medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Chara Armon <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Does any list member have suggestions about where to read about naming
practices in the early Christian centuries and the Middle Ages?  I am
particularly interested in finding out whether the choice of a child's name
was regarded as the responsibility of either mothers or fathers.

Dear Chara,

i know just enough about this subject to be a danger to myself and a real
threat to others.

you might consider floating your question over on the medieval history list,
where there are quite a few folks who have actual knowledge on the subject
(not to say that anyone here doesn't, of course).

once you find your way into the literature --and i can't think of an easy way
to do that, just off the top of my head-- you'll find that there's more there
than you would ever wish for, especially if you're into reading a lot of
really heavy-duty German prosopographical scholarship (which gives me a
headache, on principle).

the study of the "_namengut_" [why isn't that "namenguten," btw?] is an
essential tool in prosopography, especially that of earlier periods, when
written sources are scarce and we may have litter more than names and
fragmentary family relationships to go on.

most of the literature i've seen or seen reference to is of a rather practical
--rather than theoretical-- nature, by which i mean that scholars are actually
*using* their methodology to propose family relationships rather than
expounding the methodology itself in any abstract detail.

there is, i believe, some kind of on-going, massive Late Antique/Byzantine
prosopographical project around somewhere (German, i presume), but i've never
really looked into it, and whether or not it extends into the early M.A. is
beyond my ken.

i do know that one of the Founders and Heavies of the discipline is
Karl+IBM-Ferdinand Werner, and you might well start with that name.  the only
thing i seem to have in my bibliography is his important and influential

+IBw-Untersuchungen zur Fr+APw-hzeit des franz+APY-sischen F+APw-rstentums (9+IBM-10  
Jahrhundert).+IB0  in: _Welt als Geschichte_, 1958+IBM-60, pp. 256+IBM-89;
146+IBM-93; 87+IBM-119. 

i've not seen this work myself, but, as the title implies, i suspect that it
will deal with only the upper levels of the "aristocracy" --after all, with
*very* few exceptions, those are the only folks about whom we have any
knowledge whatever.

i believe that one of the questions he's dealing which here is one that has
been batted around quite a bit ever since: did the Carolingian aristocracy
survive the Dark Age of the later 9th and 10th c., to emerge again as the
aristocracy of the high middle ages.  

what the statuse of this question is today i know not --but Werner's evidence
is, i believe, particularly founded on the continuity of naming practices.

you might also try subject searches here and there under the word 
"onomastic" [fr. "Onomastique"], or one of its variants.  (a search of the
Indiana Univ. library under this topic yields 140 items, almost all of them
published within the last 20 years or so.)

my own work in the 11th-13th cc Chartrain region gives me a bit of a leg up on
understanding the customs of *that* particular region in *that* particular
period --naming practices varied by both those perameters, i believe; from
region to region and period to period.

in *my* region and period the practice, among the "nobility" (especially the
"lesser nobility," who concern me most), was pretty well universally
established in most families of naming the first born children after the

in actual practice this means that the names of the "lords" of a place very
frequently alternated between two names, sometimes trackable in the documents
for several generations.  (though Death sometimes intervened, of course, and
caused mutations in the pattern.)

thus, the important family of Gallardon (near Chartres), once it had been
established, had several generations of Lords with the alternate names of
"Herveus" and "Hugo."

[this tree is a mess, but you can get a general idea if you skip down a few
generations from the top and start with Herveus I:

accompanying text --also a mess-- is found here: ]

the women of the family, typically, are much more difficult to deal with.

for starters, they are much less well documented, and then have the habit of
running off and marrying outside the family (duh) and simply can't be traced
nearly as well as the guys can (which is difficult enough, let me tell you).

but, from what i can see, first born girls very frequently took the name of
their maternal grandmother.

the most notable exception to this "rule" [i.e., a modern construct, well
founded upon a defective and skewed database] was occasioned when the mother
had married a bit below her station, in which case the first son *might* take
the name of *her* father.

the most prominent example of this is to be found in the family of the counts
of Blois/Chartres itself, where the Daughter of the Conqueror, The Most Noble
Adela (so she is styled) married, around 1080 i believe, the scion of the
house, Stephen-Henry.

their first son was not named, as we might expect, "Theobald," after his
paternal grandfather, but rather "William," after Adela's much more
Prestigeous Pappy --who was no longer just called "The Bastard."

(ironically, for reasons which are unclear to me, William apparently suffered
from some sort of disability or defect which kept him from inheriting the
county and he was shuffled off to hook up with the heiress of Sully-sur-Loire,
from whence they had some progeny of some distinction --was Maurice de Sully a
grandson? i can't recall.)

subsequent sons of Adela did, however, follow the Standard Pattern, being
named "Theobald," "Henry [of Blois]," and "Odo" --quite ancient, established
names within the family, i.e. the family was possessed of a group or pool of
names [the _namengut_] from which names were chosen.

there are, i believe, a few examples of this "Prestige trumps Tradition"
practice among the lesser gentry as well --the lesser folk generally following
the customs of their Betters, wherever they could.

which brings up yet another fly in this ointment: firstborn (or later) sons
and daughters *might* take the name of the Lord (or Lady) who was the
_capitalis dominus_ of the holdings of the family.

*this* could be connected to the question of who was chosen to be the
Godfather [-mother] of the child.  (was William of England Godfather of
Adela's first born?  i don't know and never thought of it before.)

this pattern of choosing a name (and Godparent?) from the class above one's
own can be seen in the few cases of peasant families' names which i've come
across as well --where it somewhat stands out, since the names of peasants
seem to have been rather "archaic," i.e., 11th c. peasants' names might be
essentially the same as the names found in, say, a 9th c. polyptique, which
names were no longer to be found among the aristocracy.

also, very many of the names in use consisted of two or more roots
(_stemmae_?), and sometimes a family could "mix and match," taking part of a
name from one one ancestor on one side of the family, and the second part from
an ancestor on the other side.  schizophrenic children were not uncommon, en
ces temps la.

just a hint of an idea of just how complex these permutations can become can
be seen in this massive work:

Morlet, Marie Th+AOk-r+AOg-se. _Les Noms de personne sur le territoire de l'ancienne
Gaule du VIe au XIIe si+AOg-cle_ Paris, Centre National de la recherche
scientifique, 1968-1985.  3v. Incomplete contents:  1. Les noms issus du
germanique continental et les cr+AOk-ations gallo-germaniques. 2. Les noms latins
ou transmis par le latin.  3. Les noms de personne contenus dans les noms de
lieux.  (n.b., this is "just" an index, without any theoretical appartus.)

here are a couple of other possibilities:

_Nomen et gens : zur historischen Aussagekraft fr+APw-hmittelalterlicher
Personennamen_ / herausgegeben von Dieter Geuenich, Wolfgang Haubrichs, J+APY-rg
Jarnut.  Berlin : W. de Gruyter, 1997.  x, 303 p. 

Morlet, Marie Th+AOk-r+AOg-se.  _Les +AOk-tudes d'onomastique en France, de 1938 +AOA
1970._ Paris : Soci+AOk-t+AOk d'+AOk-tudes linguistiques et anthropologiques de
France, 1981.  214 p.  

an interesting, if somewhat frustrating topic.

good luck.


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