Episode 117: What’s In a Name?

The origin of modern naming conventions can be traced to the period immediately following the Norman Conquest. Prior to the Conquest, almost all people in England had a single Anglo-Saxon name.  After 1066, parents gave their children names borrowed from French and from the Bible.  People also started to acquire second names based on their landholdings, place of origin, parent’s name, or some personal characteristic.  These were the beginning of many modern surnames. In this episode, we explore the history of English names, and we examine how naming conventions reflect the evolving culture of England in the Middle Ages.

19 thoughts on “Episode 117: What’s In a Name?

    • That would make my life easier. We’re members of an organisation that my parents were/are members of (my father is deceased). When I meet people who know my parents, I’m often saying something along the lines of “Hi, I’m Laetitia; Bill and Bev’s daughter.” That would be condensed to “Hi, I’m Laetitia Billdaughter Bevdaughter” (although maybe it would be with my parents’ proper names rather than their diminutive versions).
      Of course, it wouldn’t help my husband who finds himself introducing himself as “…; Laetitia’s husband” so that people have a connection reference. 🙂

  1. Very enlightening and helpful to those of us who are family historians and amateur genealogists! Looking forward to the next installment. 🙂

  2. Hi, another great episode thanks.

    On the subject of the de prefix having disapeared from surnames. It still appears in surnames where the placename began with a vowel. Names such as Deveraux ( meaning from Evreux in Normandy) and Darcy (of Arcy) . my favourite, however is De’ath. ( I did once hear of a doctor with that surname).

  3. On the subject of common folk being called of somewhere, the patron Saint of Rochester in Kent is a baker called William of Perth. He was murdered on his way back from a pilgrimage to Canterbury in 1201.

  4. Your bit about Margaret to Mags is also interesting. Mags is, I understand where the name of the bird Magpie comes from. We often named animals after human names. Magpie meaning Coloured Margaret. Another example is the Robin. I know this is a diversion but it is an interesting one.

  5. I’ve always suspected that at least some nicknames originate as mispronunciations made by younger siblings, i.e. ‘Betty’ is much easier for a toddler to say than Elizabeth. Any thoughts on that possibility?

    • It’s certainly possible. However, according to my research, unintentional mispronunciations were a relatively small factor. I think the origin of most common nicknames have been identified by modern scholars, and most follow a regular pattern or have a more clearly traceable history.

  6. Hi Kevin Stroud, you are pretty cool teller unfortunanetly im not good at speaking english and cannot normally make out of what you talk of its about 35% of what you tell but its still fun to learn english through your podcasts like i do like germanic languages though i wanna be understanding all of those podcasts you have ever made as i marked earlier you are cool thanks for all your podcasts i hope others like them as much as i do.

  7. Thank you for creating this podcast. I’ve been a fan since day one

    I found it super interesting that an “R” in the middle of a name would be at times turned into an “L”.
    I speak Spanish. My parents are from Venezuela and Cuba. I live in South Florida, where there are Spanish speakers from various places. In my observation, Puerto Ricans have a tendency to put an “L” sound when an “R” falls in the middle of a word. So for example: When spoken, Puerto Rico becomes “Puelto Rico”.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I suspect that the tendency for the ‘L’ and ‘R’ sounds to become confused has to do with the fact that linguists classify both sounds as “liquid sounds.” Even though they are consonants, they both have vowel-like qualities because they are pronounced in the open cavity of the mouth with air being constricted around the tongue with very little friction (unlike vowels which have no friction). Just as vowels have a tendency to shift around, so do the liquid sounds.

    • Thanks for the link! By way of coincidence, I was listening to an old episode of the ‘Talk the Talk’ podcast today, and they were discussing this very study. The funny thing is that it was one of their early episodes from 2011 (Episode 20 to be precise) because this study was originally completed back in 2011. Anyway, it’s a fascinating study. Thanks again.

  8. Notes on Cockney rhyming slang: usually only the first word of the rhyming couplet is used. For example “have a butcher’s” means have a look, from “butcher’s hook”; “use your loaf” means use your head, from “loaf of bread”; “telling porkies”, from pork pies (lies). By the way the internet is infested with long lists of rhyming slang expressions, including extensive folk etymology, and fanciful neologisms (Britney Spears = beers) but only a small number is in day-to-day use.

  9. Pingback: Five Faves 11-30-18 • Katie Quinn • History of English; Book Exchange

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