Saxon Names from TV’s ‘The Last Kingdom’
Viewers on both sides of the Atlantic have been enjoying the television show The Last Kingdom, based on novels by Bernard Cornwell. Set in the ninth century, it tells the story of the Danish invasion of what is now England, and the Saxon resistance.
A lot of the characters are real historical figures so we know their names are appropriate for their time and place (always a relief for name lovers). Many of the fictional characters also have names that were recorded around the same time.
Here are seven authentic Anglo-Saxon men’s names from the show, ranging from the familiar to the unheard-of. Characters’ names are spelled here are they are in the credits.
From ælf “elf” + ræd “advice, wisdom.” There were lots of names beginning with Ælf-, and plenty of men called Alfred, but the most famous is King Alfred the Great (he’s the one in this TV show). He’s credited with everything from coining the idea of England to forming the first English navy to inventing a candle clock. In the later middle ages the name changed to Alvery and Avery. Alfred was revived in Victorian times, which gives him a vintage feel today. He’s been steadily in the Top 200 in England and Wales for almost twenty years, and the diminutive Alfie is even more popular. Alfred is also very big in Scandinavia, especially – ironically – among the Danes. In the US he declined for many years and was almost out of the top 1000 until 2014, when he suddenly shot back up to #799. Could The Last Kingdom help Alfred rise even higher?
From ead “wealth, prosperity” + weard “guardian.” Edward is the most successful Anglo-Saxon name of them all. Unlike many, it survived the Norman Conquest and spread around Europe, thanks to famous figures like St Edward the Confessor and later English kings. Today he’s steadily popular in the UK (especially England and Wales) and Australia. In the US, Edward has been slowly moving down the ranks but is still by no means uncommon: he ranked #160 in 2014. If Edward feels a bit humdrum, you could always re-Saxonize the spelling like photographer Eadweard Muybridge.
From æthel “noble” + weald “power.” King Alfred’s nephew was a real historical figure, and one of the many members of the West Saxon royal family with Æthel- names. The only one getting any use at all on boys today is Athelstan (the name of Alfred’s grandson), which was given to three boys in England and Wales in 2014. If you’re looking for an unusual yet pronounceable name that screams Anglo-Saxon, Athelwold or Ethelwold could be the one. And don’t let yourself be put off by this questionable character: lots of other men bore the name including kings, priests, and even a saint.
Perhaps originally a diminutive of a name containing beorht “bright”, or a nickname meaning “pickaxe”. This character is fictional, but there were several men called Beocca recorded in Anglo-Saxon England. One was an abbot and saint killed by Danes in the 9th century. If you know anything about Danes in the ninth century, you’ll know that’s not unusual. A man’s name ending in -a isn’t unusual either: it was a masculine ending in Old English. (Women’s names, on the other hand, never ended in -a in everyday speech, only in Latin writing.) Nowadays we’re used to that ending in boys’ names like Ezra and Luca, so calling a boy Beocca would be unusual but not a complete departure.
From leof “beloved” + ric “kingdom, reign”. There were lots of Leof- names in Anglo-Saxon England, and Leofric was especially frequent. You might know it as the name of Lady Godiva’s husband, the one who promised to lower the taxes if she rode through the streets of Coventry naked (or so the story goes). It’s given us surnames like Leverich and Loveridge. Nameberry suggested a little while ago that Leofric is one of the most usable names from The Last Kingdom: it’s very rare but it’s not too much of a mouthful and can be shortened to Leo.
Perhaps originally short for a name beginning with ord “spear” or æthel “noble”, and also used to represent Scandinavian names like Oddr (also meaning “spear”) and continental names like Otto. This character, an ealdorman of Devon, really existed, and there are records of several other men with this name in Anglo-Saxon times. If Odda seems too odd to use today, what about a name containing that “spear” word, like Ordric or Ordwin?
From uht “the time just before dawn” + ræd “advice, wisdom”. The show’s hero is fictional, but his name is authentic enough. There were lots of Uhtreds recorded in Anglo-Saxon England, including a Northumbrian nobleman in the early eleventh century – could he be the character’s great-grandson? A few families in northern England carried on using Uhtred after the Norman Conquest, maybe even as late as the eighteenth century. If you don’t mind the unusual spelling and pronunciation (say that h like the ch in “loch”) it could be a punchy historical name for a modern boy.
Clare Bristow gathers and shares name stories from around the web at www.scoop.it/t/name-news. Her dream job would be to run a library dedicated to names, and her real job is in a university library in the south of England. You can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/clares.name.news.