George Beech

title.none: Geuenich, et al., Nomen et Gens (Beech)

identifier.other: baj9928.9810.001 98.10.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: George Beech, Western Michigan University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Geuenich, Dieter, Wolfgang Haubrichs, and Joerg Jarnut, eds. Nomen et gens: Zur historische Aussagekraft frühmittelalterlicher Personennamen. Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. Berlin: Wal ter de Gruyter, 1997. Pp. 303. $198.00124. ISBN: ISBN 3-110-15809-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.10.01

Geuenich, Dieter, Wolfgang Haubrichs, and Joerg Jarnut, eds. Nomen et gens: Zur historische Aussagekraft frühmittelalterlicher Personennamen. Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. Berlin: Wal ter de Gruyter, 1997. Pp. 303. $198.00124. ISBN: ISBN 3-110-15809-4.

Reviewed by:

George Beech
Western Michigan University

N omen et gens is the title of a new scholarly undertaking of a group of German medievalists for a comprehensive study of personal names among the peoples of the migration period from late Antiquity to the 8th century. Led by Dieter Geuenich of Duisburg, Wolfganw Haubrichs of Saarbruecken, and Jorg Jarnut of Paderborn, this group is seeking to gain a clearer understanding than has been available in the past of the value or utility of personal names for historical research; as in the subtitle of this collection: "Zur historischen Aussegekraft fruehmittelalterlicher Personennamen". Specialists have long recognized that the early Germanic single names (this project deals exclusively with the single names of the early medieval period) could convey family membership through element repetition and variation, as well as presumably indicat{ng ethnic origin - i.e. whether, for instance, the bearer was a Frank, Goth, etc. And Latin names among the Germanic peoples seemingly identified the persons in question as of Roman origin. But the editors point out (p. vi) that more careful scrutiny of individual cases in recent years has cast doubt all these assumptions and led to substantial disagreement among specialists. It is their contention that the inadequacy of current knowledge of the name stocks (repertories) of the various Germanic peoples of this time lies at the heart of the problem. A few names are already known to be, for example, Ostrogothic due to the celebrity of the bearers, but the great mass of those appearing in the sources have not yet been so identified. Greater clarity on the this subject should help to resolve the disagreements by giving scholars a better idea of what any given name can tell about the different groups or categories to which the bearer belonged, his ethnic connection (his gens, or Volk), his family, and his social status.

This group is approaching the problem by seeking to identify the name repertories or stocks (the full range of different names) peculiar to each of the Germanic peoples of the migration period: Franks, Bavarians, Alemanni, Goths, Burgundians, Lombards, Saxons, and Thuringians. These will be entered in a database at Duisburg (which already houses the prosopographical database of 400,000 individuals created by Karl Schmid and Joachim Wollasch at Freiburg and moved there in 1988) to serve as the resource for the inquiries prposed here. This is a collaborative enterprise between historians and philologists (linguists) with the latter playing a vital role in the task of identification, particularly of names the origins of which are doubtful. Dieter Geuenich cites (p. 288) an example to illustrate. Fifth-century Latin sources mention two Alemannic kings at the time, one named Gebavult, the other Gibuldus. With their particular expertise linguists are in a better position than historians to determine whether these names refer to two different men or are simply variant spellings and point to the same man (can 'Bavult' be a variant form of 'buldus'?). Often complicating the problem is the fact that many of the scribes who wrote these names down were Romans, hence struggling to render into Latin texts names foreign to them, born by people who spoke a different language from their own, and for which there were no standard written forms. The Personennamenbuch to be created in the database will thus be of interest to philologists and historians of the early Germanic languages.

The historians' contribution to the enterprise will take the form of gathering and incorporating into the entry for each name certain kinds of historical information about the bearer. In the concluding essay of the this collection, Walter Kettemann, as director of the database at Duisburg, reproduces and comments on the standard questionnaire used for each entry. In addition to listing the source(s) of the information, the manuscript form of the name, and the date, each entry will tell (in the words of the author of the entry) what is known about offices held or functions performed, blood and marital relationships, and will conclude with a brief commentary summarizing what is known historically about the person in question as well as his name. Thus this is a prosopographical as well as a philological database, and thereby differs from the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (Martindale et al.) which is exclusively historical. It is hoped that systematic information about marriages, ancestry and descendance will make possible more accurate study of the early Germanic systems of naming than now possible (without genealogies of individual families it is impossible to know if repetition and/or variation were consistently practiced). In the final analysis the aim of this group is historical: to see how much can be learned from a comparative study of personal names about the various groups to which people belonged. This project goes back to the early 1990's when its spokesmen received a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to procede with their research on one of the early migratory peoples, the Alemanni (at that time their request for funding for all the Germanic peoples was turned down). (An English translation of their project description from the mid-1990's may be found yn Medieval Prosopography, 16:2 (1995), 143-9.) In December 1995 the group held its first formal colloquium at Bad Homburg for the purpose of presenting its project and inviting comment and criticism. This volume contains 18 of the papers (all but one in German) read at that time by members and invited participants, both historians and linguists of Germanic and Romancm languages. The papers cover a considerable range of topics, regions, and time periods, not all treating the early medieval period nor do all the authors directly address the central question about the historical value of personal name studies. In an opening essay Stefan Sonderegger describes in broad outline the main principles of Germanic naming for the entire period of the early Middle Ages ("Prinzipien germanischer Personnennamengebung," 1-29), and Helmut Castritius complements this with a survey of Roman naming practices in late Antiquity, in which he lays emphasis on the gradual abandonment of the early custom of three names in favor of a single one by the time of the invasions ("Das Romische Namensystem: Von der Dreinimigkeit zur Einnamigkeit," 30-40). Other linguistic approaches confine themselves to individual peoples ('gentes') and more restricted periods. Maria Arcamone examines Lombard names in early medieval Italy, ("Die Langobardischen Personnennamen in Italien: nomen et gens aus der Sicht der linguistischen Analyse," 56-75) and the French historian Francois Menant follows this with a study of Lombard aristocratic naming practices in the 11th and 12th centuroes ("Ancetres et patrimoines: les systemes de designation dans l?aristocratie lombarde des XIe et XIIe siecles," 176-89). In his "Stammerweiterung bei Personennamen: ein regional spezifisches Merkmal westfrankischer Anthroponymie," (190-210) Wolfgang Haubrichs brings to light a series of changes over time in the formation of west frankish names which led to the extension of original namestems tkrough the addition of suffixes in 'l', 'n', and 'r'. Differences in the recording or writinw down of names as influenced by scribes coming from different ethnic backgrounds (Goth, Frank, etc.) are examined by Heinrich Tiefenbach in "Schreibsprachliche et gentile Pragung von Personennamen im Werdenerurbar A," (259-76). Related to this is Reinhold Hartel?s "Namen und Personenbezeichnungen in differenten Textsorten," (226-41), an examination of the way in wkich the same name could be written differently in different kinds of documents or texts. Norbert Wagner ("Ostgotische Personennamengebung," 41-57) describes what can be known about Ostrogothic naming customs in the 6th century from the approximately 250 different personal names surviving from that period in Italy.

In addition to the regional studies just mentioned several historians confine themselves to an analysis of names of a single people or region during a limited time period. Thus Walter Pohl summarizes current views about Avar naming customs ("Die Namengebung bei den Avaren," 84-94) in light of the fact that so few Avar names are known that there is difficulty in distinguishing between names and personal titles. Werner Bergmann?s "Personennamen und Gruppenzugehoerigkeit nach dem Zeugnis der merowingischen Koenigsurkunden," (94-105) finds that the witnesses to the approximately 100 Merovingian royal charters, 6th - 8th centuries, fall into four separate categories or groups. The only article to study naming practices other than among the ruling classes is Dieter Hagermann?s "Die Namengebung in den unterschichten der Karolingerzeit," (106-15). The Romance linguist Dieter Kremer is the only scholar to take into account naming practices among Germanic peoples in Spain (Catalonia) in his "Zur Romanisierung von Personennamen im Raum der Gallier et Hispanier," (211-25).

Three of the historians reflect on more general questions surrounding naming customs among the early medieval aristocracy. In his stimulating essay, "'Nobilis non vilis, cuius et nomen et genus scitur,' - A Quotation from Isidore of Seville," (116-26) Jorg Jarnut reaches the tentative conclusion that names could not be considered the exclusive property of individual families as widely believed heretofore and reminds the reader that nobility stood among their contemporaries not only through their names but also through their dress, weapons, modes of travel, places frequented, etc. In "Namengebung und adliges Selbstverstaendnis," (127-39) Gerd Althoff argues forcefully in support of the traditional view that although nobles were not obligated to give traditional family names to their children, those names were nonetheless a powerful expression of noble self- consciousness. The formation of peoples ('nations,' 'Voelker') and the linguistic expression of the emerging countries of Western Europe after the Carolingian period is the subject of Bernd Schneidmueller?s "Nomen Gentis. Nations- und Namenbildung im Nachkarolingischen Europe," (140-56).

Standing apart from all the above is the essay of Matthias Springer, "Gab es ein Volk der Salier?" (58-83) in which the author comes to the startling conclusion that no such division of the Franks (into Ripuarians and Salians) ever existed. A linguistic misunderstanding led Julian the Apostate to mistake the Frankish word for comrade for a proper noun or name and all subsequent writers followed him without detecting the error.

Dieter Geuenich collaborated in writing the brief introduction to this collection (pp. v-viii) and then concludes it with a description of his own research on the Alemanni and some of his preliminary findings, "Das Pilotprojekt zur gens Alamannorum: Erste Erfahrungen met einem Teilprojekt von Nomen et gens," (279- 90).

Viewed collectively these studies are a melange rather than a unified whole and testify mainly to the varied interests of the individual participants. But this is not intended as criticism. The purpose of the symposium where they were read was to make known the nature and dimensions of their project which had only just begun and not to present results. To me the beginnings are impressive and the entire undertaking most promising. The huge mass of personal names surviving for the very early Middle Ages must be one of the last great bodies of documentary sources for that period still relatively unexploited by modern medievalists. The group now focussing on this material includes specialists in onomastics and the history of the migration period, and they have a database already operating and at least partially financed. And when it comes to the computerization of personal name data, a matter of no small degree of expertise (consider only the problem of lemmatizing a personal name for which there are ten or twenty variant written forms), they can draw on the experience of their predecessors of two decades ago who carried out the publication and analysis of early medieval Germanic monastic necrologies (Munster project). Indeed Dieter Geuenich was one of the participants in that earlier undertaking. If this group is as successful as those in the necrology project one can anticipate that their results will have a significant impact on the understanding of the migration period. Nomen et Gens is the second large-scale research project of its kind to be launched in recent years, the other being the French Genese medievale te l'anthroponymie moderne, functioning since the late 1980's and also directed by historians, mainly French but also including Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese scholars. In effect medieval historians, after long neglecting the study of personal names out of the belief that this was the domain of linguists, are now reconsidering and seeking to take advantage of a written source they once dismissed as too technical or of little interest. But this new movement, if such it is, is notable by its absence among English-speaking medieval historians. For instance, what would be more natural or obvious than that Nomen et Gens would include an English delegation to study Anglo-Saxon names of the early period? Surely those names will be best understood in relation to the continental practices from which they derived. The Nomen et Gens group pointedly takes into account all the continental Germanic peoples outside the boundaries of modern-day Germany (France, Italy, Spain), but not the Anglo-Saxons -- because the subject is not cultivated there?

The study of personal names by historians has a tenuous existence in England today, and an even more tenuous one in the U.S. In each country a single journal specializes in names (Nomina in England, and Names here) but both publish on all periods and deal with place-names as well as personal. I don't recall ever having heard of personal name studies forming part of the graduate education of American medieval historians, or of anyone who ever taught the subject. The standard American reference work of the 1980's, (The Dictionary of the Middle Ages) has no entry under 'names', 'personal names', 'onomastics', or 'toponomy' (in contrast to the Lexikon des Mittelalters). The present-day medievalist who wants an account in English of the principles of Germanic naming (the subject of Sonderegger?s opening essay in this collection) would have to turn to an outdated Hopkins thesis of 1939 by Henry B. Woolf. Nor is there in English a general historybof names and naming in the Middle Ages -- a splendid survey by Michael Mitterauer, Ahnen und Heilige: Namengebung in der europaeischen Geschichte, (1993) is available only in German. Perhaps the research of the French Genese and the German Nomen et Gens will begin to change this.