Medieval Spanish Names from the Monastery of Sahagun

by Antonio Miguel Santos de Borja (Tony Borning)

© 2000 by Tony Boring; all rights reserved. Last modified 15 May 2000

Table of Contents

The Study


There is a wealth of documentary evidence remaining from the Middle Ages in Spain. These documents were retained in the archives of the churches, monasteries, and other institutions of the times. They were preserved both in the original and in the form of cartularies, which were books of copies of documents. The documents in Spain are remarkable both for their quantity and for the quality of preservation. While there is some drift in the text of some documents resultant from the nature of manual copying, the documentary evidence is usually plentiful enough for us to have reasonably accurate versions maintained today. Many groups of documents have been published modernly and are easily accessible in larger research libraries.


Many of these documents have previously been studied by members of the field of onomastics (the study of names and their usage). The one of the most notable works available is Apellidos castellanos-leoneses by R. P. Gonzalo Diez Melcón published by the University of Granada, Spain in 1957. Additionally, there is a journal entitled Antroponimia y sociedad that performs all types of studies into the use of names in Spanish-speaking cultures. Unfortunately, both of these resources are written in Spanish and as such are often inaccessible to the general public and even many who are interested in the field. This study is an attempt to provide original research into the use of names in Spanish history and present it in a form that will be more readily accessible to American students, historians and re-enactors.

One of the compendia of documents that has been published modernly is the Colección diplomática del monasterio de Sahagún by the Centro de Estudios e Investigación "San Isidoro," Archivo Histórico Diocesano, and Caja de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad de León. José María Mínguez Fernández edited the first volume (from which the first group of documents comes), Marta Herrero de la Fuente edited the third volume (containing the second group of documents). José A. Fernández Flórez edited the fifth volume (the source of the third group). The documents contained in this collection can be found primarily in the Archivo Histórico Nacional de Madrid. In the Middle Ages they would have been contained in the archive of the institution to which they pertain. Sahagun was a monastery in the see of Leon established in either the late 800s or early 900s in the name of Saints Facundus and Primitibus. This monastery reached its peak in the High Middle Ages and is now defunct.

The documents include simple ones such as the change of title of a vineyard from one person to another and documents as complicated as the proceedings of a judicial inquiry with all of the transcribed testimony of the witnesses. Of moderate complexity are certain wills and official documents from the court of the king. The original documents contained (as is typical of the documents of the period) many abbreviations, suspensions, and contractions which have been expanded by the editors.


In this study, there is an attempt to systematically study the names found in three groups of documents. The documents of the first group are numbered 17 through 66 as found in Volume 1 of the above-named collection, edited by José María Mínguez Fernández. These documents record the sale or gift of various properties to the monastery and range in date from 917-935 CE. Documents from the third volume (edited by Marta Herrero de la Fuente) and numbered 1019 through 1068 comprise the second group. The first of these documents is dated September 18, 1097 and the last is dated April 1101. The third group (found in Volume 5, edited by José A. Fernández Flórez) is the documents 1850 through 1899 dated between March 13, 1289 and June 2, 1300.

In compiling the lists of names, I read through each of the documents recording each time that a different person appeared in a different document (this will be hereafter referred to as a citation). A person will have more than one citation if they appeared in more than one document. Persons of the same name within a document will have separate citations. I used context mostly to determine genders. Husbands, fathers, bishops, canons, etc. were men, while wives, daughters, abbesses, queens, etc. were women. The first group (dated from 917-935 CE) contained 573 male citations and 34 female, the second group (dated between 1097 and 1101) contained 744 male citations and 66 female, and the third group (dated between 1289 and 1300) contained 922 male citations and 32 female. Names are presented in tables sorted by frequency.

An attempt was made to limit the citations to the actual names of the person referenced. In many cases there was additional identifying information provided within the document, but this information did not seem to be a part of the name of the person. For the most part, these additional identifications are titles (e.g., Sennor de Uiscaya or episcopus Legionensis). The majority of these cases left but a single given name. The lists of citations were also analyzed for construction patterns and types of by-names.

Once the lists of citations were compiled these lists were analyzed for various factors. Frequency distributions were made for the given names individually, looking at both number of citations and percentages of the totals for each group. Variant spellings were considered to be one name. From these distributions an analysis was made of the language from which each name was derived. The most valuable resource in this stage of analysis was Diez Melcón's aforementioned Apellidos castellanos-leoneses.

The lists of citations were also analyzed for construction patterns and types of by-names. By-names fall into one of four categories: patronymic, toponymic, occupational and epithets. Patronymic by-names distinguish an individual by his father's name. In these documents, they are formed in two primary ways - either by using the father's name in the genitive case in Latin or by adding a suffix to the stem of the father's name (most commonly -ez or -iz). Toponymic by-names designate individuals through the use of their place of origin. The most common method in Spanish is to place the word de (meaning "from") before the name of the place, but there are some examples of adjectival and unmarked toponyms. Occupational by-names refer to the occupation of the bearer, and are commonly formed by adding the suffix -ero to some word particularly associated with the occupation (e.g., carnicero for "butcher"). Epithets are personal descriptions of the bearer, usually in adjectival form. Some individuals use more than one of these by-names at a time and the use of combinations can be suggestive of certain things, such as an elevated station. In the data compiled, it was unusual for a woman to bear any by-name, but those who did used only a patronymic.

The Study
The Names, First Group
The Names, Second Group
The Names, Third Group
The Historical Influences
Works Consulted

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