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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 disciples, 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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An onomastic calendar: December

  • December 1: Anna Komnene was born in 1083.
  • December 2: Gerard Mercator died in 1594.
  • December 3: Berengar I was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 915.
  • December 4: Theobald II of Navarre died in 1270.
  • December 5: Pope Julius II was born in 1443.
  • December 6: Baldassare Castiglione was born in 1478.
  • December 7: Saint Columba was born in 521.
  • December 8: Mary Queen of Scots was born in 1542.
  • December 9: Malcolm IV of Scotland died in 1165.
  • December 10: Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa in 1510.
  • December 11: Llywellyn, last sovereign Prince of Wales, died in battle in 1282.
  • December 12: Stephen Báthory, king of Poland, died in 1586.
  • December 13: Pope Celestine V resigns the papacy in 1294.
  • December 14: James V of Scotland died in 1542.
  • December 15: Basil II, emperor of the Byzantine Empire, died in 1025.
  • December 16: Henry VI was crowned king of France in 1431.
  • December 17: William I Longsword was assassinated in 942.
  • December 18: Theodulf of Orleans died in 821.
  • December 19: Agnes, Duchess of Burgundy, died in 1327.
  • December 20: Margaret of Provence, queen of France, died in 1295.
  • December 21: Pope Honorius II was elected in 1124.
  • December 22: Stephen of Blois was crowned king of England in 1135.
  • December 23: Berengaria of Navarre, Queen of England, died in 1230.
  • December 24: Constance of Austria, queen of Poland, was born in 1588.
  • December 25: Merry Christmas!
  • December 26: Arthur III of Brittany died in 1458.
  • December 27: German mathematician Johannes Kepler was born in 1571.
  • December 28: Alaric II became king of the Visigoths in 484.
  • December 29: Thomas Beckett was murdered in 1170.
  • December 30: Vasily I of Moscow was born in 1371.
  • December 31: Eleonora Gonzaga was born in 1493.

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Nicknames in medieval Estonia

In our previous post, we surveyed the percentage of diminutive and hypocoristic forms in the Dictionary’s dataset sorted according to modern countries, and one stand-out surprise was Estonia: Over 40% of our citations are nicknames of some form! Why is it that diminutives and hypocoristics were so popular in medieval Estonia?

Well, we aren’t exactly in a position to answer the why, but we can look at the what — what are the types of nickname patterns that we see, do they differ between men and women, can we say anything interesting about these patterns vs. those in nearby countries? That’s what we will explore in this post.

First, the feminine names: Only two of the nicknames belong to women, and both come from a Middle Low German contexts. The first is, in the vocabulary we introduced, a hypocoristic, formed by taking a name and truncating it to make a pet form. The example is Barbar, from Barbara. This same diminutive also shows up in Latvia, again in MLG contexts. The second is a diminutive, formed by adding the Low German diminutive suffix -ke, to the root name Anne, to result in the form Anneke. As with Barbar, Anneke also shows up in Latvia at roughly the same time.

This leaves over 600 diminutive forms left, of which nearly 10% — 53 — are Hans, a German hypocoristic of Johannes, one of the standard Latin forms of John, and if we add variants such as Hannes, Han, Hanß, etc., the number rises significantly. From about the middle of the 12th C on, John quickly became far and away the most popular man’s name throughout Europe. In German dialects, Hans, Hanns, Hannes, etc., were often as much more popular than Johannes or Johan than these names were than the next most popular.

So, one answer to the ‘why’ is: Because Low German was a standard documentary language in late medieval Estonia, and the most popular masculine name in late medieval Low German contexts was a diminutive, so that is why there are so many diminutives in medieval Estonia. (This, however, doesn’t address the other why question, which is why the nickname forms were more common than full forms!)

Hans makes up just under 10% of the masculine nicknames; a large percentage of the remainder are covered by just a handful of other names: Cord, Kord, Kort, a Low German hypocoristic of Conrad; Hintze, Hennyng, Hennynck, Heine, from Henry; Cleys, Clauwes, Claues, Claes, Cleys, Clawes, and numerous other hypocoristics of Nicholas; Ludike and Ludeke, from Louis; and Wynyke, a diminutive of any of various names beginning with wini ‘friend’. Other less common names also give rise to hypocoristics, such as Bastian, from Sebastian; Brosius, from Ambrose; and Aßmuß from Erasmus.

So much for the ordinary, every day nicknames, your Estonian Tom, Dick, and Harry, if you will. Let’s explore some of the unusual ones!

  • Nicknames of Constantine: Coest, Kosst.
  • Nicknames of Habakukk: Habbo, Köke, Kock.
  • Nickname of Hubert: Hoppe.
  • Nicknames of Jacob: Jaeck, Jack, Jacho, Kowpy, koup.
  • Nickname of Joachim: Jachi.
  • Nicknames of Joseph: Jessa, Seppo.

One thing of note is that many of these unusual hypocoristics derive from Biblical names.

We’ll close by looking at one name which, across Europe, is one of the most prolific spawner of nicknames: Theodoric. In Estonia alone, the name rivals John in popularity, and we have seventeen different nickname forms — most of which are diminutives of hypocoristics: Tideke, Tideken, Tideman, Tidike, Tijdeke, Tijdeman, Tijdike, Tile, Tous, Tydedeynk, Tydek, Tydeke, Tydeken, Tydeman, Tydike, Tydiken, Tyman.

This will not be the last time we see Theodoric when exploring this month’s topic!

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Statistics from the other side

The last few months we’ve been posting statistics about how things look with a view towards the first edition of the Dictionary, but today I wanted to say a little bit about the other side of the statistics, all the data that we’ve collected that is not yet ready for publication.

Compared to the 480+ entries that are ready for publication, we have 1580+ that have been created but are still in the drafting/research phase — nearly four times as many. These entries are sitting unfinished for any number of various reasons:

  • Time. When entering individual citations (VNFs in editor-speak), when a new name is reached that doesn’t yet have an entry associated with its canonical form (CNF in editor-speak), we simply create a CNF file which is empty other than the name form itself, and continue entering data. Depending on the data set being transcribed, over the course of an afternoon, 25+ such entries could be generated. Then, someone has to sit down, compare them to the CNF files already in existence (to make sure that it isn’t actually a duplicate of something, just in a different spelling), collect etymological and usage information, review everything to make sure it’s accurate, there are no typos, the XML formatting is correct, etc.
  • Etymology. A lot of the names we deal with are ‘known’ quantities; their origin has been well established, and thus it’s just a matter of writing up the etymological information correctly. Others, though, are unique and puzzling, and a single citation or two is not sufficient for positive identification. For this, I can offer examples the names Pelejana (Valencia, 1510), Persla (Brno, 1349), and Pevernel (Devon, 1599) (yes, I was working in “Pe-” last night…). These are likely tractable cases, but need to wait until further examples are collected before we can make headway with identification.
  • The intractable ones. Some, however, are going to be intractable: We fully expect that there will be names where all we can say is “This unique name of uncertain origin is found only in Italy in the early 14th C”, or the like. But, as with the names of (currently) uncertain origin noted above, we can’t make such a decision about a name too quickly.
  • Non-Latin alphabets (other than Greek). The Dictionary currently has no ready-for-publication entries which involve names of Hebrew origin, because we are still determining the best way to handle words written in that alphabet, in particular how to store the data and how to make sure it displays properly on the website. This means that, right now, a tremendously large number of names of Biblical origin are not yet ready.
  • Complex developments. In many cases, it’s rather straightforward to trace the development of a name through different time-periods and cultures, to confidently say, e.g., that Giovanni is a form of John. Other names are not so straightforward: Are Randal, Randolph, and Ranulph all distinct names? They are of the same etymological origin, which normally would cause us to group them together; but would someone looking for Ranulph think to look under Randal?
  • Names of cultural importance. For many names, providing the etymological information and some information about the use of the name by important royalty, saints, or popes is sufficient: The citations then speak for themselves in illustrating the spread of usage over time and space. But some names are, through their widespread use, important from a ‘cultural’ perspective, i.e., the perspective of anyone who is interested in the relationship between onomastics and social and personal identities. These names deserve greater comment, which, in turn, takes time to adequately compile, collate, and present. An example of such a name is John, whose popularity in pretty much every western European culture from the early 13th C on strips that of almost every other masculine name. (It is rare to find a data set where John and variants are not the most common name by a significant margin. I’ve always wondered about Ormskirk, Lancashire; in their 16th C baptismal register, Thomas just barely squeaks past John to be the most popular name.)

So what does all this mean? It means that the first edition is not going to contain a lot of names that people might expect to be in there (John very most likely being one of them). But it also means that there is always place for further research, and that we are unlikely to reach the end of potential new entries any time soon. It also means that at some point down the line, we’ll be able to put together a “Does Anyone Know This Name?” page where lay users of the Dictionary as well as onomastic specialists can contribute their knowledge regarding identification and etymology of rare and unusual names.

It also means that we could stop collecting data now (though we won’t!) and spend the next two months solely doing research, and there’d still be potentially nearly 10,000 VNFs that could end up in an upcoming edition, since that is the number we correctly have waiting for review by one of the editors, to ensure that the entry details are correct and that the entry for the corresponding CNF is ready for publication. And this is just a scratch on the surface: There are hundreds of thousands of names out there waiting for us to catalogue them.

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