Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Popular Medieval Names from Henry III's reign (1216-42)

I don't really update this blog any more - I'm still thinking about names, but university has impeded the amount of time that I can think about other topics in depth. Still, it was with some interest that this story about the most popular names in the Fine Rolls of Henry III, dating 1216-42.

A summary article is available here.
All the male names are ordered on the project's blog here, and female names here, with extra female names from 1242-8 here. Anyone who's just interested in names for finding unusual examples or exploring 'legitimacy', then there's some interesting examples on the list such as Sapientia, Mazelina and Engeram (and Licorice).

In terms of considering naming trends etc., a few things from the press release sparked off thoughts for me:
- More diversity in female names - 57.8% of men had top 10 name compared with 51.8% of women. 9.44% of women had names that occurred only once, compared with 3.38% of men. This is a general trend that has continued to today - I don't have all the data to hand, but my general inclination says that with English names, this has always been the case. I'm now trying to think (and if you read this post and can think of an example then let me know) where there is much more diversity in male names - perhaps Biblical names? Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Ruth, Rachel, Rebecca, Esther, Lydia -I don't think that it's being overly sensational to say that those names cover the gamut of acceptable Biblical names. By contrast, there are many more male names that are viable - even if you just use the name of the books of the Bible - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, Joshua, Timothy, Samuel, Daniel - all of these names seem popular and normal, without getting to the more obscure Biblical book names such as Habakkuk and Haggai.

- Just continuing the 'Bible' theme-  these lists show a time before 'Bible names' were the norm - only John and Thomas appear in the male top 10, and Isabella and Joan (and those are stretching it a bit) in the female top 10. There are only eight instances of Mary and one Elizabeth (although I wonder if this is a consequence of the pervasiveness of Latin, letting Isabella be more popular)

- Having worked a lot with Anglo-Saxon sources, where it seems that every woman is called some form of Aelf/Aethel/Here/Wulf/Ead + gyth/swith/flaed/run etc., the variety of forms of female names is interesting. And I suppose, the absence of these 'Anglo-Saxon' elements, just two hundred and fifty years after the end of the 'Anglo-Saxon' period is also testament to the pervasiveness of Norman names (and I suppose, the prestige attached to them).

- William is at the top. I'm used to seeing 'John' on old lists, and checking the list in G. Redmonds' Christian Names, which has research for 1377-81 (possibly from Pipe Rolls, but I may be making that up, I don't have the book to hand, just the list that I copied into my master names popularity document), John is the #1 name by that time. It may represent a different social milieu, but I suspect the later date has more to do with the change. Alice is #1 in the 1377-81 female list. By 1550, Elizabeth was #1, while John remained until 1700 (with William in the #2 or 3 spot).

I'm sure that there are other things I could witter on about. I suppose if I was doing research into this properly and scholarly, then I'd want to know about the social status/milieu of the people represented in the Pipe Rolls, whether any other documents from Henry III's reign can provide comparable information, what the spread of the data is (whether there are lots for certain years, or if it increases over time), spatial information (collected just from London/towns, or all over England, and whether there's any names with particularly local popularities, and if there's enough to data to do that sort of analysis). I'm sure if I had more time then I can find these things out, but as I don't, I'll just through them out as ideas to think about.