Tag Archives: Sylvester

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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An onomastic calendar: November

Here’s the full monthly calendar of our #OnThisDay posts on twitter:

  • November 1: Empress Mathilda was deposed as Lady of the English in 1141.
  • November 2: Emma of France died in 934.
  • November 3: Benvenuto Celllini, Italian artist, was born in 1500.
  • November 4: Sophia of Bavaria, queen consort of the Romans and Bohemia, died in 1428.
  • November 5: The feast day of St. Felix of Valois.
  • November 6: Juana la Loca was born in 1479.
  • November 7: Constans II was born in 630.
  • November 8: Julian of Norwich was born in 1342.
  • November 9: Sancha of Castille died in 1208.
  • November 10: Bridget of York was born in 1480.
  • November 11: Mathilda of Scotland was crowned queen of England in 1100.
  • November 12: Cnut the Dane died in 1035.
  • November 13: St. Augustine of Hippo was born in 354.
  • November 14: Maurice, prince of Orange, was born in 1567.
  • November 15: Justin II becomes emperor of Byzantium in 565.
  • November 16: Edward I becomes king of England in 1272.
  • November 17: Elizabeth I becomes queen of England in 1558.
  • November 18: Antipope Sylvester IV was enthroned in 11015.
  • November 19: Pope Anastasius II died in 498.
  • November 20: Edmund the Martyr dies in 869 (or 870).
  • November 21: García, king of Navarre, died in 1150.
  • November 22: Erik V of Denmark died in 1286
  • November 23: Ferdinand III conquered Seville in 1248
  • November 24: Joan of Arc beseiged La Charite in 1429.
  • November 25: Malcolm II of Scotland died in 1034.
  • November 26: Infanta Catarina of Portugal was born in 1436.
  • November 27: Byzantine Emperor Maurice died in 602.
  • November 28: Pope Gregory III died in 741.
  • November 29: Joachim Viadan, Swiss Humanist, was born in 1484.
  • November 30: Saint Gregory of Tours was born c538.

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