Arlene Sindelar

title.none: Postles, The Personal Name (Arlene Sindelar)

identifier.other: baj9928.0801.012 08.01.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Arlene Sindelar, University of British Columbia,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Postles, Dave and Joel T. Rosenthal, eds. Studies in the Personal Name in Later Medieval England and Wales. Studies in Medieval Culture, vol. 44. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publication, 2006. Pp. xii, 391. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.01.12

Postles, Dave and Joel T. Rosenthal, eds. Studies in the Personal Name in Later Medieval England and Wales. Studies in Medieval Culture, vol. 44. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publication, 2006. Pp. xii, 391. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Arlene Sindelar
University of British Columbia

Joel Rosenthal's introductory essay frames this collection of articles by pointing out that the act and process of naming, so important in our own personal lives, has largely been taken for granted by historians. He and his co-editor, David Postles, have shown that is no longer the case by gathering together a collection of fourteen articles--eight of them published previously--that decipher what personal names and naming reveal about the cultures and societies of the medieval past in England and Wales. The papers in this collection present an overview of past research, and recent specialized case studies, all raising questions for further research. It is particularly valuable to have such significant groundbreaking articles as Cecily Clark's 1978 Speculum article "Women's Names in Post- Conquest England: Observation and Speculations," included with the publications of other historians who have relied and built on her work.

Part I introduces the concerns of onomastics, the study of names and naming, with articles by Rosenthal, his co-editor David Postles, and Clark. The editors have structured the rest of articles in the volume according to their approach to kinds of populations rather than chronologically, geographically, or even topically. Yet as Rosenthal's introduction confesses, most articles cross thematic boundaries and employ various approaches to their data, making any arrangement quite arbitrary. He identifies three chief lines of analytical inquiry: the intimate relationships of family household, friends, kin, and patrons; the broader cultural influences of ethnicity, class structure, and language; and the development of a very limited stock of popular names, indicating "an anti-individualized way of staking a claim to one's place in the world" (4).

Cecily Clark's 1987 article, "English Personal Names ca. 650-1300: Some Prosopographical Bearings," provides the historical prosopographer with technical knowledge necessary to profit from the conclusions of anthroponymy, the study of personal names, to more precisely interpret names of their populations under study. Tracing the changing trends in naming conventions and patterns from the Old to Middle English periods, she explains how personal and family names both reveal and obscure the bearer's ethnic and social origins in the tangle of Old English, Continental Germanic, Scandinavian, pre- or post-Conquest, or Christian influences. As much as the historical community owes the compilers of the reference books of names gleaned from the broad array of primary sources, Clark urges a reappraisal of their interpretations and resultant etymologies. Prosopographers and genealogists, she asserts, should work together with the anthroponymist to develop a more informed understanding of the historical and cultural meaning of English names.

The third introductory article, "Identity and Identification: Some Recent Research into the English Medieval 'Forename,'" by David Postles, problematizes the question of identity through a name bestowed upon a person by others, not as an expression of self-hood. Postles articulates the book's theme throughout the various articles as working out the significance of naming as it was negotiated and contested among various social and cultural influences. He presents the several distinct twelfth-century changes bringing new influences to the social coding of names and the process of naming. But whatever the factors affecting name choice, by the late Middle Ages the pool of the most popular names for both sexes contracted to fewer than ten and remained so into the early modern period. Postles concludes with a discussion of nicknames, bynames, and surnames--an area of the field that he has made peculiarly his own--that likely did describe some aspect of self and provided individual identity attached to the handful of common nomina that dominated the population from the thirteenth century on. At the end of Postles' sweeping discussion is a very useful bibliography that includes most of the works of scholarship referenced throughout the volume.

The articles in Part II, Social Groups, deal with issues relating to the impact of defined social communities on the naming process and what names reveal about those units. Clark's second article, "Women's Names in Post-Conquest England: Observation and Speculations," deals with the role of marriage in cultural identification and transmission in Anglo-Norman England. Her analysis of female names in early charters support the explicit statements by chroniclers that intermarriages between Norman lords and English women were frequent and consequently blurred distinctions between free-born English and the Normans. Building on the premise that wives, nurses, and other women in the household served as the primary instruments of cultural transmission, Clark constructs a picture of the late eleventh-century English military elite household in which boys bore solid Norman names, daughters more frequently carried English ones, and all children were raised learning both maternal and paternal tongues. By the end of the twelfth century, Insular English names were disappearing in all classes within the time frame of two to three generations, replaced by Continental names made popular by the Normans. Clark addresses possible reasons for this cultural shift, but concludes that by 1200 the fashion for selecting fashionable French Christian names for girls lagged significantly behind the trend for boys, and represents enduring Anglo-Saxon cultural influence in the homes of both the elite and the lowly.

Virginia Davis, in "The Popularity of Late Medieval Personal Names as Reflected in English Ordination Lists, 1350-1540," focuses on the narrowing of the range of male forenames in the English population. Seeking to pinpoint the precise timing of this development, she relies on the English Ordination lists for a database of 8000 names to chart the broad trends of their rising and falling popularity. Throughout the entire period the name of John is dominating in its popularity; William, Thomas, Richard, and Robert consistently round out the top five names. These five names accounted for about 75% of all given names on the lists. Her appendix analyzes the fortunes of the rest of the names that appear among the top twenty choices. It is in those names that the most significant shifts occur over the period, appearing to reflect changing political, social, and religious sentiments in the population. For example, good old Norman names decrease significantly, and the appearance of two new names in the fifteenth century, Christopher and George, denotes the religious influence of two of the most influential devotional cults of the late Middle Ages: the cult of the Holy Name and the cult of St. George.

The next three articles all deal with the importance of spiritual kinship and godparents in the naming process in England and each relies upon the Proofs of Age records contained in the Inquisitions Post Mortem (IPM) to show that not only did godparents name children at Baptism, but that the chief same sex godparents usually bestowed their own name upon them. Michael Bennett's lengthy article, "Spiritual Kinship and the Baptismal Name in Traditional European Society," begins by exploring the history of spiritual kinship and its impact on naming practices from the fifth to the eighteenth century. He traces the rise of spiritual kinship as an impediment to marriage in Merovingian Gaul and how compaternitas appeared at times to have created a more emotional bond than blood. Spiritual kinship in medieval Europe, Bennett declares, increasingly transcended the social boundaries of age, lineage, rank, and race and "served as the warp and weft of the social fabric" (125). Men of rank and wealth in post- conquest England apparently acted as godfather to many more children than the average person, contributing to the phenomenon of a limited name pool becoming dominant in the population. A study of spiritual kinship, Bennett suggests, could reveal the spheres of local influence and the hitherto invisible connections between individuals and families in English communities.

Philip Niles' "Baptism and the Naming of Children in Late Medieval England" further investigates the role of godparents in naming children, and challenges the use of forenames by historians as evidence to establish a suspected family relationship. He argues that Christian names cannot be relied upon to indicate family relationship, since godparents, not the parents, named the children, a custom still visible in sixteenth-century parish registers. The power that godparents exercised in naming the child was quite striking, and although there is indication that they often followed the expectations of the parents, godparents did sometimes act quite independently. The importance of the intimate relationship created at baptism indicated by the English word gossibs implies a social intimacy that leads Niles to support Lawrence Stone's conclusion that the medieval family was indeed more porous and less nuclear than many historians, such as Alan MacFarlane, are willing to admit.

In "Social Connections between Parents and Godparents in Late Medieval Yorkshire," Louis Haas employs Yorkshire records from the IPM in conjunction with other administrative records for an intensive examination of the web of relationships between parents, heir, and godparents. He discovers that 62% of these tenants-in-chief chose godparents lower in status, while only 8% selected godparents who were higher in status, contrary to the conclusions of other historians, including Bennett and anthropologist Stephen Gudeman, who worked with different populations. Few of the parents had any discernible feudal relationship of any kind with the heirs' godparents. Haas concludes that spiritual kinship was intentionally used to extend rather than intensify kinship networks in Yorkshire, that the frequent choice of godparents of lesser status and of the clergy intentionally reduced the danger of future marital impediments, and that parents often manipulated the naming process by selecting godparents who shared their own names.

The following study by Peter Franklin, "Normans, Saints, and Politics: Forename Choice among Fourteenth-Century Gloucestershire Peasants," turns to the lowly peasants on the well-documented estate of Thornbury. He establishes that Norman names and twelfth-century imported names from the continent largely replaced Anglo-Saxon male and female names in the peasantry by the first half of the fourteenth century. Whereas the 1322 Extent of Thornbury Manor and the 1327 Subsidy Roll of Gloucester serve as good sources for the analysis of male given names, it is only the records of the merchet payment in the contemporary Thornbury manorial court rolls that provide a list of peasant female names substantial enough for analysis. His study suggests that peasants' naming choices may have reflected their political and religious views through their selection of royal and saints' names, but that by this period, any tendency they had of naming their children after their own lords (as suggested by Clark in her second article) had disappeared.

The three articles grouped in Part III pertain to using names and naming as a method of charting social and political change within a geographic region or specific populations. "Some Aspects of Regional Variation in Early Middle English Personal Nomenclature," by John Insley, considers the regional differences in the survival of Scandinavian culture and the impact of Norman or Breton immigration. Examining the names in Anglo-Saxon writs, cartularies, and Domesday Book, as well as the name lists compiled in the reference books, he emphasizes two major directions for future research. Although there have been excellent regional studies published, a systematic framework that defines geographic onomastic zones in medieval England has not yet been constructed. A broad timeframe is necessary to observe the dynamic changes in naming and these developments must be meticulously analyzed in their historical context. Secondly, all types of sources must be used so that every social group is adequately represented.

Heather Jones urges historians to learn to "think like a statistician" (212),in her project "Comparing Historic Name Communities in Wales: Some Approaches and Considerations." She establishes a more rigorous statistical method of analysis to draw conclusions and to make comparisons between unequal populations with greater confidence. With painstakingly explanation, she determines the appropriate sizes of populations necessary for comparison, and whether a record that produces a pool of names containing duplicates is as statistically useful as a list without them. Her resolution of this latter issue makes unedited court records as valuable as tax records in establishing naming practice. The article concludes that the "distribution of name popularity remains remarkably consistent" across all the populations she studied, and although foreign names generally appear primarily near English settlements, this changes over time and the difference was no longer distinctive (244). For those historians confused by her technical discussion of statistical method, she cautions that evidence from small populations or anecdotal evidence, unsubjected to statistical rigor, limits the types and validity of conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence.

Dave Postles' second original contribution to this collection, "Resistant, Diffused, or Peripheral? Northern Personal Names to ca. 1250," compares Cecily Clark's conclusions concerning women's names in the post-conquest era to name data from the North of England. Using manorial surveys, plea rolls, and cartularies, he discovers that there was little cultural homogeneity across the northern counties as various cultural traditions of naming competed with Norman influence and coexisted for most of the twelfth century. Among the peasantry, Insular names persisted even longer, into the next century. Interpreting these results, Postles suggests that peasant naming practices may have served as a tactic of cultural resistance.

Part IV particularly focuses on what the effect of the Norman Conquest on naming patterns reveals about its social and cultural impact. In "The Domesday Jurors," C.P. Lewis probes whether Norman lordship replaced Anglo-Saxon landownership as completely as the Domesday Book appears to indicate. Using lists of the recorded Domesday jurors in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire that comprise both Saxon and Norman landholders, he argue that the survey did not include all freeholders in 1086 England, namely those at the second level of tenancy below the tenants-in-chief as well as those who held only part of a manor. He identifies a few of the English and French jurors as landholders listed in the survey, and once he includes the rest of the jurors the number of English landowners quadruples, uncovering at the county level a largely English society.

"Names and Ethnicity in Anglo-Norman England," by Stephanie Mooers Christelow, analyzes forenames, surnames, and bynames to highlight "the shifting expressions of ethnicity," as the Norman French conquerors "were well on their way to becoming English" by the middle of the twelfth century (371). Anglo-Saxon surnames usually designated occupation, rank, or place of residence rather than family lineage or kinship as they did in France. The Norman conquest, however, encouraged some native English to emphasize their ancestry in adoption of surnames even as they began selecting French forenames for their children, effectively identifying themselves and being identified by others as Norman. By 1150, descendents of William the Conqueror's continental followers had abandoned their surnames indicating their French origins in favor of English or ambiguous ones.

Taken together these studies reveal a broad array of contributions to our understanding of the complexities of society, identity, and relationships in England and Wales, and show what it is possible to achieve when the tools of the onomastic, statistician, and prosopographer are used to mine the resources of names and their cultural significance. The name data in article appendices and the volume index itself supply ready access to the wealth of insight, guidance, and information that this useful compilation of articles contains for the historian of political, social, and cultural change.