Medieval Spanish Names from the Monastery of Sahagun
Analysis and Bibliography

by Antonio Miguel Santos de Borja (Tony Borning)

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

The Historical Influences

General Progression

The data conforms to known systems of progression for other areas of Europe. As time progresses the wide variety of names decreases while the use of by-names increases. The number of people bearing the same name increases over time, producing the need for more elaborate systems of designation. The use of more elaborate systems decreases the need for the variety of given names. Both of these factors can be seen at work through the course of the four centuries spanned by the data at hand. We see in the 10th century sampling, an overwhelming majority (92.92%) of given names alone, followed by small numbers of names composed of a given name plus a patronymic or given names plus toponymic by-names. In the second group of names from 11th century, given names alone are still in the majority (61.36%), but patronymic bynames are have increased to 37.53% of the total. By the end of the 13th century, from which the third sample of data is taken, the most common name construction pattern is that of given name plus patronymic by-name, comprising 41.42% of the time. A given name by itself occurs in 35.85% of the cases. The third most common construction was the most elaborate: given name plus patronymic plus toponymic by-name, in 12.68% of the cases. As we see, the average number of citations per name increases while the percentage of names using by-names (and the complexity of the construction of those by-names) increases.

Mozarabic Migration

The most striking anomaly in the data is the large number of names of Arabic origin within the first set of data. This is however consistent with historical evidence. These people would likely have been part of the Mozarabic migrations that began in the eighth century after the invasion of the Moors. This migration reached its height in the late ninth and early tenth centuries, after the difficulties surrounding the Martyrs' Movement in Cordoba. In the 850s, a number of Christians specifically sought their own deaths by committing acts of civil disobedience and blasphemy against Islam. In reaction, the Moslem overlords of Andalusia stiffened the observation of laws regulating the behavior of non-Moslem members of their society. As a result of this decreased freedom, many of the Christians of Andalusia who had previously become Arabized, though not necessarily Islamicized, moved to the Christian lands in the North of the peninsula. These Mozarabs, as they are called, would have taken their names with them to their new lands. However, as the data also relates, these people would have given their children names that allowed them to fit in with the surrounding Christian population. Hence, the number of Arabic names rapidly declines in the area after the migrations have ceased in the eleventh century - by which time considerable portions of the peninsula had been regained.

Church Reform

Another interesting phenomenon that is visible in this data is the gradual "Romanization" of the main body of the population. As the data presents, the proportion of Latin and Christian names steadily increased through the period while the number of Germanic names decreased. This is a result of a number of things, most prominently the relationship of the Spanish people with the Catholic Church. At the time of the Visigothic invasion of the peninsula, the ruling class of the Visigoths was Christian, but Aryan. The general Visigothic population was then a combination of Aryan and pagan. However, as they settled down in the peninsula, they became more and more Catholic in their theology. The archbishop of Toledo was the primate of the Spanish church at the time of the Arabic invasion in 711 CE. >From that time on, there began to be more and more of a difference between the Iberian Christians' practices and those supported by the Pope in Rome. The practices of the Christians who looked to Toledo became known as the Visigothic rite or the Mozarabic rite. The Mozarabic rite celebrated a number of local saints, mostly Germanic, who were not accepted by the Roman church with its Latin rite. In the ninth and tenth centuries, the Roman church with the assistance of the Carolinian emperors began to exercise more power in the Iberian church. By the end of the eleventh century, many places had begun to experience a number of reforms initiated by the Roman church. These reforms included a revision of the holy calendar, and many of the Germanic saints were no longer celebrated. Latin rite saints replaced them, and the people of Iberia began to look to Rome for their authority, rather than into the Visigothic past that they had previously revered.

In addition to the linguistic origin of the names in the pool, this phenomenon may be seen in the endings that occur on the names. In the first two lists many masculine names appear with a -a ending and many feminine names occur with a -o ending, a grammatical characteristic of Gothic, the Germanic language spoken in Spain. Over time, these names became increasingly rare, as is demonstrated by the fact that the only name with an -a ending in the 3rd group of names, dating from circa 1300 is Garcia. The names in the later lists show the Latinized endings -a for feminine names and -us or -o for masculine names.


In conclusion, the development of naming practices in Iberia during the Middle Ages is fairly consistent with the advancement of culture and technology on the European continent as a whole. There are, however, certain factors that are unique to Spanish history. These factors reveal themselves in the name pool and the naming practices of the people in ways one might not expect.

Works Consulted

Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400-1000. Second edition. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1995.

Diez Melcón, R. P. Gonzalo. Apellidos castellanos-leoneses (siglos IX-XIII, ambos inclusive). Granada, Spain: Universidad de Granada, 1957.

Fernández Flórez, José A. Colección diplomática del monasterio de Sahagún (857-1300). Volume V (1200-1300). León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación "San Isidoro" (CECEL), Caja España de Inversiones, Caja de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad, Archivo Histórico Diocesano, 1994.

Herrero de la Fuente, Marta. Colección diplomática del monasterio de Sahagún (857-1230). Volume III (1073-1109). León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación "San Isidoro" (CSIC-CECEL), Caja de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad, Archivo Histórico Diocesano, 1988.

Mínguez Fernández, José María. Colección diplomática del monasterio de Sahagún (Siglos IX y X). Volume I. León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación "San Isidoro," Archivo Histórico Diocesano, Caja de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad de León, 1976.

Morlet, Marie-Thérèse. Les noms de personne sur le territoire de l'Ancienne Gaule du VI>e au XIIe siècle. Three volumes. Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1968.

Reaney, P. H. and R. M. Wilson. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Third edition. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1991.

Searle, William George. Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum: A List of Anglo-Saxon Proper Names from the Time of Beda to that of King John. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1969.

Withycombe, E. G. The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names. Third edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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

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