Tudor Baby Names: Avis, Avery and Griffin
The Tudor Age was an interesting time for names. Tudor itself is actually a given name – a Welsh one, roughly (and rather appropriately) meaning “ruler of the people”. Henry VII, once known as Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, came to power after victory at Bosworth Field, effectively ending the Wars of the Roses, and from him came some of the most famous – and infamous – monarchs in British history.
Most of the names the Tudors favoured are still well loved today. The most popular boys’ names included John, Thomas, William, Robert, Richard, Henry, Nicholas, Edward, George and James, while the girls favoured Elizabeth, Joan, Agnes, Alice, Mary, Anne, Margaret, Jane, Catherine and Margery.
There are those, however, that 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.
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. It was still used in places like Norwich and Worcestershire up until the 19th century, but by then it was often confused as Ann Phyllis.
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 Amis and Annis were also in use.
Would it surprise you to know that, before the 18th century, Christian was far more common as a girls’ name than a boys’? Back in Tudor times Christian was the vernacular form of Christiana, and was even among the 20 most popular girls’ 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.” Much of the name’s use was thanks to an 8th century saint with the name, whose feast day is October 19. By the 16th century, Frideswide was the most common form (but also sometimes Fryswith, Fridswid, Frizwyde and Fridaywed) with Friday used as a diminutive.
This was 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, whose feast day is March 6.
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 simply to the contracted Parnell, with Penn or Pell as a nickname. These days Parnell is a surname – but it was a given name first, and a girls’ one at that.
Sindony is 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 mascilune but eventually became unisex, perhaps due to other diminutive-names in use, such as Emmot, Amelot and Mariot, for girls. By the 16th century, in a boy-gone-girl switch, the name was almost exclusively feminine, and quite a popular girls’ name at that.
We could say that Avery is a rediscovered relic, as it sits the US Top 20, and once it was the hip new thing for Tudor parents, too. By the 16th century, the classic English name Alfred was no longer being bestowed on babies; instead the Tudors had morphed it into the French-inspired Avery and was especially notable among men of the aristocracy in Northern England.
Benedict was a well used name in England from the Middle Ages. By the 16th century, most Benedicts answered to the slimmed down form Bennet(t), and from there came the surname. Bennet was actually unisex – it was also the vernacular form of Benedicta – and in some areas was quite common 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.
The Welsh name Gruffudd had been in prominent use since the early Middle Ages and was born by a whole host of Welsh princes and nobles. Griffith was the Anglicised form, and Griffin (not, in this case, related to the mythical beast) was its diminutive. This short form became fairly common in the South of England during the Tudor period.
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, so Lancelot isn’t exactly a neglected relic, but it is interesting to note that Lancelot was not an uncommon name in the Tudor Age. He was joined by other mythical heroes such as Tristram, Arthur and even Hercules and Titus.
Eleanor Nickerson, better known to nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a primary school teacher living in Coventry, England and author of the excellent, highly recommended blog British Baby Names.
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on July 31st, 2013 at 12:56 am
What a fantastic list! I love seeing trendy favorites — Avery, Bennet, Griffin — alongside clunky, thoroughly Olde Worlde monikers like Frideswide. I have to admit, Oswin is growing on me. I could see Kenborough being revived by parents who love aristocratic-sounding surnames. With Avery and Ava so popular, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Avis climbing the charts. Perhaps Wilmot will even ride in on the coattails of William and Liam (though I think Willem, Wiley, and Wilder are more likely). I know a medievalist with a son named Lancelot, so it doesn’t seem *too* out there for me, but even with Arthur a new-minted hipster favorite, I can’t exactly see this one sweeping playgrounds across the nation. Lambert just sounds dated to me — not to the 16th century, but the 1970s. But Amphelisia! What a beautiful find!
on July 31st, 2013 at 3:17 am
Griffin has been growing on me recently. I never realised it had been used right back to the 16th century though!
on July 31st, 2013 at 8:33 am
My 92-year-old grandmother is an Avis (twin sister is Doris). While I wouldn’t use Avis or Doris, their middle names, Clara and Cora, are on my short list…
Also, Oswyn, spelled slightly differently (Oswin) is now a Doctor Who name, as the sometimes first and sometimes middle name of one of 11’s companions.
on July 31st, 2013 at 8:41 am
I adore Avis!
on July 31st, 2013 at 9:52 am
on July 31st, 2013 at 10:18 am
Ok, after reading this blog, I want to have a family right now. I would like three girls: Amphelice, Frideswide and Kinborough. And I might as well have a couple of boys named Lambert and Oswin. Five is a lovely number for a family. 🙂
on July 31st, 2013 at 10:34 am
I had always heard that Sidney was a British corruption of the French name Saint Denis. Is this not the case? Or did one name arise from two independent sources?
Eleanor Nickerson Said
on July 31st, 2013 at 11:49 am
@daisychain: There are several different sources for Sidney. For the most part, Sidney became a popular boys’ name from the 17th century thanks to adoption of the surname Sidney. The surname itself comes either from various place names in England that meant “wide island” (sid + eg) or possibly (though less likely) from Saint Denis.
Furthermore, the change from Sindony to Sidony was also influenced (most likely) by the name Sidonia, the feminine form of the Latin name Sidonius.
on July 31st, 2013 at 1:45 pm
I really enjoyed this article! Kinborough is so old, it’s new again. I bet that one would get criticism for being “contrived,” lol. Amphelisia is truly a fascinating gem. I also especially enjoyed learning a bit of history concerning Griffith.
on July 31st, 2013 at 2:31 pm
Avis and Wilmot, especially Wilmot, are fantastic! I can see Avis rising quickly in popularity, and I would just love to meet a little Wilmot!
on July 31st, 2013 at 3:06 pm
I like the idea of Wilmot on a girl. Thoughts? Can it work in the modern world?
on July 31st, 2013 at 5:03 pm
I bet a lot of people would confuse Wilmot with Wilma. It could work as a diminutive of Wilhelmina.
on July 31st, 2013 at 7:58 pm
I think that Parnell would be super cute on a girl! Parry, Nell, Nellie would be cute nicknames too.
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