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The New Book of Magical Names

By: Phoenix McFarland
Imprint: Llewellyn
Specs: Trade Paperback | 9780738703954
English  |  432 pages | 8 x 9 x 1 IN
Pub Date: July 2003
Price: $27.95 US
In Stock? Print On Demand, only available within the United States

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Names through History
chapter one
From the dawn of humanity, from the time
we began to speak, there were names. The
custom of naming offspring is one every
society shares. The mystique and importance of
our names has grown over many thousands of
years. Nomenclature (the system of naming) is a
fascinating study because it clearly reflects the
mores, customs, and history of a society. Because
we put our names on public documents and record
the births and deaths of our loved ones, we have
access to some of the history of nomenclature.
Our names have changed as we as a culture
have changed. Throughout Europe, traditions
of naming changed after an invasion to reflect
the customs of the new ruling influence. The
dark specter of the medieval church dictated
generations of baby names (these names were
often ugly, ridiculous, and oozing piety).
Conformity was the order of the day and
any variation from it put one at risk. In
those dark times, choosing an unusual
name could lead to death by burning,
hanging, or being crushed under a great
weight of stones.
As the influence of the church waned,
other sources became the inspiration for
a new generations of names. The poets
waxed romantic and our babies had new
names. A queen was popular and much
loved by her subjects, and her name
echoed on in future generations.
In the modern era, actors play beloved
characters on television or in the movies
and new names become popular. We are
now in a time that allows great freedom.
We are free to choose names for our children
and even for ourselves that are not dictated
to us by conquest, an oppressive ruler,
the church, or any social convention.
We are in an age of seeking understanding
and perspective that we achieve, in part,
by looking to the past. We look to history.
We look beyond the fearful fundamentalists
of today, beyond the misogynistic murderers
of the Middle Ages, and back to an era
before traditional religions shaped our cultures.
We are looking back to a time perhaps
when wisdom was valued, nature was
revered, and the feminine was venerated; a
time before humans believed they held
“dominion” over nature, before the quest
for youth and beauty held sway over the culture.
The ancient rites and rituals may have
been lost in the mists of antiquity, but we
can look back at what we do know and bring
some things from that era forward. The
ancient names we chose for ourselves, before
we were named after martyred saints, are
links to the past.
When our primitive ancestors held a new
baby wrapped warmly in the skins of animals
and gave the child a name, they probably
used methods of naming that would
seem odd to us today. Of course, we don’t
know what the ancients named themselves;
their languages have faded from memory
many thousands of years ago. The oldest
names we know tell us that tribes might
choose names for children based on birth
order, a desired trait, deities held sacred by
the tribe, totem animals, rocks, plants, or
weapons. Each little village would build up
stocks of name words, and as villages intermingled
through trade or war, these names
would be spread to new villages and the
name pools expanded. Indo-European cultures
combined two elements from their
name stocks without caring if the name
had a coherent meaning. (For example,
Wigfrith means “war-peace.”)
English names spring from an intermingling
of several different cultures and languages
brought to Britain by her various
conquerors. Celtic tribes from Europe invaded
Britain circa 1000 B.C.E (before common era).
The mighty Roman legions of Julius Caesar
first invaded Britain in 55 B.C.E. In 410 C.E. (of
the common era), a group of Angles and
Saxons began looting along her shores; 300
years later, Anglo-Saxon was the tongue of
“Angle-land.” Viking sea raiders also sought
the tempting treasures Britain held and ravaged
her shores about 750 c.e.. In 1017 c.e.,
the Danish King Canute sat upon the English
throne. The Norman-French invaders
came in 1066, and for 200 years tried to
impose the French language upon the peoples
of Britain, without much success. Geoffrey
Chaucer’s Canterbury Taleswas published
in 1400 and is evidence of a lingering French
influence. By the time of Shakespeare’s
death (1616), Britain was undergoing a surge
of English nationalism and rejected French
influence. Societal, political, and religious
pressures also contributed to the creation of
the English language we use today. This rich
history is reflected in the names our ancestors
chose for their offspring and in the
names we bear today.
Each culture had its own ways of choosing
names for its children. Some of the
ancient Germanic names include words
that mean war, strife, battle, protection,
rule, counsel, raven, wolf, and bear—all of
these were important to the prehistoric
Germanic tribes. The literary classic Nibelungenlied
(a Germanic epic written in 1203
c.e. ) is full of wonderful Germanic “warrior”
names. Many of the methods of namemaking
that our ancestors used are still
used today by native tribes in Africa.

1000 b.c.e. The Celtic Influence
The Celts (pronounced “kelts”), a group of
warrior tribes spread across Europe, emerged
as one of the continent’s most powerful
people in the first millennium b.c.e. They
invaded England in 1000 b.c.e. and settled
there, lending the Celtic tongue to the inhabitants
of England. The Celtic language has
two modern variants: Q-Celtic or Goedelic
(Gaelic) languages, including Erse, Scottish,
and Irish; and P-Celtic or Brythonic languages,
including Manx, Breton, Cornish,
and Welsh. The main difference between the
two is that the “c” or “q” sounds in Q-Celtic
are replaced with “b” or “p” sounds in PCeltic.
For example, the prefix “Mac” found
in many Scottish names is the Q-Celtic word
for “son.” “Mac Donald” means “son of Donald.”
In Welsh (P-Celtic), the word becomes
“map” or “mab.” The influence of the Celts is
strongly felt in nomenclature. A number of
names in current usage are from Irish or Scottish
Gaelic, or Welsh.

55 b.c.e.: The Roman Influence
The Roman invasion of Britain in 55 b.c.e.
had a profound effect upon life in the British
Isles, from changes in nomenclature to
adaptations in the ways in which the people
worshiped their gods. The Romans brought
with them the fashion of creating images of
their deities, which the Celts hadn’t developed
(this is why there are so few images of
Celtic deities). The influence of the Roman
Empire had a binding and homogenizing
effect on most of the civilized world, and
language pools melded into one general
vocabulary as Roman rule expanded across
Europe and Britain. After the downfall of
Rome, the medieval church took over as a
unifying power and became a dominant
force in molding nomenclature for the next
2,000 years.
In Rome, the system of names was very
complicated, involving an individual having
several names that indicated paternity and
tribal association, as well as the name of the
individual. Slaves in the Roman Empire had
no individual names and were given the
names of their masters, followed by the suffix
por (meaning “boy”). Later in history,
Roman slaves were given sexless Greek
names followed by the name of their owners
as a token of dishonor.

400 c.e.: Anglo-Saxon or Old English
“Anglo-Saxon,” in a general sense, describes
the Teutonic tribes (Angles and Saxons) who
invaded England around 400–500 c.e.. Anglo-
Saxon or Old English also describes the language
of those peoples. By 700 c.e., the
language spoken in “Angle-land” was Anglo-
Saxon. The epic poem Beowulf was probably
written in 700 c.e. and is considered a classic
in Anglo-Saxon literature. The influence of
the Germanic (Teutonic) languages emerged
in Old English nomenclature. In Old English
it was common to use name words consisting
of two parts, as in Aelfraed (aelf, “elf ” and
raed, “counsel”). This system of naming can
be traced back as far as 3000 b.c.e. to the prehistoric
Indo-Europeans. Most Old English
names did not survive past the thirteenth
century and were forgotten, thanks to the
strong arm of the church. The only names
that were allowed to emerge out of the distant
antiquity of Paganism were those attached
to Christians.
Elements Found in
Old English Names
Aelf/Alf/Elf: elf.
Beald/Bald: bold.
Aethel/Ethel: noble.
Beorht/Bert: bright.
Beorn/Born: bear; warrior.
Ead/Ed: happiness, prosperity.
Frith/Fred: peace.
Helm: helmet, protection.
Herd/Heard/Hurd: strong, hard.
Her/Here: army, soldier.
Mund/Mond: protection.
Os: deity.
Raed/Rede/Red: counsel, wisdom.
Ric/Rick: rich; rule.
Vin/Win/Wine: friend.
Weald/Wald: power; rule.
Weard/Ward: guard, protection.
Wil/Will: resolve.
Old English or
Anglo-Saxon Names
Regenbeald (later Reynebaud,
then Rainbow)

In Old English, although they did not
use last names, family ties were created by
choosing names that all began with the
same letter, or all used the same prefix or
suffix. Thus daughters of the same family
might be called Mildthryth, Mildburh, and

750 c.e.: The Viking Invasion
Powerful Viking sea raiders from Denmark,
Sweden, and Norway ravaged the coastal
settlements of Scotland and England around
750 c.e. The raids often involved the abduction
of local women, who then became the
property of the victors. The Danes finally
conquered England in 1017 c.e., when King
Canute of Denmark and Norway ruled England
and made serfs of the Anglo-Saxons.
The Scandanavians who settled in Britain
made their mark on the culture and their
history speaks to us through the fossils of
current names. Names like Osborne, Booth,
Svegn, Thorkill, Woolf, Seagram, and Osmond
may come from ancient Viking raider

Current Names and Their
Ancient Viking Roots
Osborne (Asbiorn, God-Bear)
Booth (Bothe, herdsman)
Secker (Sekkr, sackmaker)
Woolf (Uhlfr, wolf-cunning)
Seagram (Saegrmr, sea-guardian)
Knowles (Knol, turnip-head)
Knott (Knutr, square-body)
Osmond (Asmindr, protector)

1066 c.e.: The Norman Invasion
William the Conqueror and his army of
Norman warriors were of Scandanavian
descent, which is to say they were of Indo-
European origin. The Normans came to
England after having conquered parts of
France. Although the Normans and Anglo-
Saxons both originally used a dithemic system
(a stock of name words), Norman
customs changed slightly after their invasion
of France. In France, the language was
of Latin descent and people did not use the
dithemic system. When the Normans stormed
England they brought a very limited stock
of name words with them, fewer name
words than there had been for 400 years
previously. This accounts for the overuse of
a few men’s names, such as Richard and
Robert. Using the few names they had, they
dramatically altered the face of English
nomenclature. The Normans brought with
them biblical names, saint’s names, and Old
German names. Almost all the Old English
names disappeared within three generations.
By 1313, a list of 800 jurors in the Eyre
of Kent showed only five Old English
names; the rest were Norman.
The Normans instituted the first survey
of England. Twenty-one years after their
arrival in Britain, an army of clerks armed
with quills and thin sheets of vellum invaded
every home and interviewed the lord of
every manorhouse. Production of crops,
numbers of workers, sizes of homes, and
heads of livestock were noted. From this
information the Norman rulers were able
to assess and charge taxes. The information,
now only barely readable, was assembled
into a two-volume set of books known
as the Domesday Book (1087). In terms of
nomenclature, it is an invaluable resource
for historians. The Domesday Book indicated
that, a mere twenty-one years after the
Normans came to England (a very short
period of time in terms of nomenclature),
Norman names were most prevalent. In
fact, virtually every name in the Domesday
survey book was Norman.
Norman Names
Helewis (Heloise)
What eclecticism there was decreased by
the middle of the thirteenth century. Unless
an ancient name was associated with an
early Christian saint, it probably dropped
out of use. This was because the early
church made repeated attempts to obliterate
all memory of Pagan classical history,
the source of such names. Old Germanic and
English names were almost entirely replaced
by the names of saints, although
some Old English, Norman, Breton, and
Latin names were occasionally used.

The Prologue of The Canterbury Tales
By the 1300s, Old English (Anglish) was
replaced by a new form of English that was
a mixture of Anglo-Saxon and French
words, with a Norman influence. In 1380,
this “new” English became the official language
for Oxford and Cambridge Universities
in England. Twenty years later, Geoffrey
Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. The
“English” he used in this work is known as
Middle English.

Original Middle English
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour . . .
Modern Translation
When April with his sweet showers has
Pierced the drought of March to the root,
And bathed every vein in such moisture
As has power to bring forth the flower
. . .

1300 c.e.: The Nicknames Era
By 1300, one-third of the males in England
were called either William or John. It was
therefore necessary, to avoid confusion, to
be called by a nickname. For example, Roger
could be known as Hodge, and Robert as
Hob. In fact, the late Middle Ages became
the great era of nicknames. A man born
Richard might never be called Richard, but
Dick, Rich, Hitch, Hick, Dickon, or Ricket.
Robin Hood, Will Scarlet, and Little John are
good examples of nicknames in the Middle
Ages. The name John today is frequently
altered to Johnny or Jack. In the age of nicknames,
however, shortened forms were used much more
often and more creatively than they are today.
In the Middle Ages, John was transformed into
Jack, Johnny,Jenning, Jenkin, Jackcock, Jacox, Brown
John, Mickle John, Little John, or Proper
John. In addition to distinguishing a specific
person from others of the same name,
nicknames were also often a way to advertise
one’s trade or profession, such as
Arthur the Smithy. The advent of the Puritan
movement saw the end of the age of
nicknames, as the pious Puritans saw diminutive
forms of biblical names as irreverent.
The Puritan era was when manners
became very important and titles of “Miss,”
“Sir,” and “Ma’am” came into common

Some Nickname Forms in the
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
Adecock (cock is a reference to one
who is “cocky,” or masculine)
Warinot (later Warren)

At the beginning of the Middle Ages (1050
c.e.), the people of England, Scotland, and
Wales had no surnames. As time went on,
the name pools these cultures drew upon
became too limited; as the population grew,
it became confusing because so many
people bore the same name. Surnames
were once called sir names, because the
nobility were the first to adopt this second
name. The method by which the gentry
chose a surname was usually by association
with their property. Thus, Robert, Lord of
Blackstone Castle or Edward, Earl of Thornfield
Hall were titles that the gentry passed
down to successive generations. By the year
1250 c.e., these titles were passed on whether
the child was residing in the manor or not.
Many of the people in England had adopted
a second name by the thirteenth or fourteenth
centuries, but even by 1465 c.e. the
use of last names was not yet universal.
Before hereditary surnames evolved, the
first surnames were often patronymic
(named for the father by adding “son” to a
father’s name: “Fitz” in Teutonic or “Mac”
[Mc] in Gaelic); some were place names
(indicating residence or origin); others were
names of trade or nicknames that described
a characteristic of the person. Thus William
Jackson, Robin of Loxley, Alywin the Smythe,
or Bodrick the Forgetful were representative
thirteenth-century names.
Many societies clung to the patronymic
system, even though naming through the
mother’s line is much more accurate,

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