Fetching Names: Into the Wayback Machine with the Girls’ Top 25

by appellationmountain on January 20, 2012

Love Tapestry; fragment; Basel c. 1450 Image via Wikipedia

I’m fascinated by names from the Middle Ages. They’re often quite similar to those parents love today, but tend to be almost entirely overlooked.

Nameberry has the Coolator. I’d call this the Medievalizer, except that sounds like a torture device.

Instead, this is a list of the 2010 US Top 25 for girls, with suggestions for parents looking for something just a little different – or maybe something that would be right at home in the eleventh century.

1. Isabella

Isabella would have worn perfectly well in the Middle Ages – she was more common than Elizabeth in most places throughout much of the era. And yet, if you’re looking for something different, consider Isabeau, Isolda, Idonia, or Belsante.

2, 26. Sophia, Sofia

Like Isabella, Sophia is a legitimate medieval appellation. She appears as early as the twelfth century. But for something more exotic, consider Sapphira, Simona, Sabeline, or Selova.

3. Emma

She’s another one on this list requiring no transformation, but parents could opt for an elaboration like Emmeline, Emmelina, or Emmelise.

4. Olivia

This is one of the names that sounds like it could be authentic, but is actually relatively modern. Oliva was a second century saint, but her name had faded. Oliver was a fairly common masculine moniker, but for a medieval girls’ name with similar sounds, consider Oriana or Oriel.

5, 23. Ava, Avery

Av- names are available in abundance: Avelina, Avelot, Avice, and Avina are just a few that feel like they’re borrowed from a past era, while still being wearable in the twenty-first century.

6. Emily

You might have met an Emily in the fourteenth century, but there are other interesting, ends-in-y choices, like Adelie, Mabley, Cecily, and Sidonie.

7. Abigail

This one had me stumped. There’s nothing quite like the -gail ending, and it turns out that even Ab- is relatively unused. Amabel, the forerunner of Annabel and company, comes the closest.

8. Madison

They lack her modern, unisex sound, but this name owes her origins to medieval staples like Matilda and Maude. Another option is Allison – but she feels very twentieth century.

9. Chloe

They’re not related, but Clotilde feels like an elaboration. The Italian Colletta could be another possibility.

10. Mia

She’s super-short, as is period-correct Ada or Ida.

11. Addison

Like Madison, it is tough to find an ends-in-n choice for a girl. But Adela, Adelisa and plenty of other Ad- names are present.

12. Elizabeth

You could use Elizabeth, but Elisende or Helissent has more of that Great Hall vibe.

English: A mural which most likely depicts Ele...

13. Ella

Like Emma, she’s perfectly reasonable for much of the Middle Ages. But Eleanor, Elinora, or Elysande might be more in the spirit.

14. Natalie

Like Abigail, a tough one to medievalize. Nanette might come closest, or if you’re interested in the seasonal ties, there’s always Christmas. Feast days were given as names to both genders.

15. Samantha

Samantha is a modern phenomenon, but Susannah, Sabina, and Sanchia are all options.

16. Alexis

While ends-in-n is a tough category, tailored appellations were common. Two that seem like medieval substitutes for Alexis are Averil and Ailith. Alexandra is another option.

17, 21. Lily, Lillian

The lovely Lily could become Lilias or Lilla. I’m also tempted by Laurencia. Laura was also present, but doesn’t feel like a throwback.

18. Grace

There’s Gratia or Gracia, or even Gratiosa, a rarity spotted in sixteenth-century Venice.

19. Hailey

A modern choice, Hailey’s medieval equivalent might be Hillaria or Hilde.

20. Alyssa

The obvious choice is Alice, but if that doesn’t appeal, variations like Aelis or Aleydis could work.

22. Hannah

Other H- names, like Honora or Havisa share sounds with Hannah. Like many Old Testament appellations, Hannah wouldn’t be in regular use until the Reformation.

24. Leah

Leah isn’t found in the Medieval era, but lots of L names are, like Leolina or Leticia.

25. Nevaeh

No, you wouldn’t meet a Neveah. But you might find a Nicola or an Eva.

27. Ashley

Neveah can be medievalized, but Ashley is a tough one. Ismay might serve.

28. Anna

There’s no need to stray far from Anne, but elaborations and diminutives like Anilla and possibilities like Antea are less expected.

I am indebted to several sources for inspiration for this post: the extensive lists at the Medieval Names Archive, Kate Monk’s Onomastikon, and The Middle Ages.

Are there other Medieval names you’d consider using in 2012?

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