Medieval Naming Guides: Pages to Avoid
WWW Names Pages for Medievalists to Avoid
Last updated 9 Mar 2005
People have lots of different reasons for compiling lists of names, and
most of them don't result in good sources for medieval names. Baby-name
lists are almost always compiled without reference to historical usage.
Genealogical databases usually list names in standardized and modernized
spellings and forms. Character-name lists for gamers or novelists may bear
some relation to historical naming, but they are aimed at modern audiences
with modern expectations. Even scholarly translations of medieval
documents commonly render names in modern English spellings. Any of these
lists might include historical names in authentic forms, but it's almost
always impossible to sort out the modern names from the historical ones.
When you are faced with a name list, here are some signs that it is
probably unreliable as a source of medieval names:
- No dates.
- No list of sources where the author found the names.
- The title of the list includes the word baby.
- There is a meaning given for every name.
- Languages of origin are given with unscholarly terms like
Teutonic or Celtic.
- There is no variation in the spelling of names, i.e. every
William is spelled the same.
Here is a list of some websites that offer name lists that you should avoid
if you are looking for medieval names. They are not useful, or are
misleading, or are erroneous. Note that some of these sites are fine
pieces of work for their intended purposes, but those purposes were
unrelated to historical documentation, and the work is therefore not useful
for the re-creationist.
We haven't listed name-your-baby sites like
this one. There are dozens
of them, and we haven't seen any that contain any reliable historical
information. Instead, we've focused on the sites that you might mistakenly
believe to be good, historical references.
- General Name Lists
- Kate Monk's
previously at http://www.flick.com/onomastikon/ and
- A very large collection of
name lists from many different cultures
around the world, intended for gamers looking for character names. An
enormous amount of research went into the
construction of this site, but the author chose to give no information on
which names were taken from which sources. Her
sources are a hodge-podge of scholarly tomes, baby-name
books, and everything in between. The more focused lists -- like
Medieval English Names -- are better than average, but can
only be taken as a starting point. They can't be trusted without
- Links to baby-name lists all over the web and an index to name
lists from cultures all over the world. It includes pointers into our
libraries, Kate Monk's pages, and all sorts of other odd compilations.
It does index some useful sites, but there's no way to judge the
quality of what you'll find at the other end of the link, and
certainly no attempt to identify the pages that are useful for our
purposes. If you find something you think might be useful,
drop us a line and we'll be
happy to take a look at it.
Ars Magica Names Database, currently unavailable.
- As on-line name lists go, this one was better than most. It
described itself as an effort to provide name lists for various parts
of Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. It didn't give its
sources, though, so each name had to be independently verified.
- Articles on
Surnames from various cultures.
- This page is part of a
website called Heraldry
on the Internet. The links lead to articles at many different
sites. They vary considerably in quality, but are mostly focussed
on modern surnames and their origins. No dates, few references. We
have not found any of these articles useful for medieval name
- Society of Kabalarians of Canada
Baby Naming site.
- This page does not even claim to provide historical background about
the meaning of a name. Instead, they use a system which assigns
a numerical value to each letter of a name and assigns the name a
meaning based on the sum of those values. Obviously, these meanings
are not related to the etymology or history of a name, and so it is
useless for our purposes.
Whisper Kitty's Given Name List
- Intended for genealogists, it is a list of modern names from many
different cultures, with no dates or other historical information.
- Behind the Name, the
Etymology and History of First names, formerly called
The Etymology of First Names and formerly at
- Purported origins of names, at a slightly higher level than most
name-your-baby books, but not at all useful for choosing a medieval name.
Tangwystyl noted the name-lists
themselves are fairly flawed in that neither sources nor usable historic
citations are given and many of the "meanings" and origins are simply
erroneous. The listings also include modern and invented names (I ran
across <Galadriel> in my brief browse). Definitely not a place to browse
for historic names.
- Surnames: What's in a
Name?, currently unavailable.
- Undated derivations of surnames, based on Patrick Hanks
and Flavia Hodges' A Dictionary of Surnames, which is known to
be unreliable. The original copy is gone; I've found excerpts in various places:
- BabyCenter Baby
- A name-your-baby list that some people may find misleading.
It offers lists of names derived from various languages, but of course
gives no sources or support. You can't trust that any name in one of their
lists existed in that language before 1600.
- 20,000 Names and
- A popular name-your-baby site associated with a large
origin-of-your-surname and genealogy site. Neither offers anything for
the historical re-enactor. 20,000 Names includes lists of names by culture
or language of origin and literary association; but they are completely
unreliable. There are surnames listed as given names, names listed
under the wrong language, etc. Avoid this site.
- Another name-your-baby site. It has no historical value at all. It
gives languages of origin for each name, but these are often incorrect.
Many of the "meanings" are wrong.
- Middle Eastern & Islamic Names
Middle Eastern Dance Resource Guide: Names
- This site offers stage-names for dancers. Although it advertises
itself as a list of "Middle Eastern Names", it contains names purportedly
drawn Native American culture, Asian Indian culture, and random parts of
Europe. The site includes an article Names for Dancers and Other
Graceful Souls which presents a mixture of facts, fiction, and nonsense
about names. It has a bibliography consisting mostly of baby-name books,
most of which are known to be rife with errors and inventions. There are a
few good sources mixed in, but the author of the list does not indicate
which names come from which sources, and of course gives no dated
- This site is a collection of information on Arabic culture, intend for
SCA re-creators. It includes
links to several
name lists on the web, none of which is a reliable source for medieval
names. We've reviewed each of them separately:
the Middle Eastern Dance Resource Guide names page,
About al-Islam and Muslims names page,
Islam list of female Muslim names. Eren's name book
has disappeared from the net; it was essentially a name-your-baby list
without pretension to historical accuracy.
Islam and Muslims offers several pages on Islamic names.
- The first two pages may be reasonably reliable, since the names seem
to be drawn directly from the Koran and the Old Testament, but they do not
actually cite any source, so they cannot be trusted without independent
verification that any particular name was actually used in period. The
last two pages contain some names which were used in our period and some
that were not. No sources or dates are given, so there is no way to know
which category any name falls into. These two lists were duplicated
- Islamzine (formerly Islam 101) lists of
male names and their
- Duplicates of two pages at
About Islam and Muslims.
- 'Celtic' or Irish Names
- Fiona Hyland's Irish
- Do not use this site as a source for Society names. It is a
name-your-baby site, with no pretension to being a source for historical
information. It gives no dates or sources, mixes Gaelic and English
spellings without identifying them, and contains many modern names that
were not used in our period.
Goddesses, currently unavailable.
- Completely unreliable. The list includes some Gaelic names, some
English spellings of Gaelic names, some non-Gaelic names. Some of the
names are purely legendary, some are purely modern, and some are
masculine. No sources are given.
Gaelic, Irish, & Scottish Names
- This page offers a collection of lists intended for writers choosing
names for their fictional characters. That alone should warn you that it
isn't a good source for our purposes. Names appear to be taken without
credit from such unreliable or semi-reliable sources as Gruffudd Welsh
Personal Names, and Bice Names for the Cornish. The author
divides names into categories: Irish, Scottish, Gaelic, and Celtic. This
sub-division is meaningless: There is no such language as Celtic,
and Gaelic is the language spoken in Ireland and parts of
Scotland. Each list is a hodge-podge of names from various sources. Some
are unquestionably modern inventions. Derivations and meanings are given,
but they aren't consistent from one list to the next. A
is provided; it contains some excellent sources (O'Corrain and Maguire,
MacLysaght) and some terrible ones (Sierra, Ellefson). Some of the names
listed are excellent, but there is no way to distinguish them from the
rest. Do not use this site as a source for Society names.
Irish Names and Places, site closed.
- These lists of Irish names are poorly researched. Most of the names
are modern spellings of modern Irish Gaelic names; a few are Old Irish or
English spelling. The author used some excellent sources, but apparently
relied just as heavily on modern baby-naming dictionaries. Many of the
names are modern inventions. In some cases, early and late spellings of the
same name are listed as separate names. These pages are useless for our
a Scottish name for your child
- This page is fine for its stated purpose, but useless for medieval
re-creation. recommends two books on Scottish names, Leslie Dunkling's
Scottish Christian Names and Peadar Morgan's Ainmean
Chloinne: Scottish Gaelic Names for Children. Both books are good
guides to modern practice, but neither addresses historical naming
customs or usage. Neither gives period spellings, and they use modern
spellings of names for historical people. The webpage also offers a
link to a modern list of most popular Scottish names, which is useless
for choosing a medieval name.
- Irish Names
- A better-than-average name-your-baby site. It identifies the sources
of some names -- which ones were originally place names or surnames
(and thus probably not use as given names in our period), which ones
are modern coinages, etc. -- and has a separate list of
names, many of which are period names. It also has a
bibliography, but doesn't indicate which names came from which
sources. All in all, not a bad place to start, but you'll need
other references to verify when a particular name was used.
- Gaelicnet, currently
- This Celtic cultural site offers lists of
names (and has a link to a list of
names that was missing when I looked).
Neither has any historical value. The Irish name list contains names
of modern origin like Saoirse, English names like
Bridget and Malachy, and at least one Welsh literary
name, Bronwen. The Welsh name list resembles the contents of
Gruffudd's Welsh Personal Names, but doesn't have that author's
crucial historical annotations. Many of the names are modern.
- The Celtic
Cauldron Celtic Name Compendium, no longer available.
- Lists of masculine and feminine given names, based on a collection of
modern name-your-baby books. This source has no pretension to
Irish Studies Pages Traditional Irish Names
- A catalogue of names apparently copied from a variety of books and
other websites. No sources are given. Modern spellings, English
names, and other foreign names are mixed with early medieval Irish names
without any indication of origin. Useless as anything other than a
- 20,000 Names
- This large site includes lists of "Celtic", Gaelic, and Welsh names
for boys and girls. They contain many errors, including names assigned
to the wrong language (e.g. Dierdre as a Welsh name), incorrect
derivations (e.g. Grainne glossed as "grace"), and incorrect
associations (e.g. Ariana associated with the Welsh word for
"silver"). In short, this is a typical name-your-baby site, valueless
for our purposes.
- The New Order
of Druids Celtic Names Glossary
- Collections names for various "Celtic" cultures, including
General Celtic names. These lists are highly unreliable.
Names are listed for the wrong language. Names from other languages
are incorrectly attributed to Celtic languages. Many of the
etymologies are incorrect or simply nonsense (e.g. Adam is
presented as an anglicized version of Irish Ádamh).
Do not use this site as a source of medieval names.
- Other Cultures' Names
A Collation of Viking Names, by Stephen Francis Wyley
- A collection of names gleaned from sagas, runestone databases,
etc. The source of each name is identified, but because many of
sources are not particularly accurate, the result is not useful
for our purposes. Many names are given in anglicized spellings
or in English translation. There are some transcription errors
in the bynames section.
The Old Norse Name, by Nara no Jebu
- A truly awful source: rife with errors but packaged so as to make
it seem reliable. The introduction is largely plagiarized from Geirr
Bassi Haraldsson's excellent The Old Norse Name, with a few
changes that introduce major errors. For example, the author
changed Bassi's sentence:
The neo-Norseman who has not studied the sagas (a damning admission at
best!) would do best to be advised in the choice of a given name by
someone who is at home in our best source of information for
The neo-Norseman who has not studied his sagas (a shame!) would do
best to consult the appendix of personal names in a saga for a
Medieval Norse name.
This is terrible advice, because the modern editions of the sagas
that have indices generally modernize and anglicize names,
making them very poor guides to medieval naming. The list of
names in the article is not from Bassi, and it is full of typos,
incorrect translations, and fundamental errors. For example, the
author suggests that the first element of a Norse dithematic name
determine its gender; that is simply wrong.
- This site, prepared for Society use, contains a long list of names
copied from various modern
history books. The names are a mixture of Dutch, Low German, High
German and borrowings from French, Italian, and various Slavic
languages. Spellings have been modernized in many cases and many of
the feminine names have no apparent source. At some point, someone
seems to have assumed that any masculine name could be feminized. At
least some of the names are definitely not period.
1066 List of
Knights, at Olive Tree Enterprises
- This list, which we previously though was a good source, turns out to
be spurious. According to Todd Farmerie on soc.history.medieval, it was
compiled hundreds of years after the fact, and in fact only
a couple dozen
of the Conqueror's companions are known from contemporary sources.
Scythian Vocabulary and Names, by Fred Hamori, Umit
Ertim, Marc Hubey, and Elana Romanova
- We recommend against trusting this discussion at all. Other
publications by some of the same authors have been thoroughly
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