Home Page > Articles by Topic > Class Handouts > Common Naming Patterns
by Walraven van Nijmegen ©2003
1. Introduction to Personal Names
Parts of names: In the majority of European cultures, personal names contain two basic kinds of name element, given names and surnames.
The given name is so called because the family bestowed it upon the child at birth or christening. Given names may be traditional names in the culture, saints, heroes, honored relatives, and so forth. The pool of given names differs from culture to culture. For example, Giovanni is the characteristically Italian form of John, the name Kasimir is almost uniquely Polish, and use of the name Teresa did not spread outside of Spain until very late in SCA period. Because given names vary so much by place and period, describing them adequately is beyond the scope of this article. However, many collections of given names are available on-line at the Medieval Names Archive.
Surnames are the second major category of name element. Today’s surnames are inherited family names, but for most of SCA period, surnames were not inherited but chosen to describe an individual and distinguish him or her from other individuals with the same given name. Such surnames are called bynames.
Byname origins and meanings: To understand how bynames originated, image that you lived in Amsterdam around 1300. You are listening to a friend sharing local gossip about a man named Jan. Now, one out of every ten people in Amsterdam is named Jan, so how will you know which one your friend means? Is it big Jan who lives at the edge of town? Jan, the butcher? Jan, the son of Willem the candlemaker? You need additional information about who Jan is to identify him, and that is what a byname does.
Bynames show up all over Europe in four basic flavors:
The use and relative frequency of each kind of byname varies from culture to culture. For example, locative are the most common kind of byname in English, but are almost non-existent in Gaelic (Ireland and Scotland).
Grammar & Culture: Besides knowing the kinds of bynames, there are issues of grammar important in constructing a name. Each language has its own rules of grammar, with certain expectations. Concern for correct grammar is needed most often with patronymics and nicknames. In some languages, these bynames must match the gender of the person who bore the name. Svensson and Svensdóttir both apply to children of Sven, but it’s clear that one child is a boy and the other is a girl.
There can also be a matter of case, an issue that is difficult to explain if you have not studied a language other than English. In many languages, including earlier forms of English, nouns declined – changing their endings depending on how the word was used in the sentence. Of particular interest for constructing names is the genitive (possessive) spelling.
Finally, in some languages there are rules for changes in spelling and pronunciation under certain circumstances. In Gaelic, for example, bynames may exhibit lenition, a softening of the initial consonant that may be reflected in the spelling of the name. These various issues of grammar often require an expert to get them just right, because the rules of grammar change over time and can vary from place to place. Even the particular names themselves went in and out of fashion as culture and taste changed.
Period Practice: For most of our period and most cultures in Europe throughout that period, people were known by a single given name and single byname. Many people want to register two given names, because that “sounds right”, but that would not have been true to the medieval ear. Today, it is standard practice to name a child with two given names (first and middle) and an inherited surname. But in period, people were known by only a single given name. If a name had three elements, it was usually because two bynames of different type were used. In these cases, one of the bynames was typically a locative or a patronymic.
Another key point is that names were typically constructed all in a single language. A name is not a persona story. Some people invent complicated persona stories, and feel that this creativity must be reflected in their name. Although cultural cross-contact might have brought a Byzantine Jewess into contact with a Flemish merchant, it is improbable that any of their children would have names detailing the account of how the parents met. How many people do you know that have such names?
Thirdly, persons is period who were related did not necessarily share the same last name. A byname describes an individual, and people known as “the cobbler” might only share the same profession, not the same family. Likewise, in most times and places husbands and wives did not share a byname, except in cases of incest. Sven Anderssen’s wife Inga would not be called Inga Anderssen, because she did not have the same father as her husband, and besides she is no one’s son. More likely, she would be known by her own familial lineage, or might be called Inga Svenswyf, if her relationship to her husband was more significant to her friends and neighbors than her parentage.
Finally, there are some sources to avoid. These include (but are not limited to): baby name books, fantasy novels, and sourcebooks for role-playing games. Each of these sources has its own uses, but they are seldom concerned with the same issues that are important for SCA-registration, namely that of documenting usage of a name element by people in a given culture prior to 1600.
2. Period Names by Culture
WELSH: Constraints of time prevent me from doing justice to the popular Welsh culture. Suffice it to say here that the surname book by Morgan & Morgan is quite useful, as are the many articles by Heather Rose Jones (aka Tangwystyl, Harpy Herald).
IRISH& SCOTTISH: [GIVEN] + [NICKNAME (opt.)] + [PATRONYMIC]
Irish and Scottish are two forms of the language Gaelic. Although other languages were spoken in Ireland and Scotland, most people who want an Irish or Scottish name (or a “Celtic” name) mean that they want a Gaelic name. Gaelic underwent a change in spelling conventions around 1200, so early period and late period names will be spelled differently.
A good place to start in constructing a Gaelic name is Sharon Krossa’s (aka Effric neyn Ken3ocht) Quick and Easy Gaelic Bynames at http://www.medievalscotland.org, as well as her article Scottish Names 101. Each article gives background to be considered, as well as clear instructions and advice on when to look for more information.
A note about Gaelic vs. Scots: In addition to Gaelic, there was a lowland culture in Scotland that spoke Scots, a language related to English. Scots named are spelled differently and sometimes constructed by different rules than Gaelic. For Scots bynames, Black is a good source.
Patronymics: In most circumstances, Gaelic people were recorded with a patronymic byname based on the name of their father or another male ancestor. The standard patronym is formed using mac (for a man) or ingen (for a woman), followed by the genitive form of the father’s given name. In women’s names, the patronymic will often need to be lenited (see introduction section on grammar), and this may require the help of an expert. After about 1200, the word ingen was spelled inghean, so there are spelling changes that occurred over time to consider.
In Ireland, it was also possible to identify a person by clan membership rather than with a literal patronymic. For men, this was done using ua before about 1200, and using ó after that date, followed by the genitive form of an ancestor’s given name for who the clan was named. For women, the corresponding particles are ingen uí before 1200 and inghean uí after that time. Some Irish had both a partonymic and clan affiliation name, in which case the patronymic came first. Or they had a two-generation name including their father and grandfather.
Nicknames: When nicknames were used (and they weren’t all that uncommon), the nickname was used alone or placed before the patronymic. So, big Duncan son of Farquhar might be called Donnchadh Mór or fully Donnchadh Mór mac Fearchair.
Locatives and Occupationals: These kinds of bynames were almost non-existant in Gaelic. They are so rare that generalizations can’t be made, except to say that people didn’t use them.
OLD NORSE: [GIVEN] + [NICKNAME (opt.)] + [PATRONYMIC]
Old Norse was the medieval language of Scandinavia and lands settled by the Norsemen (Vikings), Danes, and Icelanders. [DATES] The premiere source of information about names in Old Norse is a book appropriately titled The Old Norse Name, but usually called by the name of its author, Geirr Bassi, by heralds. The book includes helpful information about how grammar in Old Norse affects the assembly and spelling of bynames as well as pronunciation.
Nicknames: The nickname is a frequent component of Old Norse names, but is optional and might have changed at various times in an individual’s life. As with other cultures, nicknames were descriptions used by other people to describe an individual. They were not selected by the individuals who bore them.
Patronymics: All individuals had a literal patronymic, unless they were slaves. The patronymic is formed for a man by adding –son to his father’s name, and for a woman by adding –dóttir to her father’s name. Because of this, brothers and sisters would have different bynames. The children of Sveinn might be Ketill Sveinsson and Sólveig Sveinsdóttir.
ENGLISH: [GIVEN] + [BYNAME] + [BYNAME (opt.)]
By far the most useful book on English bynames is Reaney and Wilson’s Dictionary of English Surnames (the first edition was titled Dictionary of British Surnames), with a lengthy introduction to English surnames and an alphabetical list of surnames with dated citations. The excellent Introduction to Medieval Bynames by Talan and Arval focusses on the kinds of English bynames with many illustrative examples, and is more concise than the Reaney & Wilson discussion. The most common bynames in English are locatives. Bynames began to turn into inherited surnames during the 14th century, though literal bynames can be found through to the end of the 16th century. Some 16th century records include both an inherited surname and a literal locative, and since most surnames originated as locatives, this can look like a double locative. Otherwise, when a double byname appears, a patronym or nickname usually precedes the locative.
Patronymics: In England, patronymics were formed in different ways at different times. Old English patronyms added –ing or –sunu to the father’s name. Later, the ending –son, –doghter, or –wyf came to replace these endings, possibly as a result of Scandinavian influence. These endings virtually disappeared from written records during the 12th to 14th centuries, to be replaced by fitz– names, where fitz means “son”, though records of that time more frequently use the Latin form filius/filia. This does not mean that spoken forms changed – only that preferences of the scribes writing the records may have changed.
There are also patronymics formed from a given name followed by an –s: Williams, Jones; and there are patronymics formed from a father’s pet name. The influence from the Scottish and Irish introduced mac– names into English, and the Welsh introduced some patronymic surnames like Morgan.
Locatives: These make up the largest group of English bynames, and later surnames. Early locatives typically used the preposition de, followed by the name of a town: John de York; Gilbert de Gaunt (Ghent), or else they used at, by, or some other preposition followed by the name of a local geographic feature: Geoffrey Atteford; William atte Clyff; Robert atter Smythe, Edward Bithewelle. During the 14th century, the preposition was frequently dropped from the name, and after 1400 prepositions were no longer used.
Another common kind of locative identifies the region that a person is from: Scot, Flemyng, Norman, Devenschyr. These derive from names of large areas.
Occupationals: An occupational byname in English could describe a person’s profession: Alan le Smyth, Hugh Cobeler; or it could name an item associated with a person’s trade, instead of the occupation itself: John Chese (Cheese), Godwin Prison.
Nicknames: There are a wide variety of interesting and unusual nicknames in English. These often describe a person’s appearance or character, but can just as well be deliberately opposite of a person’s actual description. That is, someone nicknamed Bigge could be a large man or a very small man who only acted big. Many nicknames describe hair color, distinctive clothing, or behavior, but there are many other kinds of English nicknames besides these.
GERMAN: [GIVEN] + [BYNAME]
German includes two major language regions. Along the northern coast of Europe are the Low German dialects, while southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland fall into the High German dialects. Today’s standard German is essentially High German, which became dominant only after the 16th century and the publication of Martin Luther’s Bible. Each region has its own peculiarities of spelling, so it is worthwhile to pay attention to geography when searching through name articles.
There are many fine books on German bynames, but most of them are in German. One of the more widely used books is Bahlow’s Dictionary of German Names, which is the title of the English translation. Bahlow has also authored a book on first names, so it’s important to note which volume one has. A lengthier work on German bynames is the two volumes by Brechenmacher. Like Bahlow, bynames are arranged alphabetically, but not always the way one would expect. For instance, names beginning with the letter T are indexed among the D’s, because of spelling variations in period names. Because of this, some creative hunting is sometimes required.
Germans typically used a single given name and single byname, though all four types of bynames were used. Inherited surnames were in use by the 14th century, though literal bynames can still be found in the 15th century.
Patronymics: Most German patronymics are single the father’s given name with no modification to spelling. However, in some regions an ending (such as –l, –er, or –z) would be added to the father’s name or a pet form of the father’s name to form the patronymic: Heinzel, Menzel, Jenkner, Kunze. Some endings are characteristic of certain regions: the suffix –ing in Westpahlia, and the endings –s or –sen in Lower Saxony.
Locatives: The most familiar kind of locative in German uses the preposition von, followed by the name of a town: Ulrich von Bremen. When the place name is usually preceded by the definite article, it may be included in the byname: Siffrid von dem Schwarzwald (from the Black Forest). For a local geographic feature, the preposition an or zu will be used: Albrecht an dem Ende (at the end of a street or town), Hans zu dem Tobel (from the valley). The article may be contracted in these names: von dem -> vom; an dem ->am; zu dem -> zum.
Occupationals: As with English names, an occupational in German might be the name of a profession, but it could just as easily be the name of an object associated with the profession. Examples of the former kind include: Schmidt (smith), Flaschner (flask maker), Pfeilschyfter (person who attaches arrow shafts). Examples of the second kind include: Becher (maker of wooden drinking vessels), Joppe (jacket, to mean a tailor), Schmalz (lard, to refer to a butcher). Early occupational bynames often appeared with the appropriate article (der for a man, or die for a woman), but the use of articles disappeared later in SCA period.
Nicknames: Germans crafted numerous interesting nicknames, principally based on personality, appearance, or clothing: Stammler (stutterer), Dove (deaf), Luchterhand (left-handed), Mager (thin), Glatthaar (straight-hair), Vöge (skillful), Brodangst (short of bread, i.e. poor), Grönemouwe (green sleeve), Graurock (grey jacket), and many, many more besides.
DUTCH: [GIVEN] + [BYNAME]
Dutch is a language spoken in the Netherlands and related to German. There are many dialects of Dutch, the most famous of which is Flemish, the dialect spoken in Flanders. Dutch derives from the Frankish dialects used in the time of Charlemagne, but it is changed considerably since then. Many features of Dutch also occur in Low German, the dialects spoken on the northwest coast of Germany, so it may at times be appropriate to consider Dutch spellings when choosing a northern German name.
The Dutch used all major forms of European bynames with some frequency, but each person had only a single byname. Such bynames were literal throughout SCA period – inheritance did not begin until the 19th century when Napoleon made it so. Dutch names underwent a radical shift in the 13th century, so all the information you find below will not apply before about 1250. The most readable source in English about Dutch names is Lemmen’s Names from the Netherlands. The serious drawback of this little book is that name elements are not dated, and no distinction is made between names that originated in the Renaissance versus names from the Napoleonic period. The Medieval Names Archive links several fine articles including Loveday Toddekyn’s Names from Bruges, 1400-1600, which includes countless names of guild members with bynames.
Patronymics: Most Dutch patronymics attach either –zoon or –soen (for men) or –dochter (for women) to the genitive of the father’s name. Since the genitive is typically formed by simply adding an –s to the name, this is easy to do. The son of Jan might be Pieter Janszoon. However, an –s is not added if the name already ends in one (Claes ->Claessoen); an –x is added instead if the name ends in a c (Dirc -> Dircxsoen); and some names (especially short names) add an –en instead (Koen ->Koenensoen).
However, with the number of different dialects, there are cultures and places in the Netherlands when other endings are used. For instance, in Flanders it was more common to simply use the genitive of the father’s name, usually by just adding an –s. The Dutch also used metronyms, based on the mother’s name.
Locatives: Dutch locatives are formed with the preposition van, followed by the name of the town. Daniel van Oesbrouc would be someone who lived in or was born in Oesbrouc. For names of local features, the definite article de (“the”) is included but must match the gender of the following noun: Pieter van den Broucke (from the brook), Cornelis van der Donc (from the cellar), and Willem van de Keere (from the turning) are all examples of this. When locatives are formed from the name of a region or ethnicity, this pattern changes: Vrederic Hollander, Mathijs die Lombairt, Elias die Jode.
Occupationals & Nicknames: These other kinds of bynames sometimes took the article de, and sometimes didn’t. Knowing when to use the article is a matter of understanding Dutch grammar, and there are no easy rules, though occupationals are more likely to use them than nicknames. A man could be called: de Wit (the white), Jonge (young), de Groet (the big), Borstelman (brushmaker), or de Cuyper (barrel-maker).
ITALIAN: [GIVEN] + [GIVEN (opt.)] + [BYNAME] + [BYNAME (opt.)]
Because Italy was fragmented into separate and independent city-states, it is impossible to describe one pattern as typical for all of Italy. In particular, there seem to have been significant differences between naming practices of northern and southern Italy. This isn’t very surprising when you consider that southern Italy was ruled by Normans and Spaniards more often than by Italians.
There is almost no information currently available in the SCA on names in southern Italy (south of Rome), and most of the recent articles are name lists from a single city and date. Some articles are quite extensive though, such as the Tratte and Catasto data from Florence (Herlihy). In addition to the several articles available at the Medieval Names Archive, many people make extensive use of De Felice’s Dizionario dei Cognomi Italiani (transl. Dictionary of Italian Surnames). This book is very reliable for what it contains, but lacks dated citations. It has a nearly comprehensive list of modern surnames that is very useful for finding out meanings and origins. An additional list of bynames from Venice appears in the article Fourteenth Century Venetian Personal Names by Arval and Talan.
Like everywhere else, the most common northern Italian name structure was to have a single given name and a single byname. By the 15th century, however, it is possible to find examples of individuals recorded with two given names and individuals with two bynames. Patronymics and locatives are generally the most common kinds of bynames, but in some places occupationals were more common than locatives.
Patronymics: Italian patronymics are formed in one of three ways. One way is to simply use the father’s given name unmodified, so that Marcello’s daughter might be called Bianca Marcello, but this method of forming the patronymic is very rare. A more common way is to change the final vowel of the father’s name to –i or to add one if there is no final vowel: Alberto -> Alberti; Pietro -> Petri. In some cases, a pet form of the father’s name is used: Paolo -> Paolino -> Paolini; Domenico -> Menigo -> Menegi. The third way to form a patronymic is to use the preposition di: Cristina di Uberto, Nicolo di Marco.
In late period Florence a more complicated patronymic construction was common. Florentines used a compound patronym with the preposition di, followed by the father’s given name and his family name: Filippo di Piero Baroncelli, Luca di Giacomo Albizzi. It can thus be useful for people wanting a Florentine name to pick up a history of that city and thumb through the index for the name of a leading family.
An additional kind of byname related to the patronym is the family name. A famous family might come to be known by its own name, such as the Medici family, and members of the family might be known by that name. This was done in late period using the preposition dei: Giuliano dei Medici, Giovanni dei Querini, though the dei was optional: Cosimo Medici.
Locatives: In northern Italy, locatives are formed using the preposition da, followed by the name of the town: Leonardo da Vinci, Donato da Parma. There is also an adjectival form of locative: Genovese (from Genova); Romano (from Rome); Fiorentino (from Firenze, i.e. Florence). When used by women, these forms ended in an –a instead of an –o.
Nicknames: Nicknames in Italian are not always as easy to explain as those in other languages. Examples of nicknames from 14th century Venice include: Cappello (hat); Dente (tooth); Greco (Greek); Stornello (starling); and Torta (twisted).
Occupational: These bynames are relatively rare in Italy, but do occur in names such as: Cimator (cloth-shearer); Faber (smith); and Sartor (tailor). The name Medici also originated as an occupational meaning “doctors”.
FRENCH: [GIVEN] + [BYNAME]
When most people speak of French names or French culture, they don’t realize that there are two major subdivisions of French culture and language. While what we think of today as standard French is spoken in northern France, in southern France a variant known as Occitan, Languedoc, or Provençal is used. Thus, a person wanting a southern French name should not use name lists from northern France, since the two cultures have correspondingly different names.
A wide variety of French bynames may be found in Colm Dubh’s index to the 1292 Paris Census. Unfortunately, the names are arranged according to the given name with which they were recorded, and no translations are given for the bynames. Still, a dictionary and some patience can reap much information from the article. A full list with translations of all occupational bynames was published in the 2000 KWHS Proceedings, so presumably other such lists are in the works. There is also a dissertation by Morlet (yes, that Morlet, but not that book) on names from Picardy with bynames sorted by kind of byname.
Patronymics: These are usually just the name of the person’s father, without any change to spelling or any preposition. This is the most uncommon kind of byname in French.
Locatives: French locatives are formed using the preposition de, followed by the name of the town: Poulain de Sernay, Richier de Brègi, though the preposition is contracted to d’ if the town name begins with a vowel: Perrot d’Atainville, Henri d’Orleans. Local geographic features take de le (which contracts to du) or de les (which contracts to des): Andri du Louvre; Fourchier des Granches.
Occupational: There is no shortage of occupational bynames from Paris. The most densely populated area in medieval Europe was northern France and the Low Countries, and towns and their guilds grew large and fast. Some examples of occupational bynames include: le Charpentier (carpenter); le Marinier (sailor); le Tavernier (barman); le Lavendier (washer); le Poissonier (fisherman).
Nicknames: There are not many nicknames given in Colm Dubh’s article, but there are a few: la Rousse (red); la Noire (dark); le Camus (snub-nosed). Nicknames are more common in other regions, and were as frequent as occupationals in Picardy. Included among the nicknames are a kind of ethnic locative that indicates the region that the individual comes from: le Lombart (Lombard); le Breton (Breton); le Bourguignon (Burgundian).
Note that nicknames and occupational bynames make frequent use of the article le (for men) or la (for women). When either article is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, it will contract to l’: Gautier l’escorchéer, Florent l’ostelier.
SPANISH: [GIVEN] + [BYNAME] + [BYNAME (opt.)]
Early Spanish names are as simple as in other places in Europe. The complicated rules for inheriting noble surnames didn’t exist until after SCA period. Most early records record individuals with one given name and only one byname or none at all. These early bynames were literal, but by the 14th century some people were using inherited family surnames.
Also by this time, it is not unusual to find people with two bynames. The first byname is usually a literal patronymic, and the second byname is a locative (either a literal locative or an inherited surname indicating the residence or history of the family): Maria Gonzalez de Luna (María, daughter of Gonzalo, of the de Luna femily). By the 16th century, triple bynames begin to appear. In these cases, the first byname is usually a patronym, and the other two are locative in origin – though one of them is usually inherited. The other kinds of bynames also appear in Spain, especially nicknames, though occupational bynames were far less common than other kinds.
The single best source on Spanish bynames is Diez Melcon’s Apellidos Castellano-Leoneses (transl. Bynames of Castille-Leon). The book is in Spanish, and the index to sections is hidden at the back of the book, but a passing familiarity with Spanish and a decent dictionary are enough to wrangle the entries.
Patronymics: There are two ways in which patronymics are formed in Spanish. In most cases, the final vowel in the father’s name is replaced by –ez, or if there is no final vowel, then it is merely added to the end of the name: Fernando -> Fernandez; Martín -> Martinez. However, there are some spelling changes that can occur, especially when the –ez follows a g or a q: Diego -> Diaz; Rodrigo -> Rodriguez. The other way to form a patronymic is without modifying the father’s name in any way. This happens with particular names, rather than at random.
Locatives: Locatives in Spanish simply use the preposition de, followed by the place name: Juan de Córdoba, Pedro de Bilbao. One can find unmarked locatives in Spanish (without the preposition), but they are never common. There are three major kinds of locatives in Spanish. First are those that make a territorial claim, usually related to rank of the individual of the family as gentry, e.g. de Luna, de Mendoza. Second are literal locatives that indicate where a person was born or where he lives. Such names are common among peasants, and do not indicate a territorial claim. Finally, there are ethnic locatives: Castillano, Aragones, Navarro, Lombardo. These end in an –a when used by a woman.
Nicknames: Early nicknames in Spanish often followed rules of gender, but tended to prefer masculine endings by late period. Nicknames in Spanish usally refer to prominent characteristics of a person’s appearance or personality: Miguel Gordo (fat), Domingo Barba (beard), Estaban Negro (black), Maria Izquierdo (left-handed), Lope Bueno (good), Sancio Tristo (sad).
3. Peripheral & Minority Cultures
SLAVIC: [GIVEN] + [BYNAME] + [BYNAME (opt.)]
The Slavs include most of the various peoples of central and eastern Europe. The Slavs dispersed across eastern Europe sometime before the 6th century, though there is uncertainty about the date. By the 9th century, three major groups are recognizable: Western Slavs (Poles, Czechs, & Slovaks), Eastern Slavs (Russians, Belarussians, & Ukrainians), and Southern Slavs. The split in Christianity would further split the Southern Slavs into a western Catholic group (Slovenes, Bosnians, & Croats) and an eastern Orthodox group (Bulgarians, Serbs, & Macedonians). The Bosnians and Macedonians converted to Islam after the Ottoman Empire conquered the Balkans. As Russian and Polish are the most popular Slavic cultures in the SCA, only those names will be discussed below.
The single best source in English on Russian names is Paul Wickenden’s Dictionary of Period Russian Names, which includes more than 50,000 entries and which is available in its 3rd edition from Free Trumpet Press. The 2nd edition is available on-line, but lacks a significant portion of the latest version. A very full and useful explanation on how to construct Russian names appears in the current edition, with numerous examples of the possible variations.
For Polish bynames, the SSNO (transl. Dictionary of Old Polish Names) is the largest source of information available. Unfortunately, the six volumes are all in Polish and arranged alphabetically. If you’re looking for a particular name, the SSNO can be very useful, but if you’re looking for a particular meaning, you’ll probably need help from someone with good references. There is a book in English on Polish surnames by Hoffman, but that book does not date its entries and is primarily for use by descendants of Polish immigrants to the United States in tracing their family history. Still, there is a great deal of information about structure of names, grammar, and so forth in the introductory sections.
One important thing to keep in mind when building a Slavic name is that the byname must match the gender of the person. Otherwise, Slavs use the same basic categories of bynames as other European cultures. Patronymics are the most frequent kinds of bynames, but locatives are common in many Slavic cultures, and occupationals and nicknames are not at all uncommon. In early period names, it is usual to see only a single byname, but by the end of period, double bynames appear in Poland and Russia. In Poland, the second byname is typically a locative, while in Russian the second byname would be a familial surname.
Patronymics: In Russian, the most common means of forming the patronymic is to add –ov or –ev, depending on the sound of the final letter in the original name. However, there are rules in Russian about dropping letters to add this ending, and if the father’s name ends in –a or –ia, then that ending gets replaced with –in or –yn. For a woman, an –a is added to any of these endings to form her name. In Polish, the basic ending is –ow for men, and –owa for women.
Locatives: The basic Polish locative adds –ski for a man, or –ska for a woman. There can be spelling changes involved, which are not easy to explain. For Russian, a locative can be formed by adding –skii or –skaia, but these do not seem to be as common in Russian as they are in Polish.
ARABIC: Arabic is the common language in the Islamic world. In the Middle Ages, it was spoken in Spain, northern Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans among other places. A good introduction may be found in The Islamic World (The Compleat Anachronist #51). The article on Arabic names in that volume was written by Master Da’ud ibn Auda, though it has recently been superceded by an updated version available on-line.
Many of the same kinds of bynames exist in Arabic as in European names, but they are grouped differently and so different terminology is used. There are four major categories of bynames: kunya (name of parentage), nasab (name of descent, including patronymics), laqab (descriptive nickname), and nisba (occupational, locative, or naming the tribe or family).
Arabic names have a greater diversity of form and structure than names in most European cultures. The kunya, for instance, precedes the given name, which it would not do in Europe. Master Da’ud’s article will be of much greater use than any summary I could provide here, and you are encouraged to use it.
JEWISH: Jews are not the only minority culture in Europe, but they are perhaps the most familiar and Jewish names are requested more frequently in the SCA than names of most other minority groups. Jewish names will thus serve as an example of what happens to names in a minority culture when it exists within a more populous culture.
Most people know that Jews today speak Hebrew, and that Jewish scripture and religious texts are largely written in that language. What most people don’t know is that Hebrew ceased to be an everyday language before the rise of Rome and was only revived as a spoken language in the 20th century. Medieval Jews used the language of the lands where they lived, and are often recorded with bynames in the local language. While most men used common Biblical given names, women had given names common to the culture in which they lived.
In places where they migrated, Jews often stood out as a distinct local community. They were often known to non-Jews and recorded in documents with the simple byname “the Jew” in the local language. This means that it can often be difficult to assemble a truly Jewish name unless one can find records kept by Jews, or records from a community where the number of Jews was large enough to warrant further distinction in records.
One further distinction important for Jewish culture is that between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews. The Sephardim lived primarily in Spain and Arabic lands until 1492, when they were dispersed by the Inquisition. Prior to that date, Jews everywhere else were Ashkenazim.
Patronymics: We do find some Jewish patronymics. Sons used ben to form the patronymic, while daughters used bas (Ashkenazic) or bat (Sephardic): Avraham ben Yehuda, Hannah bat Samuel. The spelling will often vary according to regional language.
4. Acknowledgments & Further Reading
Special thanks to Juliana de Luna and Evan da Collaureo for advice and feedback.
Recommended sources on related topics:
Academy of Saint Gabriel. (http://www.s-gabriel.org/)
An on-line consultation service for people who truly want an authentic and carefully researched name. Be aware that the best way to get expert help is to do some research of your own first. The Academy can help you better if you’ve already formed some ideas about the culture and time you wish to recreate, and does their best work if you’ve already identified a name or names that you are partial to.
Your local herald. Most heralds in the SCA have some notion of how to construct a reasonable name, or can point you to someone who can. With the use of e-mail it is also possible to contact an expert if you are interested in a particular language or culture.
Arval Benicoeur & Talan Gwynek. Fourteenth Century Venetian Personal Names (WWW: Josh Mittleman, 1999) http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/arval/venice14/
Bahlow, Hans. Dictionary of German Names (Madison, Wisconsin: Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies, 1993)
Black, George F. The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning and History (New York: The New York Public Library, 1986)
Brechenmacher, Josef Karlmann. Etymologisches Wörter-buch der Deutschen Familiennamen (Limburg a.d. Lahn: C. A. Starke-Verlag, 1957-1960)
Bubak, Józef. Slownik Nazw Osobowych: I Elementów Identyfikacyjnych Sadecczyzny XV-XVII w., 2 vols. (Kraków: "Universitas", 1992)
Colm Dubh. An Index to the Given Names in the 1292 Census of Paris (SCA: Proceedings of the KWHS, Meridies, 1996) http://www.sca.org/heraldry/laurel/names/paris.html
Da’ud ibn Auda. Arabic Naming Practices and Names List (SCA: The Compleat Anachronist 51: 38-44)
Da’ud ibn Auda. Period Arabic Names and Naming Practices (WWW: 2003) http://www.sca.org/heraldry/laurel/names/arabic-naming2.htm
De Felice, Emidio. Dizionario dei Cognomi Italiani (Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1978)
Diez Melcon, R. P. Gonzalo. Apellidos Castellano-Leoneses (Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1957)
Geirr Bassi Haraldsson - G. Fleck. The Old Norse Name, Studia Marklandica (series) (Olney, Maryland: Yggsalr Press, 1977)
Herlihy, David, et al. Florentine Renaissance Resources: Online Tratte of Office Holders, 1282-1532 (WWW: Provid-ence, RI, 2000) http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/tratte/
Hoffman, William F. Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 1997)
Jones, Heather Rose. A Simple Guide to Constructing 13th Century Welsh Names (Oakland: Harpy Publications, The Harpy Name Pamphlet Series #1, 1997)
Jones, Heather Rose. A Simple Guide to Constructing 16th Century Welsh Names (in English Contexts) (Oakland: Harpy Publications, The Harpy Name Pamphlet Series #2, 1997)
Krossa, Sharon L. Quick and Easy Gaelic Bynames, 2nd ed. (WWW: Sharon L. Krossa, 1998) http://www.medievalscotland.org/scotnames/quickgaelicbynames/
Lemmen, Loren. Names from the Netherlands (USA: 1986)
MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland, 6th ed. (Dublin: Irish Academic Press Limited, 1997)
Morgan, T. J., & Prys Morgan. Welsh Surnames (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1985)
Morlet, Marie-Thérèse. Étude d’Anthroponymie Picarde (Paris: Les Presses du Palais Royal, 1967)
Reaney, P. H. & R. M. Wilson. A Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)
SSNO - Witold Taszycki (ed.). Slownik Staropolskich Nazw Osobowych, 7 vols. (Wroclaw: Polska Akademia Nauk, Zaklad Narodowy Imienia Ossolinskich, 1965-1987)
Talan Gwynek & Arval Benicoeur. A Brief Introduction to Medieval Bynames (WWW: Sharon L. Krossa, 1999) http://www.panix.com/~mittle/names/arval/bynames/
Paul Wickenden of Thanet. A Dictionary of Period Russian Names, 3rd ed. (Normal, IL: Free Trumpet Press West, 2000)
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