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Medievalizing a Name: Elizabeth to Elisende

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By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

Names from the Middle Ages are fascinating. They’re often quite similar to those parents love today, but tend to be almost entirely overlooked.

Nameberry has long had the Coolator. I would call this the Medievalizer, except that sounds like a torture device.

Instead, this is a list of the 2013 US Top Ten 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. Sophia

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.

2. Emma

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

3. 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.

4. Isabella

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

5. Ava

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. Mia

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

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Elizabeth

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

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.  For more Medievalizing, see the original post here.

Are there other medieval names you’d consider using in 2014?

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About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and a columnist for Nameberry. Look for her weekly name news updates here every Monday.
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