Guinevere, Lancelot & Avalon: Names from Arthurian Legend

by appellationmountain on November 29, 2013

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table...Tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have captivated us for generations.  And I don’t just mean your grandparents and parents, either.  The stories of King Arthur’s rise to power, the forbidden love between Lancelot and Guinevere, and the rest have been well-told tales since at least the 1100s, and probably earlier.

Names from Arthurian legend have long histories.  They’ve evolved across languages and time.  Some of the names on this list come right from the text.  Others are more of a stretch.

Twenty-first century parents probably think of the movies or the musical.  Go back farther, though, and there are countless re-tellings, like the ninth century History of the Britons or the the medieval Le Morte d’Arthur.  The closer to our time, the greater the odds that the name will appear in a wearable form.

If you’re after something just a little bit off the mainstream, but still rich with history, consider a name borrowed from Arthurian legend.

Fair Maidens: Names from Arthurian Legend for Girls

Angharad – Looking for a Welsh heritage choice?  It translates to “more love” and in a collection of Welsh tales, including Arthurian lore, Angharad features in a love story.

Avalon – In Arthurian legends, Avalon was a place, not a person.  In 2013, Avalon reads like a mash-up of Ava and Allison, and thoroughly wearable.

Blanchefleur – Too much for a modern girl?  Maybe in the middle spot …

Bragnae - She’s Isolde’s maid in the ages-old tragic romance.  Early days, it was probably unrelated to the Arthurian tales, but over time, the story was expanded to make her beloved, Tristan, a Knight of the Round Table.

Guinevere – She needs no introduction, and if Genevieve can catch on, why not Guinevere?

ElaineTennyson’s Lady of Shallott, a romantic name that appears in more than one story, and was worn by more than one character.

Eluned – A handmaiden to the Lady of the Lake, and a love interest for Gareth, she is renamed many times over the years, often as Lynette.

Enid - She’s also Enide in some versions, a spelling that intrigues me.

Evaine - Aunt to Lancelot, and bearer of a name that seems exactly on trend for 2013.

Isolde – She was Juliet before Shakespeare.  Also spelled Iseult, she seems accessible in our Age of Isabella.

Lunette – Another sometimes-seen update for Eluned, and a nod to the ever-so-popular Luna.

Lancelot and GuinevereMorgan - Morgan was a sorceress, usually considered a half-sister to the King, and sometimes at odds with her half-brother.  She’s also called Morgaine and Morgana, but most accounts list her as Morgan – making this one of the few true unisex names with a long history of use for girls.

Vivian - From the Latin vivus - alive and she’s often the name connected with the Lady of the Lake.  She’s a benevolent figure. She rescued the orphaned Lancelot and helped Arthur claim the sword Excalibur.  She’s also called Viviane, Niniane, Nimue, occasionally Elaine and – my favorite – Evienne.

Yvaine – Okay, Yvain is a knight, so I’m gender-bending here.  But I’m not the first.  Neil Gaiman gave this name to a girl in Stardust.  It became a movie in 2007, with Claire Danes cast as the fallen star-turned-girl.  And if Evaine is a feminine name in some Arthurian tales, why not Yvaine?

Brave Knights: Names from Arthurian Legend for Boys

Arthur – The king himself, and a classic name newly fashionable.  Selma Blair named her son Arthur in 2011.

Balan, Balin - Not alternate spellings of the same name, but brothers, at least according to medieval tellings.  They wore the surname le Savage.  They seem reasonably wearable in 2013, but you’ll have to pick your favorite.

Caradoc - One of my favorites, from a twelfth century French version.  Probably originally Caradog in the Welsh, and sometimes also Carados.

Constantine - More than one figure answered to this name, and unlike many of the names on this list, there’s historical evidence for the existence of Constantine.

Corbin – Originally a surname for a dark-haired person, from the French corbeau - raven, Corbin or Corbenic is a place name in Arthurian legend.  The castle at Corbenic is home to the Fisher King, the birthplace of Sir Galahad.  There are lots of theories as to the place name’s origins, but if you’re after a subtle tie to Arthurian tales, this is it.

Eric – The name is almost always spelled Erec.  And there may be no connection between the Round Table Knight and the Old Norse name.  But Chretien de Troyes told of the knight’s adventures and his romance with fair Enide, so he definitely merits a seat at the Round Table.

Fergus - Sir Thomas Malory mentions a knight named Fergus in Le Morte d’Arthur.  Like Constantine, there was a real person by the name – Fergus of Galloway was a powerful Scottish leader in the 1100s.  Malory wrote three centuries later, but he based his stories of Fergus on the Roman de Fergus from the 1200s.

Fisher - The wounded guardian of the Holy Grail, The Fisher King is sometimes given a name.  But Fisher might make an interesting choice, an allusion to the legend, as well as the many artistic works that have been inspired by the story.

Gareth – Centuries before Ricky Gervais brought The Office to the small screen, Gareth was a brave knight, and the beloved of Eluned.

GavinUndeniably a knightly name, Sir Gawain’s encounters with the Green Knight is among the best known of Arthurian stories.

Hector – Also known as Ector, he’s Arthur’s foster-father.

Kai - Yes, he feels like a modern invention.  But Sir Kay was Cai in Welsh, and Caius in Latin – one of the first Knights of the Round Table.

Lancelot - He’s Arthur’s best friend, a trusted companion.  But then he falls for Guinevere, and well … that’s the end of Camelot.  But it isn’t the last of the knight’s adventures, as he goes on the quest for the Holy Grail.

LionelA cousin to Lancelot, and the hero of a folk ballad.

Lucan – The son of a Duke, and an early ally to Arthur.  Lucan is nearly a lost name in 2013 – despite many Luc- names in use, he was given to just eleven boys born in the US last year.

Percival - Sometimes spelled Perceval, today this name sounds elaborate, even fussy.  But Percival was no joke – one of the few knights to survive Arthur’s death, and sometimes considered a commoner who rose through the ranks.  In other versions, he’s of noble birth but raised in seclusion by a widowed mother.  Either way, Percival earns his knighthood.

Tristan - His tragic love story with Isolde wasn’t originally part of the Arthurian canon, but over the years they were patched together, and Tristan was promoted to Knight of the Round Table.  He’s a very on-trend name for 2013 – less daring than Romeo, as wearable as Aiden.

Are there any wearable Arthurian names I’m missing?  Would you use any of these names for a child?

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