It is a common misconception that medieval English naming practices centred on a relatively small number of personal names. While this is indeed true for the later medieval period, the Anglo-Norman period (which lasted from the Conquest on down to the beginning of the fourteenth century or so) provided a much larger variety of available and relatively common personal names. While certain of these were more popular than others, they did not dominate naming practices to the extent that names such as John, Thomas, Richard, and William for guys and Anne, Elizabeth, Cecily, and Margaret for girls did in later centuries. Furthermore, the popular names in the 13th century did not necessarily maintain their popularity in later years. The male names Roger and Simon and the female names Juliana and Matilda are good examples of this; while none of these names dropped completely out of use (though Matilda nearly did), they became far less frequent in later centuries after rivaling the Williams, Richards, Cecilys and Joans for popularity in the Anglo-Norman period.
Short Treatise on Anglo-Norman Personal Names
You will notice the popularity of saints' and Biblical names for both sexes. Names of great leaders or heroes (Constantine, Alexander, etc) seem to have also been used for males, though not as frequently as saints' names. Women's names pose a few problems. When the names were rendered into Latin in charters, often they were changed to make them fit the language. You will note that many of the femine names end in "a", which is merely the most common nominative feminine ending. Whether these names all actually ended in "a" is another matter, but it is clear that in many cases one may substitute "e" for "(i)a" and still have just as valid a name: Felicia => Felice; Amicia => Amice (and later, Amy), etc.
I will not say much about surnames except to note the two most common forms. The first was used mostly by the upper classes and was originally a place-name describing where the family lived: de Quincy = "of Quincy", de Montfort = "of Montfort", etc. As families grew and migrated, many of these lost their place-meanings and simply evolved into family names. The other common type of surname was the occupational name or descriptive name: for instance: le Ferrier = "the smith", "Draper" = "The draper",etc. Anglo-Norman occupational names evolved right alongside English ones; neither was completely dominant. Eventually these, too, lost their original meanings and became merely surnames. A look through a book of documents will give you a host of different possible surnames.
The names given here are taken from four collections of legal documents from around England:
- Cartulary of Blyth Priory, R.T. Timson, ed. (London: HMSO, 1973) DA 670 N9B5
- Feet of Fines for Essex, R.E.G. Kirk, ed. (Colchester: Wiles and Son, 1899) DA 670 E7A12
- Feet of Fines for Somerset: Richard I-Edward I, E. Green, ed. (London: Harrison and Sons, 1892) DA 670 S49S5
- Warwickshire Feet of Fines v. I E. Stokes and F.C. Wellstood, eds. (London: Oxford University Press, 1932) DA 670 W3 D9 v.11
*denotes most common names
- Lucia Mabel/Amabilia
Early Germanic Names from Primary Sources
The following are lists of names of early Germanic people compiled by Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester. All names come from two primary sources and are acceptable for use in documentation. Most Germanic names consist of two elements. It is possible to form new names by combining elements from two names; this is considered acceptable for SCA practices, provided that you can document both elements. All names on these lists were likely in use in Frankish territories from 5th-9th centuries. Names of saints or names derived from Latin were also in use.
These are by no means all possible names for this period.
Names from Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks
(Penguin classics, Merovingian period, 5th-7th centuries)
Ageric Agiulf Alaric# Amalaric#
Andica Ansovald Authari* Aregisel
Arnegisel Athanagild# Athanaric# Audovald
Austregisel Badegisel Berthefried Berthar^
Bertram Bisinus^ Chararic Charibert
Childebert Childeric Chilperic Chlodomer
Chramnesind Clovis Dagobert Dagaric
Eberulf Ebregisel Euric Gararic
Garivald Godomar Gunderic% Gundobad
Gunthar Guntram Herminafrid^ Hermangild#
Huneric% Imnachar Ingomer Leudast
Leuvigild# Lothar Magnachar Magneric
Marachar Merovech Munderic Ragnachar
Rathar Reccared* Ricchar Sichar
Sigeric Sigibert Sigismund Sunnegisil
Theoderic# Theudebald Theuderic Thorismund#
#-Gothic names *-Lombard names ^Thuringian names
Names From Two Lives of Charlemagne
(Penguin Classics, late Merovingian and Carolingian eras, 7th-9th centuries)
The Middle Ages
The Black Plague