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21.04.09 Hammond (ed.), Personal Names and Naming practices in Medieval Scotland

The Medieval Review

21.04.09 Hammond (ed.), Personal Names and Naming practices in Medieval Scotland

This is a collection of nine articles, for the most part papers presented in a conference at the Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studies at the University of Glasgow in 2014. In the opening essay, "Introduction: The Study of Personal Names in Medieval Scotland" (1-18), Matthew Hammond, the editor of the volume, summarizes the current state of knowledge of Scottish personal names, then ends with a brief description of the nine papers presented here. Not much was published on the subject in earlier times but it has flourished notably in the last twenty years. In 2007 for the first time the beginning of a new periodical, The Journal of Scottish Name Studies, then in 2010-2012 a database, "The People of Medieval Scotland" (, which has proven to be a valuable source for onomastic scholars in listing over 21,000 names of people for the period between 1093 and 1314. Another new publication in 2016 was The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland. A distinctive feature of Scottish personal names in medieval times is that they derived from three different languages spoken there in the early Middle Ages: Welsh, Gaelic, and early Germanic. The Christianization of Scottish peoples in the same period also led to the introduction of names of biblical origin, both Old Testament and New Testament. As one might expect, the articles published here include studies of male--and a much smaller number of female--forenames, as well as second names/surnames, bynames, and nicknames. They also deal with the relative popularity of certain names, the introduction of new ones, and the decline of others.

In "Personal Names in Early Medieval Gaelic Chronicles" (18-40), Nicholas Evans examines names occurring in two different Gaelic Chronicles, the Annals of Ulster, an Irish text covering periods from 661-760 and 901-1000, and the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba, 840-later tenth century, this one being Scottish. Both contain names from Ireland and Scotland. Personal names from Scotland, mainly masculine, figure in both chronicles, and most are names of elites, aristocrats, royalty, ecclesiastics, etc. Evans is also concerned to study the creation and use of surnames/family names, as contrasted with forenames/single names, through the use of Mac and Ua (O) to indicate a relationship with a father and grandfather. A major change over the course of time from the Annals of Ulster to the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba was a sharp drop in the use of different personal names. To document his findings Evans includes alphabetical lists of the names, both forenames and surnames, occurring in these chronicles showing their frequency of appearance.

Whereas Evans based his study of Scottish names on texts in Gaelic chronicles, Roibeard O Maolalaigh studies Scottish personal names in Latin charters and other related texts from the twelfth to thirteenth centuries: "Gaelic Personal Names and Name Elements in Scottish Charters 1093-1286" (41-99). These names are available in the "People of Medieval Scotland" database. He notes which ones were widely used hence the most preferred at the time as well as those taken rarely; female names form only a very small percentage of the total. His analysis also looks at their linguistic origins (Gaelic, British Celtic, Gaulish Celtic, Anglo-Norman, Greek, Hebrew, Latin Old English, Middle English, Norse, Germanic). He comes to the conclusion that medieval Scotland was both multi-linguistic and multi-ethnic (45). Complicating the problem of identifying Gaelic names in Latin charters is the fact that charter scribes often altered the spelling of such names into Latin forms not easily recognizable as such. He ends his article with an alphabetic list of the 255 medieval Scottish/Gaelic names which he found in the course of his study.

In the next article Matthew Hammond, the editor of this collection, seeks to find the origins and development of Mac as a surname element among Gaelic people, particularly in Scotland--for example MacDuff. He finds that this took place from the eleventh to mid-thirteenth centuries and was preceded by another term--Ua (which later became O, as in O'Donnell), meaning "grandson of," which was used from the mid-ninth century onwards. Initially these terms, Mac and Ua, simply described the relationship between the person bearing them and an earlier relation, but then they became family names. Hammond ends his article with a chronological survey of the appearance of these two name elements in the "People of Medieval Scotland" database (see above) dating from 1093-1314, and Mac greatly outnumbered Ua. Their frequency increased in the thirteenth century and they were taken in all parts of Scotland.

David Sellar's "Forflissa/Forbflaith/Havrflȍd" (144-47), is a brief article looking into the appearance of a single woman's name in the thirteenth century in Latin and Scandinavian forms as well as Gaelic. This name flourished in aristocratic circles.

In "Masculine Given Names of Germanic Origin in the Ragman Roll (1296)" (148-65), Valeria Di Clemente makes a study of the personal names written in a lengthy document which lists fealties and homages made by Scotsmen in 1296 to King Edward I of England after his victorious campaign in Scotland. She lists alphabetically 62 masculine names which she establishes as being of Germanic origin and proposes the differing ways in which these could have found a place in Scottish naming. Some came from English influences just to the south of Scotland, others from Scandinavians to the east, but most from Anglo-Normans who settled in England after the Norman Conquest in the later eleventh century.

The article of Thomas Owen Clancy and Matthew Hammond, "The Romance of Names: Literary Personal Names in Twelfth and Thirteenth Century Scotland" (166-86), focuses on the penetration of names taken from literary sources into Scottish naming at this time. These were names taken from famous works from what the authors describe as the most prominent literary circles in the central Middle Ages--Rome, France, Britain, and Gaelic. They summarize this with a chart (168) giving the names of the specific works and the personal names drawn from them as well as the numbers of people from Scotland who took them.

The same time period also witnessed the introduction into Scotland of an entirely different category of personal names--Hebrew, Old Testament names--a subject treated by John Reuben Davies in his "Old Testament Personal Names in Scotland before the Wars of Independence" (187-212). Such names were exceptionally rare in the centuries before 1093 but then, as shown in the PoMS database--The People of Medieval Scotland (see above)--spread widely with 9% of all the people in that database bearing Hebrew, Old Testament names, altogether at least 36 different ones. Davies examines each of these names individually, asking which Scotsmen took them, of which social status, from which region, etc. Tentative conclusions: It is highly unlikely, he thinks, that any Jews lived in Scotland prior to this time who would have given Jewish names to their children. The prominence of Old Testament names, which had flourished in in Normandy and Brittany, could have been brought over after the Norman Conquest. So also could participation in the Crusades (starting in the 1090s) have acquainted Scottish people with Old Testament names connected with the Holy Land and Jerusalem. The Old Testament name David could have been given to the future King David of Scotland (1124-53) in the hope that he might have a reign similar to that of the celebrated Hebrew King David (OT, Samuel). David became a very popular name in Scotland after King David's reign.

In his article "Duthac Wigmore and Ninian Wallace: Scottish Saints and Personal Names in the later Middle Ages" (213-20), Tom Turpie presents evidence supporting the thesis that in the 16th-century Scottish people began naming their children after a handful of earlier Scottish saints whose names had not been previously taken: St. Ninian of Withorn, St. Kentigern of Glasgow, St. Constantine of Govan, St. Kessog of Lennox, St. Duthac of Tain. Rachel Butter carries this further in her article, "Saints in Names in Later Medieval Argyll: A Preliminary Enquiry" (221-43). Here she concentrates on surnames embodying Gilla ("servant of") and Mael ("devotee of")--elements found in the names of people in western coastal Scotland (Argyll) in the seventeenth century. She finds abundant evidence of local people having named children after local saints; for example, Gilla Faelan, "servant of St. Faelan."

This collection of articles is bound to be of interest and utility not only to onomastic specialists but also to historians of medieval Scotland in general, in giving them new information about how and why, and from which sources, the Scotch named their descendants. We know more about the period from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries than about early medieval times because of the greater abundance of sources from that period. And the concentration of several authors on the formation of forenames and surnames, and particularly on the use of elements like Mac ("son of") and Ua/O ("grandson of") leading to names like MacDuff and O'Connell will be of particular interest. As will also be the widespread range of Scottish borrowings of names from various sources--literary works, French, German, English, Irish/Gaelic, Biblical (Old Testament/Hebraic), early Scottish saints, etc. The inclusion by several authors of alphabetical lists of names occurring during their period of study will also be welcome. I will add one mild reservation. The lack in this volume of a map of Scotland showing the location of the placenames cited in these articles, especially those of smaller population, sometimes complicates the process of following the author's argument.