Tag Archives: Thomasse

Mystery Monday: Masoeytta

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 a feminine name recorded in Latin in late 13th or early 14th C Bergamo. It’s a strange name because that central vowel cluster — oey — is definitely atypical. (In our 66,000+ citations, we have only one other instance of this cluster, in an Old French form of Louis). But the rest of the name doesn’t give us many clues to go on either — -etta is an Italian hypocoristic suffix, found in Angeletta and Bonetta, and more commonly in the masculine form -etto; and Italian forms of Thomas and Thomasse can be truncated to Maso- or Masa-, with further diminutive suffices added. So it’s possibly that Masoeytta is the result of truncating Thomasia or Thomasa and then adding -etta, but where is the -y- coming from? And why is it -o- instead of -a-?

We have no idea. Do you? Got any hypotheses about how to explain these interloping vowels? Please share in the comments!




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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 they 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!


[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.


Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

Diminutive forms in 16th C England

A remark in this post on an onomastics blog that I follow, that

it seems like people in the past were a lot less nickname-happy than people today. I’d be shocked to hear of, say, a Renaissance Amelia who went by Amy, or a 19th century pioneer Joshua who went by Josh

got me thinking. The comment surprised me because in the data I’ve worked with over the last decade and a half has included quite a few marriage and baptismal records from late 16th C English parish registers, and I’ve come across quite a few diminutive forms. I decided to cull data from an albeit very small data set (the data which is currently in the Dictionary‘s database, which is a very small excerpt of the data I’ve collected over the years), and do a bit of analysis.

Diminutive forms of names can mostly be classified into two types: Those where the radiconym was also in use, and those where it wasn’t. In the later case, by the 16th C, it may not really make sense to speak of those names being diminutives, if there no longer is, and hasn’t been for a long time, a name that they are a diminutive of.

In this category, we can class such names as Ursula, Wilmot, and Thomasine and their (very numerous) variants. These names derive from Ursa, Willelma/Williama and Thomasse/Thomasa, respectively, but these forms have historically been vanishingly rare in English. (Thomasse appears in French, Guillerma and variants in Spanish, and Ursa in Italian.) A masculine witness to this is Lancelot, and its variants; these are etymologically diminutives of Lance, but the popularity of the Arthurian character meant that the double diminutive form was far more popular than the radiconym.

Of the names where the radiconym was still in common currency, we can further divide the examples into those where the diminutive form is roughly as common as its root, and those where the nickname is substantially less common. In the former category are names such as Alison, Marian, and Isabel. The latter category are the ones that I believe the poster quoted above would find most surprising:

  • Annie 1586, 1597 (from Anne)
  • Beaton 1581 (from Beatrice)
  • Davy 1599 (from David)
  • Emot, Emet 1418, Emote 1580 (from Emma)
  • Ebbot 1597, Ebbet 1597 (from Elizabeth, or possibly Isabel)
  • Eliza 1567, 1581, 1582, 1584, 1594, 1595 (from Elizabeth)
  • Elineta 1563 (from Ellen, or possibly Eleanor)
  • Kate 1596 (from Katherine)
  • Nancy 1583 (from Anne)
  • Sybbie 1573 (from Sybil)

And this is only looking at examples which have 16th C citations; I omitted a number of 15th C examples.

This is but a small data set, and thus no strong conclusions should be drawn from it. But I think it’s certainly clear that nicknames were used in the Renaissance, even in as official contexts as marriage and birth records.


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