Prior to the Medieval times, there were a lot of different names floating around, but there were not a lot of people who had the same name as we might see today. Then, people started naming people after someone and this process continued for a long time. Many of these names would be used again and again. When you review the following extensive selection of Medieval names, you will see that many of them are still used. Some of the first names, nicknames and family names have existed since before the 15th century.
Adam: We all will recognize this originally Hebrew male name as referring to the first man made by God described in the Old Testament. This name was liked during the Medieval period because of the story of its origination. The name declined somewhat in popularity because of Adam’s relationship to what is called Original Sin. The name again rose in popularity and is used quite a bit to this day. We are familiar with actors Adam West, and Adam Sandler. You might even know someone with the name. The female name, Addison could have come from the name Adam also. We hear Addison as both a first and last name.
Agnes: “Pure”/”chaste” are the meanings of this female Greek name which we might think of as old fashioned. It was frequently used during the Middle Ages. History tells us that Agnes was an early saint. Annis and Anais have been derived from the name Agnes. This was a name that was negative during the Reformation because she was one of those saints, but it had a resurgence of use and is used occasionally.
Alice: Alice is a German female name that means “noble type” and became adopted from its original roots to English. The name has the same background as the name Adelaide and was popular during the Middle Ages even though there was a lack of a St. Alice. It declined in use during the Reformation but popped back in during the 19th century. Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland might have contributed to its more frequent use. Alison is a name derived from Alice and we do hear this name frequently today. There are a number of well known people with this name and numerous derivatives such as Allison, Alize, Alycen, Elease, and Alyson. There was a period of time when the name was also used for males, but not now.
Anne: You definitely hear this Hebrew female name or one of its derivatives currently such as Hannah, Ann, Anne, Ana, Annika, Annette, Annie and even Nancy. The name means “grace.” and most will know Anne (a) as the reported mother of the Virgin Mary. The name was frequently used during the Middle Ages and was one of the most popular names used. It did slip a little in the early 20th century, but came back. We most likely recognize the names of Anne Frank, Anne Rice, Ann Landers, Ann Murray. A very well known actress in 2011 is Anna Paquin. The name is sometimes combined with other names like MaryAnne or Marianne.
Beatrice: The female Latin name means “one who blesses.” Beatrice was a saint from the 4th century and was used during the Middle Ages. This poor saint’s name was sort of dumped with the Reformation but the Romaic revivals of the 19th century sort of brought the name back into use. One finds the name used a lot with Dutch royals. There are some famous women who have had the name or a derivative such as Beatrix or Bea. We all know about Beatrix Potter and her work for children and Bea Arthur a famous actress of “Golden Girls” fame on television.
Carl: “Man “ is the meaning of this German male name. Charles is basically the same name and Karl is often the German spelling of the name. The Emperor Charlemagne which stands for “Carl the Great” initiated the use of the name during Medieval times. German immigrants seem to have brought the name to us and it was popular from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, All of us have probably know or know of someone named Carl. We have also heard of Carl Sandburg, Carl Jung, and Karl Malden and the musician Santana whose first name is Carlos. Carlos is the Spanish form of the name. There are some female names that have come from the name Carl including Carol, Carla and Charlotte.
Christopher: The name means “Christ bearer” and is a male name with Greek roots. It was used to mean Christian, but became attached to someone with this name carrying the Christ child across a river. For a time, he was called the patron saint of travelers and many people wore or carried St. Christopher medals. However, the Catholic Church no longer views Christopher as a saint, This was a very popular name in Europe during the Middle Ages and didn‘t really lose favor during the Reformation as did many other names. This name continues in popularity today and is sometimes spelled as Kristofer or Kristopher. Some famous folk with the name include Kit Carson Christopher Reeve. Chris, Kris and Kit are nicknames for Cnhristopher.
Clement: “Merciful/mild” are the meanings of this male Latin name. During the Middle Ages there were some saints and popes with this name. Although it was somewhat popular during the 19th century, popularity declined during the early 20th century. All of us know about the author Clement Moore who is responsible for the famous Night Before Chistmas.
Edith: This is an English female name that was derived from the Anglo Saxon language and means “rich war.” It has been around since the 10th century. There were some saints named Edith, the Reformation took the name out of use until the latter part of the 19th century. There is an author named Edith Wharton and a famous singer named Edith Piaf. If anyone watched the television comedy called All in the Family you can remember Edith Bunker as one of the main characters.
Eleanor: This female name is of French origin but the meaning is unknown, The famous Eleanor of Aquitane who was Queen of both France and England caused the popular use of this name. During the romantic revival of the 19th century, the name was also popularly in use. We have all heard of Eleanor Roosevelt, a famous First Lady. There are a number of variations of this name.
Ellen: Ellen is an English female name which may have been derived from Helen. It came into use during the Middle Ages, was revived in the 19th century and is still used. You will recognize the names Ellen Burstyn and Ellen DeGeneres. Elena is a variation of the name.
Emma: “whole”/”universal” are the meanings given to this female name from probable German roots. The Normans of England used the name but its use declined until the Romantic revival in the late 19th century. It has recently been quite popular and high on the baby name charts. Think of the actresses Emma Thompson and Emma Watson who are currently in movies.
Gregory: This is a Greek male name that means “watchful.” There were some medieval popes with the name and it then became an English last name. Although one hears the name at times, it never became really popular. Greg is the usual nickname. One might also hear Gregor or Gregorio as forms of Gregory.
Isabel: This is a female French name and is derived from the name Elizabeth. The name came into use during the Medieval period and we all learned about Queen Isabella of Spain. The name has popularity today. Some other forms of the name include Isabella, Isobel, and Izabella.
Joan and John: These are female and male Hebrew names which mean “God has favored.” These have been super popular names for centuries, but were not used much until later than the beginning of Christianity. St. John the Baptist is the saint for whom John was used. The female version was later in being used. Over centuries, there have been ebbs and flows in the use of the name but there is typically a form of the name used in almost every language.
Katherine: Catherine is a Greek female name that might mea n “clean” and “pure.” The name became popular because of St. Katherine of Alexandria at the time of the Crusades at the start of the 12th century. This name was used so much that even the Reformation couldn’t knock it out of use. Think about how many of Henry VIII’s wives were named Katherine. This name also has many variations and nicknames like Kate, Caitlin, Catherine, Kathryn, Karina, Katrina and others.
Michael: This Hebrew name is used for both males and females and means “who is like God.” We all have heard of the archangel Michael who became called a saint during the Medieval period when he was the patron saint of soldiers. The period of the Reformation sacked this name for awhile, but by the m id 19th century there were many Irish immigrants with the name which might be said as “Mick” which became a slur against the Irish. However, the name came back into use in the 20th century and continues to be used today.
Peter: This Hebrew male name means “rock”/”stone” and was very prominent in the Bible. It also was popularized by St. Peter’s in Rome. The use of this name declined during the Reformation but eventually came back into use. We might hear the name as Pedro, Pierre, Piers and Pete.
Robert: “Bright fame” is the meaning attached to this male English name with possible Germanic roots. This name has maintained its early popularity throughout history until today. We have heard of a Scottish king named Robert, Robert Burns, Robin Hood, Robert Frost, Robert E. Lee. We also will hear the derivative Rob or Bob. Remember Bob Hope and current actor Rob Lowe.
Less Well Kown Medieval Names:
Previously the names discussed here have been fairly well known. There is another group of names that comes and goes in use and a selection of those names will follow.
Ada: This name is a female English name that is probably derived from Adele, Adelaide or Adeline. The name disappeared during Medieval times but came back in the 18th century
Anselm: “God-helmet” is the meaning of this male German name. the Archbishop of Canterbury in England brought a man with this name to England in the 11th century. Some derivatives of the name include Ansel and Aselmo.
Blanche: This is a female French name that means “white/fair.” Medieval romances tended to have women named Blanche as prominent characters. We recall the infamous Blanche DuBois in Willams’ Streetcar Named Desire and the television character named Blanche in the show Golden Girls. Bianca is a derivative of the name.
Emmet: This English male name is derived from the female name Emma but has usually been a last name. However, we may recognize the name of the football player, Emmett Smith.
Heloise: This French female name means “healthy/wise.” It had Germanic history but was taken to England with the Normans. Many of us have heard the story of Heloise and Abelard. The name is little used today but a lot of us read the Hints from Heloise. Eloise is one of the names derived from Heloise.
Hugh: “Heart/mind” is the meaning of this English male name. Apparently, it was one of those saint names that was sacked by the Reformation. More recently there has been a revival of the English Hugh and the French counterpart Hugo. We have heard of actor Hugh Jackman.
Jocelyn: This name could be used for both genders and there is a Germanic root for this English name. It means “Goth” and was initially a male name. However, it became used for women during some of the revivals. One may find many different spellings of the name.
Raymond: The male English name means “counsel/protection. It wasn’t used much during the M idle Ages but there was a revival in the 20th century, We know Raymond Burr, Ray Bradbury and the television character played by Ray Romano.
Ursula: The name is Latin and means “little bear.” There was a St. Ursula during the Middle Ages. Today, we recognize the actress Ursula Andress.
This article has presented a selection of Medieval names, both those still current and those not so much current for parents to read about. You might even find that you were already considering a name that originated in the Middle Ages.