Tag Archives: Wulfstan

The ‘elements’ of names: Earth (part 2!)

So after we posted our first post in what was to be a four-part series (one for each element) on names involving the four elements (read Part 1: Earth), a number of people pointed out that we totally overlooked a candidate for “earth”: ‘rock, stone’!

Well, rather than feeling too sheepish and embarrassed about such an oversight, we figured we’d simply fix this by making a follow-up post. So in Earth-Part-Two we’re going to look at all the names we have that derive from an element meaning ‘rock’ or stone’.

The most classic example is, of course, Peter, deriving from Greek πέτρος ‘rock’. The most well-known bearer of the name, Peter the first Catholic pope (at least from the medieval point of view!), was given his name as a metaphor for the foundation of the church itself. As the Wycliffite translation of the Bible (1395) puts it:

And Y seie to thee, that thou art Petre, and on this stoon Y schal bilde my chirche, and the yatis of helle schulen not haue miyt ayens it. (Matthew 16:18)

As the name of a disciple and pope, Peter was enormously popular in Europe. Our earliest citation is from the end of the 7th C in Germany, and by the time we hit 1600, you can’t turn around without bumping into a Peter or three. Geographically, almost every country that has citations in the database has an example of Peter — it’s even one of the three names we find in Algeria. The popularity of the name is reflected in the diversity and quantity of pet forms witnessed:

Pär, Peczold, Peep, Peireto, Per, Pere, Pereto, Perin, Perino, Perkyn, Perocto, Peron, Perono, Peronet, Perot, Perreau, Perrecars, Perrenet, Perresson, Perreset, Perret, Perrichon, Perrin, Perrinet, Perrod, Perron, Perronet, Perrono, Perrot, Perrotin, Perrusson, Pers, Perucho, Peschel, Peschil, Peschlin, Pescho, Peschyl, Pesco, Pesko, Pesold, Pessek, Pessel, Pesshico, Pessico, Pessko, Pesslin, Pesyco, Peterl, Pethe, Peto, Petrecono, Petreman, Petrezolo, Petricono, Petrin, Petrino, Petriolo, Petrocho, Petrocino, Petrono, Petrosino, Petrussio, Petruche, Petrucio, Petrutio, Piep, Pierel, Pieren, Pieret, Pierozo Pierren, Pierron, Pierrot, Pyotrussa

Of course, given the popularity of the masculine name, it’s no surprise that the feminine form, Petra was also relatively widespread throughout medieval Europe (although it was rare before the late 13th C). What might be surprising is that with one exception, all of our examples are of diminutive forms — too many to list here. Another name that needs to be mentioned in this context is the feminine name Petronilla. The root of this name is the Roman nomen Petronius. Petronius itself may possibly derive from the same Greek root; but it is not clear that it does. Nevertheless, medievally the name was treated as a feminine form of Peter, and it was moderately popular throughout England, France, and the Low Countries, with a handful of examples also turning up in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland.

But Greek isn’t the only language to have given us rocky names! We also have two Germanic/Scandinavian elements meaning ‘rock ” or ‘stone’ that were used in monothematic and dithematic names: Old Icelandic hallr ‘rock, stone’, found in the compound Haldor; and Proto-Germanic *stainaz ‘stone’, which gave rise to Old Icelandic steinn, Old English stān, Old Frisian, Old Saxon, and Old Dutch stēn, and Old High German stein.

This latter element was quite a popular element, both as a prototheme and as a deuterotheme:

Country Prototheme Deuterotheme
England Alfstan, Brihtstan, Dunstan, Goldstone, Thorsten, Wulfstan
Estonia Thorsten
France Steinhard Thorsten
Germany Steinhard
Iceland Thorsten
Ireland Dunstan, Thorsten
Norway Thorsten
Scotland Thorsten
Sweden Steinarr Holmsten, Thorsten

The element itself was also used as a standalone, monothematic name: Sten. We have examples from Finland, France, and Sweden.

We could also stretch the definition of “earth” as far as names derived from precious stones, but perhaps we’ll draw the line here and save those for another post on their own sometime!


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