Tudor Names Are Rich in History
Tudor names include some currently stylish revivals, like Avery and Audrey, as well as plenty of fascinating Tudor favourites that have been all but lost to the centuries.
The Tudor Age (1485-1603) was an interesting time for names. Tudor itself is actually a Welsh given name with the appropriate meaning of “ruler of the people”, derived from a cognate of Theodoric.
Most of the names the Tudors favoured are still well loved today. The most popular boys’ names of the period included John, Thomas, William, Robert, Richard, Henry, Nicholas, Edward, George and James, while the girls’ list included Elizabeth, Joan, Agnes, Alice, Mary, Anne, Margaret, Jane, Catherine and Margery.
Other common Tudor names have become severely neglected over time, and some have dropped out of use completely. Let us take a few moments to examine and marvel at these faded Tudor relics.
Tudor Girl Names
No one is quite sure where the medieval name Amphelisia came from, but it was still going strong in the 16th century. It could be a variant of Felicia, which was also used at the time, or it could be from the Greek amphielissa “oar swept,” usually referring to ships. Spelling variants included Amphelice, Amphillis, Amfelice, Amphlis and Amflisa.
Avice was brought over by the Normans, descended from either the Germanic Aveza, Hadewidis, or possibly the Latin Avitia. It was a popular name in the Middle Ages, where it became associated with the Latin avis “bird,” and by the late 16th century Avis was the more common spelling. Similar sounding Amice and Annis were also in use.
Would it surprise you to know that, before the 18th century, Christian was far more common for girls than for boys? Back in Tudor times, Christian was the vernacular form of Christiana, and was even among the 20 most popular girl names of the mid-16th century.
Frideswide dates right back to the Anglo-Saxons, originally as Frithuswith – made up of the elements frið “peace” and swiþ “strong”. It owes its popularity largely to an 8th century saint. By the 16th century, Frideswide was the most common form (but also sometimes Fryswith, Fridswid, Frizwyde and Fridaywed) with Friday used as a diminutive.
Another survivor from England’s Anglo-Saxon heritage. Originally, the name was Cynburgh in Old English – from cyne “royal” and burg “fortress” – but by the 16th century existed in the forms Kinborough, Kynborough, Kynborow, Kimberrow, Kinboro, Kimbery, Kinbarra and Kenbora. The name remained in use in the Middle Ages largely thanks to veneration of St Kyneburg.
Petronilla, derived from the Latin petra “rock”, was quite a popular name in the Middle Ages. St Petronilla was invoked against fevers and, as she was regarded as the daughter of St Peter, her name was considered to be the feminine version. Parnell was the vernacular form and, by the 16th century, many girls answered were given it as a standalone, with Penn or Pell as a nickname.
The Anglicised form of Sindonia – from the Latin sindon “fine linen, silk” – which was created in the 16th century to commemorate the Turin Shroud (Sacra Sindone). During this period, the Feast of the Holy Winding Sheet became established, and girls born around that time were often given the name. Other forms included Syndony and Sindonie, and by the 17th century the N was dropped, becoming Sidony, Sidonie and Sidney.
In the Middle Ages, Wilmot started out as a diminutive form of William. Originally it was masculine but eventually became unisex, perhaps due to other diminutive names in use for girls, such as Emmot, Amelot and Mariot. By the 16th century, in a boy-gone-girl switch, the name was almost exclusively feminine, and quite a popular girls’ name at that.
Tudor Boy Names
St Barnabas was a popular saint in the Middle Ages and the English vernacular forms Barnaby and Barnabe were in use from the 14th century. Barnaby was most common in places with churches dedicated to the saint, such as Cambridgeshire, Warwick, Kent, Suffolk, London, Wiltshire, Norfolk and the Isle of White. The short form Barney is attested from the mid-16th century.
A vernacular form of Elias or Elijah, both of which were very popular during the Middle Ages due to the association with the prophet Elijah and several early Christian saints. Elliot or Eliot are diminutive variants. By the late Tudor period, Ellis was in high usage as a surname, and it is quite likely that this influenced its renewed popularity as a first name from the 17th century – including for girls.
Fulke is the Anglicised form of the Old Germanic name Fulco, which came over to Britain with the Normans. It derives from the Germanic fulc, meaning “people”. In the 16th century, the name became quite common in some counties, such as Warwickshire, and gave rise to the surnames Fawkes, Folk, Folkes, Fewkes and Valk.
Lambert derives from the Germanic compound Landebert “land” + “bright”. It was brought to Britain by the Normans, where it enjoyed some popularity thanks to veneration of a medieval saint, and was still quite common in the 16th century. Lambert Simnel, pretending to be Prince Edward, was the figurehead of a rebellion against Henry VII’s rule in 1487.
Okay, Lancelot isn’t exactly a neglected relic, but it is certainly interesting to note that Lancelot was not an uncommon name in the Tudor Age, inspired by medieval chivalric romances. He was joined by other mythical heroes such as Arthur, Tristram, and even Hercules and Titus.
Oswyn was another Anglo-Saxon survivor that clung on in use in pockets of Northern England during the 16th century. In Old English the name was Oswine – from os “God” and wine “friend.
Deriving from the Germanic elements hrod "fame" and landa "land", Roland was introduced to England by the Normans. The medieval epic La Chanson de Roland, telling the story of a semi-legendary French hero and nephew of Charlemagne, helped to popularise the name.
At least three versions of the story of Tristan and Isolde were written in the 12th century, and by the Tudor Age this Anglo-Norman form of the name was in regular use in England, especially among gentry families. It is particularly interesting to note that many baptism records for Tristram are centred in Cornwall and Devon, or alternatively in Yorkshire.
For a more extensive selection of popular Tudor names, see the Terrifically Tudor list over at British Baby Names.