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Medieval Names

Medieval Names

Medieval names are often thought of as clunky, consonant heavy choices, such as Ermentrude and Ulrich. While these names were well-used throughout the Middle Ages, the most popular medieval names were classic, familiar choices including Alice, Isabella, and Emma for girls, and William, John, and Henry for boys.

In fact, these names were so common that creative nicknames had to evolve to distinguish one from another. Many traditional nicknames and derivatives emerged in the Middle Ages, including Bess, Hal, and Ellen. Others survive today only in surnames, such as JenkinsJenkin was a nickname for John — and Perrin, a variation of Peter.

Along with Alice and William, other medieval names that currently rank in the US Top 1000 include Amira, Beatrice, Dante, Ellis, Emmeline, Lucia, Roger, and Walter. Rare and intriguing medieval names worth reviving include Amabel, Cyprian, Isabeau, and Lucan.

A number of medieval names are more common for the opposite sex today. In the Middle Ages, Christian and Julian were mostly feminine names, while Hilary and Vivian were considered masculine names.

The names listed here include popular and rare names associated with medieval times, along with names of famous figures in medieval legend.

AliceHeart

  • Origin:

    German
  • Meaning:

    "noble"
  • Description:

    Alice was derived from the Old French name Aalis, a diminutive of Adelais that itself came from the Germanic name Adalhaidis. Adalhaidis, from which the name Adelaide is also derived, is composed of the Proto-Germanic elements aþala, meaning "noble," and haidu, "kind, appearance, type." Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland popularized the name in modern times.

OliverHeart

  • Origin:

    Germanic
  • Meaning:

    "olive tree"
  • Description:

    Oliver derives from Olivier, the Norman French variation of the Ancient Germanic name Alfihar ("elf army") or the Old Norse Áleifr ("ancestor's relic"), from which comes Olaf. Olivier emerged as the dominant spelling for its associations with the Latin word oliva, meaning "olive tree." Oliver was used as a given name in medieval England after the spread of the French epic poem ‘La Chanson de Roland,’ which features a character named Olivier.

EleanorHeart

  • Origin:

    English variation of French Provencal Alienor, meaning unknown
  • Description:

    While some think Eleanor is a variation of Helen via Ellen, it actually derives from the Provencal name Aliénor, of highly-debated meaning. It may come from the Germanic name Adenorde, meaning "ancient north" or "noble north". Another theory is that it derives from the Latin phrase alia Aenor, meaning "other Aenor," used to distinguish some original Eleanor, who was named after her mother Aenor. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine brought it from France to England in the twelfth century. Other spellings include Elinor and Eleanore.

GenevieveHeart

  • Origin:

    English from French
  • Meaning:

    "tribe woman"
  • Description:

    Genevieve is derived from the Germanic medieval name Genovefa, or Kenowefa, which consists of the elements kuni, meaning "kin", and wefa, meaning "woman." The medieval saint Genevieve, patroness of Paris, defended the city against Attila the Hun through her rational thinking, courage and prayer.

MilesHeart

  • Origin:

    English form of Milo
  • Meaning:

    "soldier or merciful"
  • Description:

    Miles, which took on a permanent veneer of cool thanks to jazz great Miles Davis, is a confident and polished boy name starting with M that has been appreciated in particular by celebrity baby namers, including Elisabeth Shue, Mayim Bialik, Larenz Tate, Joan Cusack and Lionel Ritchie.

SebastianHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin from Greek
  • Meaning:

    "person from ancient city of Sebastia"
  • Description:

    Sebastian is derived from the Greek Sebastianos, meaning “from Sebastia.” Sebastia was a city in Asia Minor—modern day Sivas, Turkey. Sebastian is a name with a substantial history, first as the third-century martyr whose sufferings were a favorite subject of medieval artists, then as the name of memorable characters in such varied works as Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and The Tempest and Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

LucyHeart

  • Origin:

    English, variation of Lucia
  • Meaning:

    "light"
  • Description:

    Lucy is the English form of the Roman Lucia, which derives from the Latin word "lux" meaning "light." Lucy and Lucia were at one time given to girls born at dawn. Lucy can alternatively be spelled Luci or Lucie.

JamesHeart

  • Origin:

    English variation of Jacob, Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "supplanter"
  • Description:

    James is an English derivation of the Hebrew name Jacob. James is biblical (the name of two apostles in the New Testament), royal (kings of both England and Scotland), presidential (with more U.S. Chief Executives named James (six) than any other name), and it is shared by countless great writers and entertainers.

MabelHeart

  • Origin:

    Diminutive of Amabel
  • Meaning:

    "lovable"
  • Description:

    Mabel is a saucy Victorian favorite searching for its place in modern life; if you love offbeat old-fashioned names like Violet or Josephine, only sassier, Mabel is one for you to consider--it's started making a comeback and could rise to popularity a la Sadie. Several celebs have chosen it, including Chad Lowe, Nenah Cherry, Bruce Willis and Dermot Mulroney.

HenryHeart

  • Origin:

    German
  • Meaning:

    "estate ruler"
  • Description:

    Henry was derived from the French Henri, which ultimately comes from the Germanic name Heimrich, made up of the components heim, meaning "home" or "estate," and rich, meaning "ruler." The most famous wearer is Henry VIII of England, best known for having six wives—two of whom he beheaded for not bearing him sons. It’s been used in the British royal family many times since.

AvaHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew, Latin or Germanic
  • Meaning:

    "life; bird; water, island"
  • Description:

    In medieval times, Ava was a diminutive of Germanic names beginning in Av-, in particular Aveline, from which the name Evelyn would eventually arise. It may derive from a Proto-Germanic root meaning "island" or "water". However, the medieval name eventually fell out of use entirely, only to resurface in contemporary times. This suggests that today’s Ava may be a modern variation of Eva. Alternatively, Ava could also derive from the Latin avis, meaning "bird." Ava has separate Persian roots as a name meaning "voice" or "sound."

RoseHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "rose, a flower"
  • Description:

    Rose is derived from the Latin rosa, which referred to the flower. There is also evidence to suggest it was a Norman variation of the Germanic name Hrodohaidis, meaning “famous type,” and also Hros</>, "horse". In Old English it was translated as Roese and Rohese.

BeatriceHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "she who brings happiness; blessed"
  • Description:

    Beatrice is derived from Beatrix, a Latin name meaning "she who brings happiness." In the earliest sources it is also recorded as Viatrix, meaning "voyager", so there is some weight in both meanings.

EllisHeart

  • Origin:

    Welsh
  • Meaning:

    "benevolent"
  • Description:

    Ellis is one of the less used names in the currently popular El-family. It is a popular Welsh name in its own right, sometimes spelled Elis, and also an English surname derived Elijah, by way of the Greek Elias.

MatildaHeart

  • Origin:

    German
  • Meaning:

    "battle-mighty"
  • Description:

    The comeback of this sweet vintage name, one of the most stylish girls' names starting with M, has been prompted by a boomlet of starbaby Matildas, beginning with chef Gordon Ramsey's in 2002 and Moon Unit Zappa's two years later. But the renaissance of this name of the charming Roald Dahl heroine was assured when Michelle Williams and the late Heath Ledger chose Matilda for their daughter.

MirabelHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "wonderful"
  • Description:

    Mirabel is one of those names that's not on the Top 1000 but ought to be — and undoubtedly will be soon. There's a real resurgence of 'bel' names like Isabel and Annabel, and Mirabel, a more unusual and elegant example, which has a wonderful Latin meaning, is also the name of a delicate French plum spelled Mirabelle.

AdelineHeart

  • Origin:

    French, diminutive of Adele
  • Meaning:

    "noble, nobility"
  • Description:

    Adeline originated as a French diminutive of Adele, which came from the Germanic root adal, meaning "noble." Adeline was introduced to England by the Normans in the eleventh century, was very common during the Middle Ages, then vanished until the Victorian Gothic revival. Common variants of Adeline include Adalynn, Adalyn, Adelyn, Adelynn, Adelina, and Adaline.

ThomasHeart

  • Origin:

    Aramaic
  • Meaning:

    "twin"
  • Description:

    Thomas is the Greek variation of the Aramaic name Ta’oma’. It came about because there were too many apostles named Judas; Jesus renamed one Thomas—meaning "twin"—to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot and the Judas also known as Thaddeus. At first, it was used only for priests.

AlexanderHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "defending men"
  • Description:

    Alexander is derived from the Greek name Aléxandros, composed of the elements aléxein, meaning “to defend,” and aner, meaning “man.” According to Greek legend, the first Alexander was Paris, who was given the nickname Alexander by the shepherds whose flocks he defended against robbers. He was followed by Alexander the Great, aka Alexander III, who conquered much of Asia.

JackHeart

  • Origin:

    English, diminutive of John
  • Meaning:

    "God is gracious"
  • Description:

    Jack is a derivative of John that originated in medieval England. The name went from John to Johnkin to Jankin to Jackin to Jack. The name was so common in the Middle Ages that Jack became a generic term for a man.