnames — and if we collect all four groups, locative, occupational, patronymic, and descriptive, together, they outnumber the Biblical names. The place names are almost all English in origin: Colton (59), Brayden (61), Lincoln (66), Easton (78), Brandon (82), and Bentley (93). The one exception is Xavier (90), an Old Spanish form of a Basque place name deriving from etxe berri ‘new house’ or ‘new home’. The occupationals are all medieval English: a Parker (72) maintained a park or game preserve; Chase (74) was a name for a hunter, someone who chases; a Cooper (77) made barrels while a Tyler (81) lay tiles and a Sawyer (94) sawed wood. A Ryder (98) is one who rides out, and this specific spelling is not modern, but can be found in the 16th C. In our patronymics group we have already seen a variant of Jaxson (84) in an earlier post. Hudson (65) is ‘son of Hudd‘ — a pet form of either Hugh or Richard. Nolan (71) could also be put under the “Irish” heading below: It derives from the Irish clan byname Ó Nualláin, which in turn derives from Irish nuall ‘noble, famous’. There are two descriptive: Cameron (56), from Irish camshron ‘bent nose’ and Blake (96), which has two equally plausible, and contradictory origins: It can be from both Old English blǣċ ‘pale, bright, shining’ and blæc ‘black, dark’. Finally we have Carson (89), a Scottish surname of uncertain origin. Early forms include Carsan, Acarson, and Corsan, and it may have been originally a place name.

The next biggest groups are the names of Greek and Latin origin. For the former, there is Nicholas (62), popular throughout Europe; Angel (64), concentrated in Italy and Iberia; Jason (86) and its nickname Jace (75), which we could also place in the Biblical names category above, and if we had any medieval examples of the name we probably would have — modernly, the Greek hero rather than the obscure New Testament character is the more likely root of the name; and Theodore (99), a rare name medievally and one easily confused with forms of Theodoric. In the second group, we have the imperial Adrian (58), especially popular in the Low Countries; lordly Dominic (68), also spread throughout Europe; saintly Austin (69), this form an English contraction of the larger Augustine; and Leo (91), which is equally derivable from the Latin and the Greek.

This leaves us with six names, half of which are Irish: Connor (54) is an English form of the Irish name Conchobhar, which was popular in Ireland from the 8th to the 16th C; Kevin (79) is an English form of the early Irish saint’s name Cáemgen used in the 6th and 7th C. The name was not otherwise used, until it was revived in the modern period, but the place name Caisleáin Caoimhghin was recorded in English in a variety of spellings throughout the Middle ages, including Castelkevyn in 1308 and 1547, Castle Kevin in 1590, Castlekevin in 1542, and Castrum Kevini in 1343; and Ayden (87) is a variant of Aiden, which we’ve discussed earlier in this series.

What is most surprising about this group of names is that we have but one name of German: Robert (63), which had held sway for centuries as one of the most popular names. We also have a name of Welsh that we discussed in detail a few months ago as part of our Arthurian names series: Gavin (70). Last in the group we have one name which is purely modern: Kayden (95). The most tenuous connection that we can make from this name to the Middle Ages is via the Scottish surname Cadenhead, originally the name of a place at the head of the Caldon or Cadon Water in Selkirkshire. But this is at best a retrospective connection.

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An onomastic calendar: February

  • February 1: Edward III was crowned king of England in 1327.
  • February 2: Bona Sforza, queen consort of Poland, was born in 1494.
  • February 3: Douce of Provence married Ramon Berenguer in 1112.
  • February 4: Hrabanus Maurus died in 856.
  • February 5: Aegidius Tschudi, Swiss writer and historian, was born in 1505.
  • February 6: Dunnchad mac Domnaill, king of Mide, died in 797.
  • February 7: Pandulf IV of Benevento died in 1074.
  • February 8: Mary Queen of Scots was executed for treason in 1587.
  • February 9: Agnes Sorel, mistress of Charles VII, died in 1450.
  • February 10: Robert the Bruce murdered John Comyn in 1306.
  • February 11: Elizabeth of York, queen consort of England, was born in 1466.
  • February 12: Charles the Fat was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 881.
  • February 13: Catherine Howard was executed for treason in 1542.
  • February 14: The feast day of Saint Valentine.
  • February 15: Pope Pascal II established the Knights Hospitallers in 1113.
  • February 16: German philosopher Philipp Melancthon was born in 1497.
  • February 17: Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, was born in 1490.
  • February 18: Mary I of England was born in 1516.
  • February 19: Nicolaus Copernicus was born in 1473.
  • February 20: Edward VI was crowned king of England.
  • February 21: James I of Scotland was assassinated in 1437.
  • February 22: Robert II of Scotland became king in 1371.
  • February 23: Justinian I orders the building of the Hagia Sophia.
  • February 24: Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582.
  • February 25: Theodoric the Great negotiated for peace with Odoacer in 493.
  • February 26: Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia was born in 1361.
  • February 27: Henry IV was crowned king of France in 1594.
  • February 28: Pope Saint Hilarius died in 468.
  • February 29: Oswald, Archbishop of York, died in 992.

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Nicknames: The English element

We have by no means exhausted the possibilities when it comes to discussing medieval nicknames, so we will probably revisit this topic again in spring! But to close out this month’s discussion of nicknames, we thought we’d take a look at specifically English diminutive suffixes.

One caveat, we’ll be focussing on Middle English diminutives, rather than Old English ones. There is a surprising diversity of Old English nicknames, but they tend to be hypocoristics rather than diminutives, and we currently don’t have enough Old English data to be able to say anything useful or interesting. So we’ll leave that topic for later and focus on two uniquely English diminutive suffixes: -cock and -kin. Both of these were in use by the beginning of the 13th C, and had mostly fallen out of use by the middle of the 15th, with their traces being left in modern surnames (think Atkins and Hitchcock) rather than modern given names.

The first suffix is a bit of an onomastic curiosity; its origin is obscure. Withycombe hypothesize that it is related to Middle English cok (identical with Middle French coq), used in the sense of ‘good fellow’; however, examples of this as a word long post-date the first instances of the suffix in given names. [1] This suffix was never common, and we don’t currently have any examples in our data, but look forward eagerly to the day when we do!

The suffix -kin shows up earlier, from the middle of the 12th C [2]. The earliest examples are English renderings of Dutch and Flemish -ke(n), the masculine versions of the suffixes discussed here. Our examples of this suffix show up not only in England, but also Ireland and Wales, showing the spread and influence of English naming practices in conquered territories. Dackin is a Welsh pet form of David, while Hopkin is a nickname of Robert. From the root name John, we have Jannekin and Jenkin in England, and in Wales Siamkin and Jenkin. Simkin is a Middle English diminutive of Simon, while Willekin is a diminutive of William, found in 12th C Ireland. Our single example of this spelling of the suffix outside of England is Wolterkin, a diminutive of Walter showing up in 14th C France; the person in question is almost certainly from the Low Countries.


Notes

[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. xxxiii.

[2] Reaney, P. H., & R. M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (London: Routledge, 1991; Oxford University Press, 1995), p. xxxix.

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NaNoWriMo: Balancing truth and accessibility

In our first post on this month’s monthly topic, we discussed two easy ways in which authors of historical fiction can improve the historicity of the names they use. In this post, we tackle the specific problems that attend to certain periods and cultures, offering suggestions for how to balance truth (i.e., historical authenticity) and accessibility (i.e., the reader’s enjoyment of the work). [1]

Certainly periods and cultures are easier to handle than others; a writer of novels set in 16th C England will have a surfeit of familiar names to choose from — names that have remained in use in English-speaking contexts and could easily be found on the streets, in the classrooms, and in the boardrooms of today. Populating such a novel with John, Alice, Margaret, Henry, William, and Robert not only results in accurately named characters, but it also results in characters whose names are accessible to the reader.

But supposing you’re writing about the Holy Roman Empire in the late 12th and early 13th C. There are a surfeit of records from this period, but they are predominantly in Latin, not in the vernacular. Four possibilities present themselves: (1) Use the Latinate forms of the names, (2) attempt to reconstruct plausible vernaculars, (3) use modern vernaculars, (4) use modern English forms. Each of these have their pros and cons, and which option is the most suitable will depend on a large part in how you wish to balance truth and accessibility, that is, how authentic do you wish to be while not putting off those readers who are not versed in medieval languages or names. For example, writing about the late 12th C Holy Roman Emperor, one could call him (1) Fridericus, (2) Friderich, (3) Friedrich, or (4) Frederick.

(1) This option weights truth over accessibility. It guarantees that you’re using name forms that are appropriate for the time and place, but having every man’s name ending in -us can not only come across to the reader as pretentious (using an archaic form of language nowadays primarily restricted to academic and legal contexts), it can also make it difficult for readers to differentiate the characters on the basis of their names, when the names are functionally too similar.

(2) This option probably strikes the onomast’s perfect balance, but it is also the option that is the most difficult to exercise for those who don’t have specialist knowledge in medieval languages. Unless you’re going to keep a professional linguist or onomast on retainer as a Subject Matter Expert [2], this option may not be feasible – but below we will offer some suggestions.

(3) This option probably strikes the author’s perfect balance, ensuring that the names being used are names that are appropriate for the place and period, even if the specific spelling or form is modern. The standard modern forms of names in non-English European languages – such as Hans, Friedrich, Heinrich, etc. – are likely to be familiar to readers even if they only know or speak English, making the names accessible.

(4) This option weights accessibility over truth. The names become wholly assimilated to the most accessible form, regardless of its appropriateness for the time period and culture in question. One difficulty that can arise with taking this option is the handling of names that don’t have a modern equivalent; these will never be maximally accessible because they will not be familiar to those who are not otherwise historically-versed.

As is clear, each of these options has different trade-offs. The most important thing is not which option is chosen, but that whichever option is chosen, it is followed uniformly and consistently!

In closing we’ll address a few comments to the author who is in (3) but wants to move towards (2), without necessarily keeping an expert on retainer. Of course, we cannot give any recommendations that will be universal across any culture, but we can offer a few pointers:

  • Relational bynames: Most cultures used relational bynames of one type or another, and they are more common the earlier the period. Determine what the appropriate relational markers are for the vernacular of your place (e.g., merch ‘daughter’ and map ‘son’ for Old Welsh; ingen ‘daughter’ and mac ‘son’ for early Gaelic, both Scottish and Irish; di ‘of’ in Italian), as well as any grammatical changes that the relative’s name might undergo following one of these words.
  • Extrapolate: If Friderich is a plausible vernacular form of 12th C Fridericus, then what might Henricus become? If Bernier is a plausible vernacular form of 12th C Bernerus, what might Garnerus or Warnerus become?
  • Diminutives: Extrapolation also works for diminutives. If you’ve found Imeldina, Jacobina, and Franciscina in 14th C Italy, then what might be plausible diminutives of Thomasa and Anthonia?

Sometimes, very small adjustments can result in a big difference!


Notes

[1] Throughout this post, and indeed this series, we’re going to assume that the authors we’re advising are writing in English. Of course, our advice can easily be adapted to people writing in other languages.

[2] Some authors do! And any author who is interested in doing so, the DMNES staff is always happy to receive queries and do consulting.

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The “most popular” names, for men

Last week we investigated the ‘most popular’ medieval names for women, including a long discursus on why the scare quotes. All the same caveats hold when we turn to look at the men’s names: Without access to systematic data that counts individuals only once and provides the same level of coverage in every place and time, there is no way to say definitively what the most popular medieval given names were.

Unsurprisingly, the list of men’s names that I review on a daily basis because I can pretty much guarantee some editorial assistant has added new citations of is longer than the list of women’s name. And many of the names on it will strike few as surprising (though I personally find it interesting how they cluster into pairs or triples in terms of the letter they start with, and how weighted towards the end of the alphabet they are):

These names have remained enduringly popular, with all of them showing up in, e.g., the top 100 of the Top Names Over the Last 100 Years in the US (John: 2; Robert, 3; William, 5; Richard: 7; Charles, 9; Thomas, 10; Paul: 17; Jacob: 34; Henry: 52; Peter: 55; Walter, 57; Roger, 66; Philip, ; 94note that since this counts individual variant spellings, rather than combining all variants together, this list separates Jacob from James, which comes in at no. 1).

But others on the list may be more surprising — names that have fallen out of common use, or which while still familiar nowadays may not strike one as especially typical of the Middle Ages. These names are:

Of these, the two that I found the most surprising — the ones I hadn’t really realized were as popular as they are until we started compiling such a huge corpus — are Louis and Theodoric. Louis, from its early Latinized form Hludowicus to its modern forms such as Louis, Lewis, Lodovico, Ludwig, and Luis, was an amazingly productive name, showing up in all cultures touched by the Carolingian empire, and, later, France (there being more medieval French kings named Louis than any other name). The popularity of Theodoric can be traced back to Theoderic the Great, ruler of the Ostrogoths at the fall of the western Roman empire. His deeds entered legend, and his name spread across Europe, spawing many variants and diminutives: In fact, more distinct spellings of this name are recorded than any other name we have catalogued so far (and that includes John!). In French, it became T(h)ierry; in Dutch, Derek and Dirk; in High German, Dietrich; in Low German, Diderik. The range of diminutive forms includes examples that a non-expert would scoff at as related: Who would think that Thidemann, Dytlin, Dietz, Tile, Tous, Tijdeke, and Thierrion are all nicknames of the same name?

All of these entries are already quite diverse in the citations they include, but will only become more so in the future. Mark your calendars, we are one week away from the publication of the next edition (our final one of 2015)!

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