Searching for a royal name that’s more obscure than Mary? Here’s one historic choice hasn’t been worn by a royal in centuries.
Thanks to EK for suggesting the intriguing Gyða as Baby Name of the Day.
If this is the first time you’ve seen her, you’re probably pronouncing Gyda like the unrelated Sanskrit Gita – GEE tah, rhymes with Rita. That’s not exactly right. Gyda’s d isn’t a d, but an eth – ð, a perfectly reasonable letter to appear in Old Norse. (For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be dropping the eth in most of this post.)
Since the letter doesn’t exist in American English, you can either stick with the first pronunciation or spell her Gytha, which is exactly what happened in medieval England, and occasionally ever since.
If that’s not confusing enough, Gyda started out as a pet form of Guðríðr. I honestly can’t hazard a guess as to the correct pronunciation, but the Viking Answer Lady suggests that the first element probably sounded a lot like the “o” in god. All three variations of the name surface in the historical record throughout the Middle Ages, as do Gudda, Githa and Githe.
So make that GUH tha or GEH tha – something of a clumsy sound. Still, the women who wore the name are intriguing.
First, there’s the ninth century Gyda of Hordaland. Legend has it the first king of all Norway – Harald – united the country just to prove his love. (That’s her in the illustration above.)
Then came Gudridr Eiríksdóttir, born in tenth century in Iceland. She accompanied her father, and later her husband, on travels to the very edges of the known world. Her son was probably the first European born in North America. Later in life, she went as far as Rome and met the Pope.
The name came to England in the eleventh century when Viking princess Gytha Thorkelsdottir married Godwin, Earl of Wessex, one of the most powerful men in pre-Norman England. Together they had at least ten children, including daughter Edith, who married King Edward the Confessor and became queen.
Edith and Edward’s son Harold became king, but reigned for less than a year before falling to William the Conqueror in October 1066. Before he died, Harold passed on his grandmother’s name to a daughter, Gytha of Wessex.
Gytha married Vladimir II, Grand Price of Kiev. One of her descendants – through a tree including women called Euphrosyne and Violante – was King Edward III of England, connecting the two families across the centuries.
A handful of other well-born women answered to the name in the Middle Ages, including at least one queen consort of Denmark.
With a name derived from the elements god – that’s the first bit – and beautiful, maybe it’s fitting that she’s so dramatic. Gud is repeated in plenty of Old Norse names – Gudfinna, Gudbjurg, Gudrun. The second element appears in names like Ingridr and Astridr, both of which have survived with minimal alteration.
Terry Pratchett used Gyda for a character in his long-running Discworld series. The Norwegian translation of the Hägar the Horrible comic strip re-names Hägar’s helmet-clad helpmeet Gyda. (And he becomes Hårek. She’s Helga in the American version.)
Gudridr is a non-starter circa 2010 in English. But what of Gyda? She can’t be called pretty, but they are both rich with history and a certain clunky charm.