Tag Archives: Thomas

Mystery Monday: Thamico

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 mystery name is one where we have a hunch as to its solution, but we would love confirming data one way or another. The name is recorded in Moravia in the 14th C, and if we take a surface reading of the name, it is Thami- + the diminutive suffix -co; and the most likely root of Thami- is Thomas, making Thamico a simple diminutive of Thomas, and no mystery at all. Czech experts, this one’s for you! Are we on the right track?
Thamico

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Names of the 12 Disciples

It’s an odd collection of words and phrases that bring people to this blog, but recently someone came here via searching for

names of the disciples in all europe

which struck us as something that would make a nice blog post in itself!

The Biblical disciples (or apostles) are traditionally numbered as 12, though because different gospels name different ones, and also use different names for the same, the numbers don’t always quite add up. Nevertheless, the names of the “canonical” disciples are, in their modern English forms: Andrew; Bartholomew; James, the son of Alphaeus; James, the son of Zebedee; John; Judas Iscariot; Jude/Thaddeus; Matthew; Philip; Simon Peter; Simon the Zealot; and Thomas. (After his betrayal of Jesus Christ, Judas Iscariot was replaced by Matthias). We’ve discussed all of these names before, in posts discussing the influence of Protestantism on the 16th-century naming pool, and in posts discussing the medieval roots of modern names; but here we want to focus on when and where these names were used in Europe:

Country Andrew Bartholomew James John
Croatia 15th-16th C 15th C
Czech Republic 14th C 14th C 14th C 14th C
England 12th-16th C 12th-16th C 12th-16th C 12th-14th C
Estonia 14th-16th C 16th C 14th-16th C 14th-16th C
Finland 16th C 16th C 16th C
France 11th-16th C 9th C, 11th-16th C 9th C, 12th-16th C 7th C, 9th C, 11th-16th C
Germany 10th-15th C 12th-13th C, 15th C 9th C, 13th-15th C 9th-10th C, 12th-16th C
Hungary 14th C 14th C 14th
Iceland 16th C 15th-16th C
Ireland 12th C 12th C, 16th C 12th C, 16th C 12th C, 16th C
Italy 10th-16th C 12th-16th C 12th-16th C 9th-16th C
Latvia 13th-16th C 15th-16th C 13th C, 15th-16th C 13th-16th C
Lithuania 16th C 16th C 16th C 16th C
Low Countries 13th-14th C, 16th C 14th C, 16th C 13th-14th C, 16th C 12th-14th C, 16th C
Malta 15th C 15th C 15th C
Poland 13th C 13th-14th C 13th-14th C
Portugal 13th C 13th C 12th-13th C
Scotland 14th-16th C 14th C 14th-16th C 11th-16th C
Spain 11th C, 15th-16th C 15th-16th C 15th-16th C 11th-16th C
Sweden 14th-16th C 14th C 14th-16th C
Switzerland 12th-13th C 12th C 12th-15th C 12th-15th C
Ukraine 15th C 15th C 15th C
Wales 12th C, 16th C 13th C, 15th-16th c

 

Country Matthew/ Matthias Peter Simon Thomas
Croatia 15th C 15th C
Czech Republic 14th C 14th C 14th C 13th-14th C
England 12th-14th C, 16th C 12th-16th C 12th-16th C 12th-16th C
Estonia 14th-16th C 14th-16th C 14th-16th C 14th-16th C
Finland 16th C 16th C 16th C 16th C
France 12th-16th C 9th-16th C 11th-16th C 9th C, 12th-16th C
Germany 12th C, 14th-15th C 7th C, 10th C, 12th-13th C, 15th C 9th-10th C, 12th-13th C, 15th C 13th-15th C
Hungary 14th C 14th C 14th C 14th C
Iceland 16th C
Ireland 12th C, 16th C 12th C 12th C, 16th C
Italy 12th-16th C 10th-16th C 13th-16th C 13th-16th C
Latvia 13th C, 15th-16th C 13th-16th C 13th C, 16th C 13th C, 15th-16th C
Lithuania 16th c 16th C 16th C 16th C
Low Countries 14th C, 16th C 13th-14th C, 16th C 14th C, 16th C 13th-14th C, 16th C
Malta 15th C
Poland 13th-14th C 13th C
Portugal 12th C 12th-13th C
Scotland 14th C, 16th C 12th C 12th C, 14th-15th C 11th-16th C
Spain 15th-16th C 11th-13th C, 15th-16th C 15th-16th C 15th-16th C
Sweden 14th-15th C 14th-16th C 14th C 14th-16th C
Switzerland 12th-15th C 12th-13th C
Ukraine 15th C 15th C 15th C
Wales 16th C 16th C 15th-16th C

Of course, our data set is by no means comprehensive in coverage, and thus we cannot say whether any gaps demonstrated in this post are due to the incompleteness of our data or due to the fact that the name was not used. However, this is a topic that we can revisit again in a few years, to see if things have changed! One omission, though, is noteworthy: We have not yet found a single example of any form of Jude, Judas, Judah. The legacy of the betrayal lasted long in Christian Europe.

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Monthly topic: Why did medieval people choose the names they did?

Things have been rather quiet over at DMNES central over the summer as our staff members have been busy going to conferences, enjoying their holidays, and working on research papers. Now the summer sun is gone and the fall days are coming, and we’re hoping to get more active here on the blog again.

There are many interesting aspects of historical naming practices that one can study, and one of the most difficult ones is the question of motivation — why did medieval parents (or parish priests in some cases!) choose the names they did for their children? Very rarely in the records that we have to hand are explicit reasons given; sometimes, strong implicit evidence can be deduced from context, such as a child baptized by the same name as an elder, already deceased, sibling. General trends can also be identified, such as rises and falls in the popularity of saint’s names (I have long since wondered if the reason why Thomas is the most popular male name in the 16th C parish registers of Ormskirk, Lancashire, while in every other contemporary data set, the most popular name is John, is because of some connection with Saint Thomas in the town; however, I’ve been unable to find any such connection), or the rise of virtue names, which we’ve discussed before.

But information at the specific level is generally incredibly rare. This is what makes the Polyptyque d’Irminon such an amazing resource. The document was compiled around 823 by Irminon, abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and was a catalogue of the lands owned by the abbey between the rivers Seine and Eure. As part of the catalogue, the names of the tenants are recorded — and not only the tenants, but also the names of their wives, and their children. This makes the polyptyque a treasure trove of 9th C names which is almost unparalleled — among other things, it is one of our best witnesses for Frankish/Old French feminine names.

Entries are formulaic, and tend to repeat the same information. Here is a representative example:

Giroldus servus et uxor ejus colona, nomine Dominica, homines sancti Germani, habent secum infantes II, his nominibus, Gisloldus, Gerardus. Tenet mansum ingenuilem I, habentem de terra arabili bunuaria IIII, de vinea aripennum I, de prato dimidium aripennum. Cetera similiter.

Girold slave and his tenant wife, by name Dominica, people of Saint Germain, have by themselves two children, by name Gislold, Gerard. He holds 1 free farm having 4 bunuaria of arable land, 2 arpents of vineyards, and half an arpent of pasture land. The rest is similar.

(From this you can see that the source is an amazing trove of information about medieval farm culture, if that’s your thing.) This example was picked at random, but also for a purpose: Take a look at the men’s names, and you’ll see that the names of the sons both reflect the names of their father! Gislold shares the deuterotheme with Girold, while Gerard shares the prototheme — Gir is a common French variant while Ger is a more typically German form.

Examples of similar patterns — including women’s names, and combinations of both parents names, especially when the number of children grows — can be found on pretty much every page, and we’ll spend some time this month looking at some of the examples. They show a fascinating glimpse into the reasons and motivations behind the names!

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An onomastic calendar: August

  • August 1: Justinian I became sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire in 527.
  • August 2: Pope Severinus died in 640.
  • August 3: Saint’s day of Olaf II of Norway.
  • August 4: Berengar II of Italy died in 699.
  • August 5: Alexander I Jagiellon was born in 1461.
  • August 6: Saint Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, died in 1221.
  • August 7: Otto I of Germany was crowned in 936.
  • August 8: Conrad Lycosthenes, humanist and ecyclopedist, was born in 1518.
  • August 9: Arnold Fitz Thedmar, London chronicler, was born in 1201.
  • August 10: Eleanor, the maid of Brittany, died in 1241.
  • August 11: Mary of York was born in 1467.
  • August 12: Christian III of Denmark was born in 1503.
  • August 13: Alfonso XI of Castille was born in 1311.
  • August 14: Duncan I of Scotland was murdered in 1040.
  • August 15: Carolingian military leader Roland died in 778.
  • August 16: Philippa of Clarence, Countess of Ulster, was born in 1355.
  • August 17: Cesare Borgia became the first person to resign a cardinalcy in 1498.
  • August 18: Saint Clare of Montefalco died in 1308.
  • August 19: Catherine of Bohemia was born in 1342.
  • August 20: Stephen I of Hungary was canonized in 1083.
  • August 21: Philip II of France was born in 1165.
  • August 22: Saint Columba sees the Loch Ness monster in 565.
  • August 23: William Wallace was executed for treason in 1305.
  • August 24: Italian painter Lavinia Fontana was born in 1552.
  • August 25: Anna of Saxony married William of Orange in 1561.
  • August 26: Thomas Bradwardine, logician, mathematician, and archbishop died in 1349.
  • August 27: Arthur II, Duke of Brittany, died in 1321.
  • August 28: Saint Augustine of Hippo died in 430.
  • August 29: Hungarian poet Janus Pannonius was born in 1434.
  • August 30: Amalasuntha became queen regent of the Ostrogoths in 524.

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Aristotle on the meaning of proper names

One perhaps conspicuous absence in any Dictionary entry is the ‘meaning’ of the name. Instead, we provide a linguistic etymology, identifying the root words or elements that were used in constructing the name. This is because, semantically, proper names do not function in the same way that ordinary nouns do. What, exactly, is the semantic function of proper names, and how this function develops and differs from ordinary nouns, is something that interests linguists and philosophers alike, and the answers are by no means clear. What is clear is that the semantic function of proper nouns does differ from that of common names, and this is clear by looking at how one and the same string of sounds is understood in different ways whether it is used as a name or a noun. We do not expect every Heather we meet to be green and bushy, nor every Thomas to be a twin, despite the linguistic etymologies of both these names, and even the current use of the word heather in English to refer to a green, bushy plant.

This fact — that the semantic origins of the elements do not carry over to the semantic meaning of the compound — is articulated at least as far back as Aristotle. In On Interpretation, Aristotle considers the case of the proper name Κάλλιππος, a crasis of Ancient Greek καλός ‘beautiful, fair’ and ἵππος ‘horse’. He points out that:

In fact, in ‘Κάλλιππος’, ‘ἵππος’ indicates nothing by itself, as it does in the phrase ‘καλός ἵππος’ [1].

Thus, “evidently what is indicated by ‘ἵππος’ does not contribute directly to the signification of the word ‘Κάλλιππος’; for, when someone does makes an assertion about ‘Κάλλιππος’, she only has a man — Κάλλιππος — in mind and nothing related to horses or fairness” [2].

For modern parents, the semantic meanings of the linguistic elements that contribute to a proper name are often an important factor in the choice of name — which is why every baby name book you pick up lists each name’s “meaning”. But this emphasis on the importance of the meanings of the linguistic roots of proper names is a relatively modern feature. The medieval parents of Hildefrid wouldn’t have chosen the name because it derives from Germanic elements meaning “battle” and “peace” (a nearly nonsensical combination!). Names were generally given to honor a saint or a relative, because they recombine elements of the parents’ name, because of local practices, rather than because of the semantic origins of the elements from which the name is constructed [3].

Notes

[1] Cited in Ana-María Mora-Márquez, The Thirteenth-Century Notion of Signification: The Discussions and Their Origin and Development, (Leiden: Brill, 2015), p. 119.

[2] ibid.

[3] The rise of virtue names in the 16th C is a distinct and noteworthy exception to this general rule.

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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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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!


References

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

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