Parents revive ancient names all the time. With choices like Penelope and Levi in the US Top 100, it’s clear we’re not afraid to reach into the distant past. But how ’bout those overlooked Anglo-Saxons? When is it their chance for a comeback?
Thanks to Anonymous for suggesting one they’ve considered for a son. Our Baby Name of the Day is Cynewulf.
Cynewulf: Anglo-Saxon Appellation
When the Normans invaded England, they brought their culture and language with them. Many of the names we use today can be traced back to Germanic names worn by the invaders, and the first few generations of Anglo-Norman ruling families.
But not all. Plenty of Anglo-Saxon choices were revived during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Think of Alfred and Edith.
Of course, those names were rescued from their Old English roots, re-shaped into something approachable for modern English speakers.
Cynewulf has remained obscure, and so you might be wondering about pronunciation. It’s actually pretty straightforward: KIN eh wulf.
Perhaps swapping the ‘cy’ for a ‘ki’ would simplify things further – Kinewulf? And yet, there’s something really appealing about the obviously not English-as-we-know-it Cynewulf.
Cynewulf: In the History Books
There are at least three Cynewulfs of note, all likely living during the eighth century:
- One of the best known Anglo-Saxon poets bears this name, and he’s one of just a few poets from the era whose work survives. He wrote religious poetry, and it is possible that he was a priest or member of a religious order himself. Tolkien is said to have used some of Cynewulf’s poetry as inspiration.
- A Bishop of Lindisfarne also wore this name. It’s possible that the poet and bishop are the same person. We know of the bishop for another reason, too – he was briefly thrown in prison during a dynastic struggle for throne of Northumbria.
- There was also a King of Wessex around the same time. This Cynewulf reigned for almost three decades before he was assassinated by a rival.
Maybe Cynewulf was the Liam of the eighth century, a wildly popular name heard everywhere. Or maybe it’s just coincidence that there are three men with the same name during the same century.
Cyn was a popular name element, meaning royal. It’s found in tons of names, including feminine choices like Cyneburg, Cyneswith, Cynewise, Cynethryth, and Cynegyth, and masculine ones like Cynegils and Cynric.
As for wulf, well, that’s good old wolf, as in Wolfgang, but also Oswulf, Eadwulf, and Wulfthryth, to name just a few.
While we tend to link the elements and give meanings like “royal wolf,” it appears that Anglo-Saxons thought about names differently. The elements weren’t necessarily related, and often children shared a name element with a parent, sort of like naming your kids Jayden, Jayla, and Jayme today.
Cynewulf: Edge of Extinction
Cynewulf is a rarity. It’s never been given to five children born in the US in a single year. And it is missing from US Census records, too. It appears that there may have been a handful in the UK, and maybe in Canada, too.
But in the US? Cynewulf is all but extinct.
And yet, there’s some potential here. Parents are embracing choices like Fox and Wolf.
So if you don’t mind explaining that it’s the name of an eighth century poet, and no, you didn’t get it out of a fantasy novel, Cynewulf could be a wearable rarity. And it’s a fascinating middle name possibility too.
What do you think of Cynewulf? Is it wearable today?
Daniel B. says
thank you! I was looking for a good name for a character and I will consider this, very interesting …
It’s a great name.
I’ve studied Anglo-Saxon literature and history and only ever heard the pronunciation “cu-ne-wolf”, where the “u” is like a French “u” (as in “tu”) or the “u” in the German “uber”. The only time I’ve heard y as “ee” is sometimes at the end of a word.
Perhaps it’s pronounced differently in America from the UK and Commonwealth.
I imagine “kin”-wolf would be the way most people who hadn’t studied it at school or university would say it, though.
I just found the name Ceolwulf, Ceol is Old English element meaning “keel (of a ship)” and Wulf is just Wolf. Pronounced Keel-wulf.
And I have come to terms that if you wanted a whole family of boys with wolf elements in their names, I could do it !!!!
Adalwulf, Adolf, Adolphus, Athaulf, Arnulf, Agilulf, Chlodolf, Cynewulf, Ceolwulf, Eadwulf, Eardulf, Gerolf, Gerlof, Ludolf, Ralph/Ralf, Rolf/Rolffe, Rudolf, Randolf, Roelof/Raoul, Wulfric, Wolfnoo, Wolframe, Wolfgang, Wulfstan, just plain Wolf , Ulrik/Ulrich and I’m sure the names can go on and on.
And if you had any girl names that need to blend with the boys, well then there is : Adolphine, Rodolpha/Rudolpha, Wulfrica, Wulfleda, Wulviva, Wulvella, Ulrika/Ulrike/Ulrica just to name a few. Many have been worn by Queens, Princesses, Ladies, and any other form of Aristocracy, one was even the famous Lady Godiva’s sisters name.
So in terms of Cynewulf, he doesn’t bother me as a name, especially after I took to the task to see how many names out there that have the wolf element within the name. It turns out there are many… Too many to get judgey over because sooooo many of them have become excepted as just a name with its origin long forgotten.
In my opinion, Cynewulf feels hearty, convivial, masculine, solid and stable. Wolf is always an easy identifier, so I think it will pass with acceptance, but will certainly not got unnoticed. I would be tickled pink to meet a little boy named Cynewulf, no more than I’d be tickled pink to meet an Ethel or Alfreda (both which are Anglo-saxon names as well).
Check out this site of names with Wolf elements in the name. http://www.behindthename.com/element/wulf
I thought I should suggest: Wulviva and Wulvella as wolf names, maybe even a post on them. I found out Wulviva was Queen Godiva’s sister name through a Nameberry post. I came across both names while reading a post about anglo-saxon names and traditions.
Nameberry post: http://nameberry.com/nametalk/threads/170068-Random-Medieval-names-Thoughts?highlight=Wulviva
Namberry only had that post, nothing else was mentioned those names, when I checked. Not much help, but fascinating none-the-less, and relates to Cynewulf, if there are bold enough parents who want honor a Wolfgang/Adolf in their family tree.
Thank you very much for making this the “Name Of The Week.” I have been very excited to read what you had to say in your blog. If it’s a boy, I think we had settled on the combination Cynewulf Fulco Humphrey. I’m printing this out and I can’t wait to show this to my spouse. Thank You again!
I’m partial to the Cyn- names generally, but it’s Cynewise I really like on a girl. Cynewulf is great on a boy too. Unfortunately for my love of Cyn- names, my kids will have a last name that begins with “Kin”. Cynewulf Kin-name would be a bit much.
I think I’d get tired of explaining to everyone it’s not “Sign-wolf”. But I am not one who goes for the Celtic names, either (“Saorise” and “Aoife” and etc.) I don’t have a drop of A-S or Celt in me, and these names tend to leave me cold.
I’ve always loved Wolfgang, and liked the ‘kin’ sound, so of course this one gets a thumbs-up from me.
Cynegils and Cynethryth are both on my family tree, as is Cynewald.