MEDIEVAL NAMES ARCHIVE.

A correspondent reminded me of a site I keep running across but for some reason have never blogged about: the Medieval Names Archive. The first line on the main page is “This collection of articles on medieval and renaissance names is intended to help historical re-creators to choose authentic names,” and if you think that portends some sort of amateurish silliness on a par with “what to name your baby” sites, you don’t know historical re-creators. These people take accuracy with a seriousness that would shame a nineteenth-century German philologist, and the essays collected on the site have a level of detail that will sate all but the thirstiest seeker after onomastic information. Under the rubric “What’s New” we find, inter alia: Place-Names in Landnámabók, Basque Onomastics of the Eighth to Sixteenth Centuries, Jewish Names in Ottoman Court Records, and Greek Names with Scytho-Sarmatian Roots. Then comes a little essay on “Choosing a Medieval Name”:

…Few history books reproduce names in the exact forms that were recorded in period documents. Most of the names are modernized and anglicized, both in spelling and form. Depending on just how authentic you want your name to be, you may or may not decide to worry about these details; this collection of articles assumes that you want your name to be as authentic as possible.
It’s also easy to get led astray by bad sources. There are a lot of books and lists of names that are useless, misleading, or erroneous. We’ve put together some guidelines to help you identify good sources…
Some names that many people think of as common to the Middle Ages or Renaissance are either purely modern or otherwise problematic. For example, some names which were used in one medieval culture are now mistakenly believed to have been used in others. Other medieval names are mispronounced, or thought to be feminine names when they were only masculine…

And below that is the meat of the site, Personal Names in Specific Cultures. You can find out more than you ever thought you’d want to know about English, Old English, and Anglo-Norman Names; Scandinavian Names; Names from the Low Countries; Frankish and French Names; Welsh, Cornish, and Breton Names; Classical and Byzantine Greek Names; Slavic and Baltic Names; and many more. Just to give a sample from the Slavic section, there are essays on “Grammar of Period Russian Names” (followed by “A Dictionary of Period Russian Names”), “A Chicken Is Not A Bird: Feminine Personal Names in Medieval Russia,” “Locative Bynames in Medieval Russia,” “Occupational Bynames in Medieval Russia,” and “Russian Personal Names: Name Frequency in the Novgorod Birch-Bark Letters,” among others. You see the wide coverage, and if you visit the essays you’ll see the depth. It’s a mind-boggling resource. Thanks for the reminder, Trevor!

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    …. will sate all but the thirstiest seeker after onomastic information.
    I want to meet the unsated one. But just briefly, not for a long conversation.

  2. John Emerson says:

    …. will sate all but the thirstiest seeker after onomastic information.
    I want to meet the unsated one. But just briefly, not for a long conversation.

  3. You can find him down at the No-Name Bar, talking earnestly but futilely to the proprietor.

  4. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    I’m kind of disappointed by the skandinavian names. When I said the other day that there was NO chance that my daughter would be getting her own horse, of course she got one the following day. (I then coincidentally read in John’s wonderful book the earliest citation of the henpecked husband — my one complaint about this extraordinarily interesting series of essays is that there’s no index and now I can’t find it back, but that’s another story). My daughter’s horse is an Icelandic, called Askur, and my daughter told me all this stuff about Icelandic male horses’ names ending in -ur. Well, there’s nothing about that at the Medieval Name Archive. Nothing. If I google Askur, there’s a restaurant outside Reykjavik that was the first place in Iceland to sell American hamburgers, but nothing about the derivation of horse names (thare’s a rather dashing Swedish stallion, though). I also don’t think it comes from Norse ask, meaning ash (tree), (coincidentally we live outside a town called Asker that IS named for the ash tree) but rather from Ask og Embla, norse mythology’s Adam and Eve. There may be a very large cash prize for anyone who can help me with this. (More likely not.)

  5. Wasn’t Ask/Askr/Askur made out of an ash tree?

  6. John Emerson says:

    It’s from the same Dravidian root as Assur in Assurbanipal. I’ll have to see the money before I tell you more.

  7. John Emerson says:

    It’s from the same Dravidian root as Assur in Assurbanipal. I’ll have to see the money before I tell you more.

  8. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Yes, you may be on to something here, I’ll see what I’ve got in my wallet. Do you take cards?.

  9. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    It’s MMcM who eats Dravidian roots.

  10. John Emerson says:

    No, nor do I trust fiat currency. Precious metals and jewels from the dragon’s hoard will do.

  11. John Emerson says:

    No, nor do I trust fiat currency. Precious metals and jewels from the dragon’s hoard will do.

  12. John J Emerson says:

    *ssur –> *skur is, of course, regular in Dravidian-Norse transformations.

  13. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    You lot are so smart, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’ve no idea whether Ask var av ask, but I think you both get to split the !!! prize money !!! equally.

  14. You’re smart to hang onto your money. Whenever some sucker falls for that Dravidian-root scam, John sends him a copy of the Phaistos disc with a scribbled note that “it’s all in here.”

  15. Yes, the first woman and man were made from trees, Ask and Embla (ash and elm). From the Voluspo in The Poetic Edda (tr. Bellows):

    Then from the throng/did three come forth/ from the home of the gods,/the mighty and gracious;/Two without fate/ on the land they found, /Ask and Embla,/ empty of might.

    Soul they had not, / sense they had not,/ Heat nor motion, /nor goodly hue;/ Soul gave Odin, /sense gave Hönir,/Heat gave Lothur/and goodly hue.

    I never had a name, much less a horse, when I was a Viking reenactor. Didn’t know you were supposed to have one.
    The r endings are case endings, I presume from Old Norse, as the closest living language, Icelandic still has them.
    http://www.ielanguages.com/icelandic.html
    People who study Old Norse can go to Iceland and they understand the language.
    A lot my older books about Viking stuff have the r ending while newer translations don’t.
    What kind of very large cash prize?
    A Dravidian/Viking connection has never been documented, but I can tell you stuff about Odin/Troy and I know where the photographs are for the Thailand connection.

  16. Attila appears as Atli in the Norse tradition (even in Greenland) and as Etzel in the German Nibelungenlied, and Eormanric (a Goth defeated by the Huns) is referred to in Beowulf. Wolfram has described the Ostrogoths of the period following Eormanric as “Scythized” (i.e. steppified), and when the Rus descended the Vistula from Scandinavia and reached Constantinople, the Byzantines spoke of their leader as a “chaganus” or Khagan.6 Indeed, when Snorri (identifying Hec-tor as Thor!) derives the Germans from the Trojans in order to root them in the classical tradition — as was very common from the Roman period on — he also describes the Trojans as Turks. But the most amazing Germanic attempt to root themselves in the classical world is probably that of Jordanes, a Goth writing in Latin ca. 550 A.D. Jordanes affiliates the Goths with the legendary Scythian Amazons and with Tomyris the Scythian Queen who killed Cyrus, and even declares the Huns to have been descended from outlawed Gothic witches who had mated with evil spirits.
    More at my URL.

  17. Attila appears as Atli in the Norse tradition (even in Greenland) and as Etzel in the German Nibelungenlied, and Eormanric (a Goth defeated by the Huns) is referred to in Beowulf. Wolfram has described the Ostrogoths of the period following Eormanric as “Scythized” (i.e. steppified), and when the Rus descended the Vistula from Scandinavia and reached Constantinople, the Byzantines spoke of their leader as a “chaganus” or Khagan.6 Indeed, when Snorri (identifying Hec-tor as Thor!) derives the Germans from the Trojans in order to root them in the classical tradition — as was very common from the Roman period on — he also describes the Trojans as Turks. But the most amazing Germanic attempt to root themselves in the classical world is probably that of Jordanes, a Goth writing in Latin ca. 550 A.D. Jordanes affiliates the Goths with the legendary Scythian Amazons and with Tomyris the Scythian Queen who killed Cyrus, and even declares the Huns to have been descended from outlawed Gothic witches who had mated with evil spirits.
    More at my URL.

  18. Oh, J E, I don’t for a minute believe Snorri’s story about the gods really being warriors from Troy. But could there have been a migration? Scandinavian coins have been found all over those waterways, including the Black Sea. Beowulf has better archaeological evidence, like an entire ship, and a contemporary lawsuit, so I’m more willing to believe that. The Sythian Amazons are mostly believed by male reenactors who want to see the skimpy costumes (chain mail!). Why would gothic witches become outlawed–that sounds like a good story. Not sure where the Mongols come in either.
    Okay, the Scandi/Thailand story. A friend of mine goes to “Group” once a month for job stress, the city I won’t name. It meets in a bar across the street from a brewery. The last time I was there he had cow/beheading/sacrifice photos from I forget where, maybe Kathmandu. Anyhow, at one point he showed me a whole shoebox of photos he was going to share at Group. I had a box of photos too. I pulled out my photos, replicas of Norwegian stave churches that had been built for a festival of some kind than moved to a farm in Wisconsin after the event was over. He had photos of Buddhas and temples in Thailand. The stave churches and the Thailand temples had EXACTLY the same roof lines, the same pitch, and EXACTLY the same triangular shaped entrances. AND THE SAME DRAGONS ON THE ENDS OF THE ROOFS. How could this be coincidence? So did the Vikings go to Thailand or did the Thais become Vikings?

  19. There’s a good example of what you’re talking about on the Norwegian wiki, at the top of this page:
    http://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stavkirke

  20. I like your theory, but now I want to see a picture from the Thai end. Borgund stavechurch is from 1181 and so it’s really more Christian than Viking.
    Borgund is apparently an exact replica of an early church in Rapid City South Dakota. Alfred Hitchcock originally wanted a dragon-style stave church for “North By Northwest” but was persuaded to use Mount Rushmore because it was cheaper to insure against fire.
    From a quick sweep of wiki, the closest I can come to making a Thai connection is through bestiaries. The allegories of the phoenix, unicorn and pelican, etc in the Physiologus were used in the 12th c. in medieval church art elsewhere (England & France). Parts of the Physiologus may have come from “Indian, Hebrew and Egyptian stories”. Egypt is pretty close to Thailand, especially with the price of air travel nowadays.

  21. What kind of very large cash prize?
    All the details are being handled by Merril Lynch and the money has been forwarded to Lehmann Bros in NY. Enjoy!

  22. John Emerson says:

    Kron, only precious metals and jewels from the dragon hoard will be accepted.
    Based on your offers to date, I would guess that on the specific topic of Viking-Dravidian connection you will welter in near-total ignorance forever.

  23. John Emerson says:

    Kron, only precious metals and jewels from the dragon hoard will be accepted.
    Based on your offers to date, I would guess that on the specific topic of Viking-Dravidian connection you will welter in near-total ignorance forever.

  24. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    The precious metals are in the mail. Are Dravidian roots connected to the Branch Davidians of a few years ago by a Dravidian trunk?

  25. The reason you won’t find in the Scandinavian selection of the MNA is that it is a not a medieval form — the shift from to in marking the nominative singular is one of the characteristics of the shift from Old Norse to modern Icelandic. The ON form of is indeed , which does indeed mean “ash, ash-tree” (see http://www.northvegr.org/zoega/h020.php for the full entry).
    -Sara, one of the MNA maintainers.

  26. Somewhere I have a little, thin book with an English summary/reïnvention of the most basic Nordic myths. I just don’t know where it might be at the moment.
    There’s a nice series of novels by a Swedish woman dealing with the Asur and Vanur and how they might be grounded in an ancient invasion of patriarchal tribes into an originally matriarchal culture. Only read the first volume Freya, I’m afraid. New books are so expensive.

  27. Ack. I put the names in angle brackets and they got interpreted as HTML tags. Here’s my comment again, with them in italics:
    The reason you won’t find in Askur the Scandinavian selection of the MNA is that it is a not a medieval form — the shift from -r to -ur in marking the nominative singular is one of the characteristics of the shift from Old Norse to modern Icelandic. The ON form of is Askr, which does indeed mean “ash, ash-tree” (see http://www.northvegr.org/zoega/h020.php for the full entry).

  28. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Thanks for that second post, Sara, now I get it. I was a bit worried by that first one: was it you, or was my eyesight going funny.

  29. Richard Hershberger says:

    “…if you think that portends some sort of amateurish silliness on a par with “what to name your baby” sites, you don’t know historical re-creators.”
    Well, historical re-creators come in a wide range of flavors. This site is decidedly at the high-authenticity end of the range. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that this is typical of what you would find if you wander into historical re-creation.
    As for “name your baby” materials, it is worth noting that “Baby Names for Dummies” was written by one of the most respected persons in the high-authenticity end of the field. “Margaret Rose” is a thinly-disguised pseudonym, immediately transparent to those who know her. The books lacks scholarly apparatus for obvious reasons, but the content is solidly researched, making it unique in the genre.

  30. I was just going to mention “Baby Names for Dummies” in conjunction with MNA – “Margaret Rose” is also one of the chief contributors to MNA under her actual, modern qualifications. Glad to see I was beaten to it.
    That’s one of the great things about the archive – a good portion of the people who write those articles also have the “academic chops” to be taken seriously by the research community, so it’s not just a site for re-enactors. For my money, it is the most useful site on medieval onomastics, esp in combination with it’s host of St. Gabriel (which will give you information on specific names). Between the two, I have much of the information in my name library always available through the magic of the internet.

  31. John Emerson says:

    I’ve also seen interesting military history stuff from SCA and related groups. I agree with Hat, pretty much.

  32. John Emerson says:

    I’ve also seen interesting military history stuff from SCA and related groups. I agree with Hat, pretty much.

  33. similarities between stave church/Thai temple…
    This is a reproduction stave church in Wisconsin:
    http://good-times.webshots.com/photo/1316455674061072762NVxpau
    And here is a Thai temple:
    http://www.bigfoto.com/asia/bangkok/thailand-b8i2.jpg
    The two photos we compared that day though, were even more eerily alike.
    So without air travel in what, 1181 or so, how would the religious architecture get all the way from Thailand to Scandinavia? I’m guessing Samarkand.
    For anyone who wishes to see these photos in juxtaposition, my friend and I would be agreeable to them financing travel for both of us either to the Summit Brewery or another mutually agreeable location like Mike’s Breakfast in Katmandu.

  34. Then there’s the 6th century Buddha discovered in Helgö (Sweden) (#4. Viking with a Buddha)
    http://www.asianart.com/forum/takaki/dozen/Dozenns.htm

  35. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    I don’t know why nobody’s interested in these stave church and Thai temple comparisons. They are exactly the fucking same from opposite ends of the Earth, practically, and you guys are rattling on about baby names or something. You’re nuts.
    You know what Nijma? I’d pay for it myself if we hadn’t just bought this horse, but John Emerson’s going to fund your trip (he loves stuff like this), and Language will come up with some money for your friend from all his advertising money. Well done, I think it’s wonderful, seriously.

  36. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    A caution from wiki to anyone wishing to visit a wat, or Thai temple:
    Despite the hot weather most of the year in Bangkok, long trousers are required to enter the wat. This rule is strictly enforced. The facility offers the rental of proper trouser wear.
    This is the kind of job nobody told us about when I was at school: you could always rent trousers by the hour.

  37. Richard Hershberger says:

    “I’ve also seen interesting military history stuff from SCA and related groups.”
    The S. Gabriel people behind the MNA would be quick to point out that they are not a part of the SCA. Or rather, I think you would find that most or all of the individuals involved are also involved with the SCA, but S. Gabriel itself is not.
    As for stuff coming out of the SCA, the cautionary note is that the SCA is an astoundingly successful re-creation group, and the key to its success is a near-total lack of standards. I write that affectionately, as an insider who has been involved with the SCA his entire adult life. You can choose to adopt whatever standards you like. You will find fantastic costumers and blacksmiths producing museum-replica work, next to guys who like to drink beer and hit people with sticks (and are willing to be hit with sticks for the privilege).
    It is a glorious jumble. One result, however, is that research materials coming out of the SCA might be solid academic work or they might, umm…, not be. So any given work has to be taken on its own terms, and caveat emptor.

  38. marie-lucie says:

    So without air travel in what, 1181 or so, how would the religious architecture get all the way from Thailand to Scandinavia? I’m guessing Samarkand.
    Good guess, Nijma! I think the Silk Road (and the tracks that undoubtedly preceded it) has an awful lot to teach us yet.
    The similarities between Thai and Scandinavian architecture don’t have to have started at one end and gone all the way to the other end. It is more likely that they radiated from a centre “which, perhaps, no longer exists” or at least has not yet been discovered.

  39. Thanks for the tips on Baby Names for Dummies
    but I must point out that it is an actual book, whereas I was referring to websites. There may well be decent baby-name websites out there too, mind you, but the “Margaret Rose” book is not a counterexample to my rash generalization.
    I don’t know why nobody’s interested in these stave church and Thai temple comparisons.
    I certainly am, they’re quite remarkable. But I’m waiting for John to set up an expedition.

  40. next to guys who like to drink beer Drinking beer in a historically accurate manner is not as easy as it looks. Especially if you pick the Viking age and not a later era like those wimpy SCA types who drink from cups. Have you ever tried to season a horn so that it doesn’t impart a hornlike flavor to the brew? See? There’s a big difference between drinking beer and just drinking beer.
    It is more likely that they radiated from a centre “which, perhaps, no longer exists” or at least has not yet been discovered.
    The 6th century Buddha found in Sweden was said to come from India–maybe that’s another clue–so we’re back to the Dravidians again, but have you ever tried to live on dahl baht? Vegetables, rice, rice, vegetables. The most painless thing you can do if you find yourself in India is find a halal Middle Eastern restaurant and check into a hostel next door to it. So why not skip India altogether. The silk road is definitely my kind of expedition. Also Iraq. But maybe this is not the right time to search for kafir temples in Iraq. Of course if there was already an expedition formed, some spooky types with mysterious motives might join up with us and we would have additional protection of sorts.
    I can hardly wait to see what Mr. Hat and Mr. Emerson come up with.
    For baby names in Arabic, see my URL.

  41. Everything in the “What’s new” section is hundreds of years old. This site must hardly update at ALL.

  42. Crown, A. J.P. says:

    I like the idea of India. You could invite MMcM, who is a vegetarian and a fantastic cook. But if you find spooky types with mysterious motives to be protection of sorts, then you should travel separately.

  43. Richard Hershberger says:

    “Have you ever tried to season a horn so that it doesn’t impart a hornlike flavor to the brew?”
    I can’t say that I have, but at a guess I would try a judicious application of beeswax. Of, if feeling wimpy, some modern synthetic polymer. But I’m sure I am missing some subtle aspect here.

  44. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Richard Hirschberger: I’m sure I am missing some subtle aspect here.
    Plastic horn.

  45. Oh, dear, I can’t remember now how I did the drinking horn. I think it involved lot of scraping and sanding on the inside, then an hour boiling in bleach and soaking in vinegar for a couple three days then the last step after sanding down and polishing the outside to 400 grit is to let it soak in beer for a couple days longer.
    Some people are purists in that they don’t use anything in the process that is not period, but I’m content if the end result is the same as it would be with period tools. So I wouldn’t go to the beach for sand, I would get sandpaper from the hardware store. And I would be willing to trade in dollars for a horn from a later period of Indian or French Voyageurs reenators–I’m not going to tackle any horned critters myself.
    Beeswax, no, it melts with hot liquids. Also you don’t want some compound that will be toxic or dissolve when it comes in contact with alcohol. Plastic?–eewwww. If you wanted to drink from plastic you could do that at home without reenacting anything.
    Spooky types–if they want to find you they will find you, especially in the Middle EAst. If I meet someone like this I assume if they are really working for some government bureaucracy and not just weird, they will have paperwork and will want to write down something. I give them something ditsy to write down and they go away. Best of all, if you have two sudden leechlike acquaintances with “an uncle in intelligence” who want to know what you are doing, you can tell them about each other! If you get rid of the Maxwell Smart types too quickly, someone less bumbling and less pleasant will take their place. Or maybe your phone will start to have problems. This is all purely conjecture of course.
    Vegetarian is great if someone else will cook it. India is great if someone else will pay for it. But first things first. Where is our benefactor?

  46. John Emerson says:

    I believe that Kron has committed himself to underwriting this adventure.

  47. John Emerson says:

    I believe that Kron has committed himself to underwriting this adventure.

  48. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    …and here he is: the shy and retiring John J. Emerson. In addition to making all the travel arrangements, John is your benefactor.

  49. John Emerson says:

    I’ve bought you all tickets to Dravidia. Pick them up at the ticket counter. A man will be there to meat you when you disembark. Do what he says, even if it doesn’t seem reasonable at first glance.
    Dravidia is a dangerous place, but there’s no real danger, because I’ve bought life insurance on all of you.

  50. John Emerson says:

    I’ve bought you all tickets to Dravidia. Pick them up at the ticket counter. A man will be there to meat you when you disembark. Do what he says, even if it doesn’t seem reasonable at first glance.
    Dravidia is a dangerous place, but there’s no real danger, because I’ve bought life insurance on all of you.

  51. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I told you he’d love this, Nijma…Just as long as you think it’s safe, John. Oh, and hang on to those insurance certificates!
    …. Honestly, he must think we’re awfully gullible

  52. A man will be there to meat you
    I thought Dravidia was vegehoovian.
    I do so hope Mr. Emerson travels with us. It seems he knows so many interesting people. But save your money, Mr. Emerson, you won’t be needing those insurance policies. When one spooky type gets interested in me, another follows and another, until you don’t know what organizations they are all working for. With all those characters bumping into each other and on their cellphones all the time, you can imagine how hard it would be to have some mishap even if you wanted to.
    At the same time we could look for Sili’s Æsir and Vanir. I have always suspected the ones that didn’t stick around as hostages went to Dravidia after their war.
    Oooh! I am so looking forward to this. It’s going to be more fun than one of Graham Greene’s novels.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    Eormanric

    Ermanarich!
    (Though AFAIK that’s a history-book version, like Theoderich, as opposed to the mythical version, in the latter case Dietrich von Bern. Bern being Verona, not Berne, here.)

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