Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Norman Names

I couldn’t help noticing this story, which states that many of the names still popular in English-speaking countries originate from the Normans, who won control of England in 1066. Meanwhile, names that were popular in England at the time – such as Aethelred, Eadric, and Leofric – have disappeared. With that in mind, I turned to Babies’ Names, by Patrick Hanks and Kate Hardcastle, to find out more about Norman names. Below are a selection, along with their meanings.

Adele This was borne by a 7th-century saint, a daughter if the Frankish King Dagobert II. It was also the name of William the Conqueror’s youngest daughter (c. 1062-1137), who became the wife of Stephen of Blois. The name went out of use in England in the later Middle Ages, and was revived in the 19th century. It is the stage name of English singer-songwriter Laurie Blue Atkins (b. 1988).

Alison From a very common medieval name, a Norman French diminutive of Alice. It virtually died out in England in the 15th century, but survived in Scotland, with the result that until its revival in England in the 20th century it had a strongly Scottish flavour. The usual spelling in North America is Allison.

Bernard Norman and Old French name of Germanic (Frankish) origin, meaning ‘bear-hardy’. This was borne by three famous medieval churchmen: St Bernard of Menthon (923-1008), founder of a hospice on each of the Alpine passes named after himl; the monastic reformer St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153); and the scholastic philosopher Bernard of Chartres.

Emma Old French name, of Germanic (Frankish) origin, originally a short form of compound names such as Ermintrude, containing the word erm(en), irm(en) ‘entire’. It was adopted by the Normans and introduced by them to Britain. Its popularity in medieval England was greatly enhanced by the fact that it had been borne by the mother of Edward the Confessor, herself a Norman.

Hugh From an Old French name, Hugues, of Germanic (Frankish) origin derived from hug ‘heart’, ‘mind’, ‘spirit’. It was originally a short form of various compound names containing this element. This was borne by the aristocracy of medieval France, adopted by the Normans, and introduced by them to Britain.

Leonard From an Old French personal name of Germanic origin, derived from leon ‘lion’ + hard ‘hardy’, ‘brave’, ‘strong’. This was the name of a 5th-century Frankish saint, the patron of peasants and horses. Although it was introduced into Britain by the Normans, Leonard was not a particularly common name during the Middle Ages. It was revived in the 19th century and became very popular. The spelling Lennard is also found.

Rosalind From an Old French personal name of Germanic (Frankish) origin, from hros ‘horse’ + lind ‘weak’, ‘tender’, ‘soft’. It was adopted by the Normans and introduced by them to Britain. Its popularity as a given name owes much to its use by Edmund Spenser for the character of a shepherdess in his pastoral poetry, and by Shakespeare as the name of the heroine in As You Like It.

William Probably the most successful of all the Old French names of Germanic origin that were introduced to England by the Normans. It is derived from Germanic wil ‘will’, ‘desire’ + helm ‘helmet’, ‘protection’. The fact that it was borne by the Conqueror himself does not seem to have inhibited its favour with the ‘conquered’ population: in the first century after the Conquest it was the commonest male name of all, and not only among the Normans. In the later Middle Ages it was overtaken by John, but continued to run second to that name until the 20th century, when the picture became more fragmented. There are various short forms and pet forms, including Will, Bill, Willy, Willie, and Billy.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.