Feminine Given Names in
A Dictionary of English Surnames


Talan Gwynek, Fause Losenge Herald Extraordinary
(Brian M. Scott, bmscott@stratos.net)
© 1994 by Brian M. Scott; all rights reserved.


The following annotated list of women's given names has been compiled primarily from A Dictionary of English Surnames (DES), by P. H. Reaney, with corrections and additions by R. M. Wilson. I have tried to include every citation of every name that was both clearly feminine and cited from a specific source, though I may of course have missed a few. These citations are of two kinds. Most are incidental; for example, Moulde Clowser 1546 is intended to illustrate the surname Clowser, not the forename Moulde. Some, however, illustrate the forename from which a modern surname derives, as Amicia 1189 may be a source of modern Amis. Most citations of this latter type are early, even if the given name persisted into the present. E. G. Withycombe's Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names (DECN) appears to be rather less subject to this kind of temporal bias, so in an attempt to round out the picture of spelling variants and dates I have added a considerable number of citations from it. Withycombe, however, concentrates on names that still survive and in so doing omits the common Middle English descendants of a number of Old English names. Quite a few of these became hereditary surnames and are therefore to be found in Reaney's collection, but their forms are a bit under-represented. I have therefore supplemented what I found in DES with citations from The Anglo-Saxon Heritage in Middle English Personal Names: East Anglia, 1100-1399 (MEPN) by Bo Seltén. Like Withycombe, Seltén discusses several names not found in DES. These are few in number and less generally accessible than those in DECN, so I have added them to the compilation. In particular, I have added all feminine names in MEPN for which there were forename citations in the nominative case as well as a few others for which the evidence, though scanty, was unmistakable. Seltén's citations incidentally include a number of names not of OE origin; some of these were not in DES, and I have added them to the compilation when I have noticed them. The others were used to fill out the lists of citations for the names already found in DES (though again only when I have noticed them). Finally, I have added a few forms and dates from Early London Personal Names (ELPN), by Eilert Ekwall, limiting myself however to the later (i.e., post-Conquest) forms. I should have liked to include data from Charles Wareing Bardsley's Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (DEWS) as well, but time did not permit me to do so; this is unfortunate, because I know that it contains a number of forms not found elsewhere in my data as well as a comparatively large number of later forms.

Format and Conventions

Each form found is entered under a standardized headword in small capital letters. Headwords not found as such in DECN are in italics. In some cases DECN has a slight variant of my headword; if the difference is small enough, I have not italicized my headword, though I have indicated the exact form found in DECN. I have generally used as the headwords the forms chosen by Withycombe, but in some cases these are distinctly modern; in such cases I have preferred to use a more typically mediæval form. Names of OE origin have been given normalized headwords reflecting their development in ME. These have been chosen to show a typical development; whenever possible I have chosen a development that is actually attested in the material available to me. In some cases, however, none of the available forms is typical, so I have been forced to mark the headword as a hypothetical reconstruction. (In most cases access to more material would probably turn up examples of the chosen form.) For the convenience of the modern reader I have always represented consonantal v by v, not u, in the headwords.

Immediately following the headword there is often a brief note on the etymology of the name; there may also be a word of explanation of one or more of the forms. Further information may be found in the appropriate article (if any) in DECN and in the article(s) in DES listed in square brackets at the end of the note. (If the citations reference only one article in DES, or if all of the referenced articles contain information about the name, I have not bothered to list the article(s) at the end of the note as well.) If the name is of OE origin, yet more information may be found under its OE spelling in vol. II of MEPN and sometimes in ELPN.

Next follow the full forms of the name and the citations for these forms, listed in chronological order. Citations from DES are given in the form <date> <headword>. For example, for the form Agatha under the headword Agatha we find the citation `1279 Sloper'. This means that in the article on the surname Sloper in DES there is a citation dated to 1279 in which Agatha appears as forename. Citations are separated by semi-colons unless they come from the same article, in which case a single headword follows a list of dates separated by commas. Thus, a citation like `1086, 1207 Aylett' indicates that the form Ailleth of the name that I have standardized as Ailith can be found cited from 1086 and 1207 in the article in DES under the headword Aylett. Note that I have used the headword in DES rather than the page number; this was done to allow this compilation to be used in conjunction with earlier editions of DES. I could have given both, but the resulting compilation would have been unacceptably long. I have, however, included every citation from DES. I have done this in an attempt to give as clear a picture as the data would permit of the changing usage of women's names in England from the Conquest until 1600. (In four cases, once each for Agnes, Alice, Emma, and Joan, the `reference' consists of three asterisks (***). In these four cases I found the name somewhere before page 50 of DES but inadvertently failed to record the location. I should be very happy to hear from anyone who happens to find one of the missing references.)

There are also citations from DECN, MEPN, and ELPN. In most cases these consist of a date (or a list of dates separated by commas) followed by (W), (S), or (E). A (W) indicates that the form is cited from DECN, and specifically from the article named in the headword for my entry (or its variant as indicated in the introductory brief comments). As (S) or an (E) indicates a citation from MEPN or ELPN, respectively, from the article whose headword is the OE form given in my brief comments. In a few cases I have cited names from MEPN that are not derived from OE names and occur only incidentally in Seltén's citations; in this case the reference includes the OE headword under which the citation will be found. Thus, `1228 (S: Æðelgifu)' in the list of citations for Ascelina under the headword Acelina indicates that in Seltén's article on Æðelgifu there is a citation showing the use in 1228 of the forename Ascelina.

After the full forms of the name I have left a blank line and then listed any hypocoristic and diminutive forms that I was able to identify; the citations for these forms are handled just like those for the full forms.

Some forms are given in DES and MEPN with a final apostrophe, which I have been careful to include. This indicates a suspension, or scribal abbreviation, in the original source. Sometimes this stands for nothing more than the artificial Latin inflexional ending, but sometimes it is impossible to tell for certain what it represents. Such forms should be assumed to be incomplete abbreviations unless the same form is attested without the apostrophe.

Both DES and MEPN have many examples of women's forenames used as metronymic surnames. I have included many of the earlier examples as giving information on possible spelling variants, since in almost all cases these exhibit true metronymics. Since there seem to be some fairly consistent differences in the way given names and metronymics were recorded, however, I have marked these forms by appending a `*'. I have also included forms found as metronyms in the Latin construction filius (or filia) <name>. In some cases these have obviously been declined as Latin names; in others they seem not to have been declined at all. In all cases I have marked them `(g.)' to indicate that they may illustrate a Latinized genitive rather than the nominative case of the name. Unfortunately, it appears that Withycombe sometimes cites such forms without comment, though I assume that she does so only when she takes them to be uninflected; and I am not entirely certain that she has not included a few forms that I have marked with an asterisk.

The authors of all four of my sources were to some degree at the mercy of the editors of their sources. It is therefore possible for instance that some forms shown without Latin endings actually had such endings in the original manuscripts. Similarly, some of the forms may have been misread or modernized by earlier editors. There are few obvious instances of this sort of problem in DES. At the other extreme, I am fairly certain that many of the forms in DECN have been modernized by the convertion of consonantal us to vs (e.g., Avicia for Auicia), and I suspect that some are missing scribal suspensions. (There seem to be a very few instances of the conversion of consonantal u to v in DES as well.) I therefore consider her forms to be a little less trustworthy than the others. MEPN is probably the best of the lot, as Seltén was concerned to get the forms exactly right and to correct previous editorial errors. In some cases he seems to have been able to re-examine the actual manuscripts.

It also appears that Withycombe was less exacting about dates than the other authors; in particular, I have evidence that her 1273 may actually cover several years. I found a few instances of what appeared to be the same citation given with two slightly different dates in DES; in most cases I have given both dates anyway. I have also corrected a very few of Reaney's dates and spellings on the basis of the apparently more careful citations in MEPN.

The names in this on-line edition are available through an index of all name forms cited. The citations are sorted into three time periods: pre-1250, 1250 to 1450, and post-1450. Each name form is linked to the headword under which it appears.

Interpreting the Data

It should always be remembered that the original source material consists solely of official documentary forms. This is quite obvious in the case of such superficially Latinized forms as the masculine Ailwardus, clearly representing a ME Ailward. Often, however, it is much less obvious. Felicia, for example, may in most cases be a strictly documentary form for the vernacular Felis; but because it, like a number of other Latin forms, has been (re-)introduced in modern times as a genuine use form, we are likely to interpret it as a use form in the mediæval context as well. The early metronyms, especially when they are simply postposed to the given name without the intervention of Latin filius/filia, often give a clearer picture of the vernacular forms and their diminutives. It is common for forenames of OE origin to be written with the Latin feminine ending -a, while as English metronymics the same names are written with the English feminine ending -e. Latin ae was often reduced to e in the Middle Ages, so the feminine Latin genitives that classically end in -ae often end simply in -e in the manuscripts. The resulting form is ambiguous, especially when the name is derived from OE. For example, Aelive (g.) is probably the inflected genitive of the slightly Latinized Aeliva, but it is likely that it is also the English form of the name in the nominative case. In the data it is probably safe to assume that forms ending in -e and marked `(g.)' are inflected from Latinized forms ending in -a; in many cases, however, there are also forms in -e in the nominative case. In general I have commented on the apparently genitive forms only when they do not show this pattern. Uninflected forms after filius/filia generally resemble the English metronymics (indicated by an asterisk) more than the forenames.

The relative numbers of citations can be used to get an idea of the relative popularity of different names, but only with considerable caution. Rare names are over-represented in DES because when they produced surviving surnames, Reaney seems to have taken extra pains to illustrate the early development. Moreover, my decision to record only one citation for each date means that the most popular names are greatly under-represented. It is none the less clear that some names were very common during this period, though not necessarily at the same time; among them were Agnes, Alice, Cecilia, Elizabeth (late), Emma, Isabel, Joan, Juliana, Margaret, Margery, and Matilda (and their variants and diminutives). Others were rare, perhaps unique, like Popelina. In general the names of OE origin do not appear in these data much after about 1300 or so, though probably many of them actually survived another century in some form. Despite my best efforts, later forms are likely to be under-represented. Knowledge of which names have survived to the present can serve as a partial corrective.

The Names

Names attested before 1250: Æ to A B to E F to J K to M N to S T to Y
Names attested 1250 to 1450: A to B C to E F to I J to Mar Mas to R S to Y
Names attested after 1450: A to Z



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