13th & 14th Century Scottish Names

by Symon Freser of Lovat (Bryan J. Maloney, bjm10@cornell.edu)

Revised 18 Dec 2000 by Arval Benicoeur, with direction from the Academy of Saint Gabriel.


I have culled out the personal names of historical figures mentioned in John Barbour's Scottish National epic The Bruce; The Book of the most excellent and noble prince, Robert de Broyss, King of Scots. This work was completed in A.D. 1375. My specific source is the Early English Text Society edition, published in 1870 from a manuscript dated A.D. 1487. I used the EETS edition's index of proper names as a guide to hunt the text.

If this list is used as a source for persona names, I suggest in the strongest possible terms that a medieval spelling of a name be adopted. Although I have listed modern equivalents for many names, it was to provide examples of how names have evolved in the last 500 years. When designing a medieval persona and a medieval name is available, it is the height of mental laziness (dare I say stupidity?) to insist upon a modern spelling.

If you are doing a Scottish persona set after 1400, I would consider knowledge of the salient high points of The Bruce, at least, to be de rigeur. So far as I know, the Early English Text Society is still extant. The EETS edition is excellent, with a complete glossary, extensive annotation, and several indexes. Not only would it let you experience an original 14th century epic, but it would be an excellent source for familiarizing yourself with Middle English.

The Bruce, like all "historical" epics (Barbour, himself, called it a Romance: "Lordingis, quha likis for till her,/The Romanys now begynnys her."), concentrates on the powerful. Thus, this list gives a fairly good cross-section of names popular among the nobility and gentry of late 13th- century/early 14th-century England and Scotland (The work covers events from A.D. 1286 to A.D. 1332). It would not be a good indicator of Highland Scottish practices, nor necessarily of the lower classes. In addition, very, very few women's names appear. Nevertheless, Barbour's Bruce is a primary source, from a specifically verifiable period.

I give Christian or given names first. The names are listed in order of greatest to least frequency, with variations for each name. When several variants appear, the names are listed by the first to appear alphabetically. Thus, "Walter", appears under "Gawter". I also list the frequency of that name in The Bruce. I determined this by counting the number of different people who bore a specific given name. The total number of living people (as opposed to saints, Greek philosophers, or King Arthur) whose given names appear in Barbour's Bruce comes to 113. Two of them are women. Isobel/Esobel (Isabel) was the wife of Edward of England. Iohane of the tour (Joan of the Tower) was a prize to be married to Robert The Bruce's son. Their names do not appear in the table, since they appear here.

I then list "surnames", in alphabetical order with variations upon a single name grouped together. Again, a single person could be referred to by several variants upon a name. Barbour violates what is considered in some (SCA) circles to be an airtight restriction on surname usage. I refer to the practice of restricting a name like "The Bruce" to the head of a lineage or holder of a peerage. Barbour violated this principle and referred to "Eduard The Bruce", for example, even though it was Robert who was, strictu sensu, "The Bruce". Eduard was not Robert's heir, nor did he later turn out to inherit the Scottish crown.

Barbour would even refer to "The Bruce" without a first name, and the particular Bruce in question must be deduced from context. I conclude that restricting "the" to a family head or title holder was a great deal less restricted in the 14th century than among amateur medievalists.

To further bolster my opinion, Barbour appeared to use "the" as a synonym for "de", in names like "de Sowlis/the Sowlis". Thus, "the" in Scottish 14th-century usage might be considered another eponymic particle, much as "of" is used in southern and later English dialects.

It was not unusual for Barbour to use more than one spelling of a name to refer to the same person. This only makes sense, since the practice of insisting upon a single spelling for a specific name was a modern innovation in English. Upon reading the book, it is also quite obvious that it was very possible to have to people with effectively identical names. For example, "Robert The Bruce", the king-to-be of Scotland, had relatives named "Robert The Bruce". One wonders where the omniscient, omnisapient SCA College of Heralds was to tell them they couldn't do that.

Modern readers of English appear to have a great deal of trouble with some spelling conventions. Specifically, the use of "i", "u" and "v" to denote the modern letters "j", "v" and "u". The separation of "u" and "v" was just beginning, and "j" was hardly used, if at all, in the late 14th century. Readers should keep this in mind when they see something like "Vmphraville" or "Dauid". Modern spelling would have these names "Umphraville" and "David", just as it would render "Iames" as "James".

There are several letters in Middle English that are no longer in use. Three are important for our purposes. The "yogh" looks like a subscripted "3" except with a tail rather than a bottom curl. It was often pronounced like a voiced German "ch" found in "nach". This letter often appears in modern English as "gh" or "y", but I have chosen to use "3" below. Finally, Middle English used a "long s" to represent what is usually now rendered "ss". Since the German "ess-tset" is virtually identical in form and function, I have adopted ß as a close equivalent. Thus, when you see ß at the end of a name, the modern rendering would be "ss".

Reference: Barbour, John. 1375. The Bruce; or, The Book of the most excellent and noble prince, Robert de Broyss, King of Scots. Early English Text Society. London. 1870 edition edited by Walter W. Skeat.

List of Given Names
List of Surnames
Appendix Concerning William Wallace

Editted & published by Arval Benicoeur

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