Names on the Web

Tim McDaniel tmcd at
Thu Oct 24 22:37:00 PDT 1996

(CCed to the SCA Heralds' and Ansteorran Heralds' mailing lists.)

On Thu, 24 Oct 1996, Gunnora Hallakarva <gunnora at> wrote:
> I received the following info:
> >A friend of mine just gave me a url that contains many names in many
> >cultures........Thought I'd post it to the list in reply to this
> >thread.
> >
> I haven't had a chance to look at.  Hey, will some of you herald
> types with faster computers than mine take a look and tell us if
> this is of any use for SCA'ers?

Speaking as someone with only basic learning on onomastics: the pages
are at best useless for SCA name registration or for any scholarly
use.  (They can be worse than worthless if they mislead; I have
basically no data on that.)

Problem 1: The names are just listed one after another with no other
information.  For any reliable use, you have to have sources.  What
made them believe that these are historical names?  What reason do WE
have to believe them?  How can we go to the source to find more
information or to check their work?  We can't.

There are no dates given, nor information on meaning or derivation (or
any other info).  Also, I only noticed one spelling per name, so
someone normalized the names, which strips them of a lot of their
interest.  That can also introduce errors -- perhaps that's a MODERN
spelling never used in period, or perhaps it's just a false
normalization.  Without the sources we can't check.

One of the lists is "Chaucer".  Were those names used by real people
in period, or where they just literary?  I don't know.  The latter
names aren't registerable.

Problem 2: the historical summary before each list is an interesting
notion.  However, in just a few moments (and I do mean "moments") of
looking at just two of them, I found a substantial error in each.

In the "medieval" one: "it was the Normans who introduced the idea of
inherited surnames to Britain."  I don't have Reaney's _Dictionary of
British Surnames_ handy (whimper ... it's about my only familiar name
source at the moment) so I can't cite with reliability.  I certainly
know that some Normans used "Fitz" names, which originated as a
patronymic (and hence were not inherited at first).  But that's the
French form, so they were doing it after Rollo got Normandy.  The
Scandinavians whence they sprung used non-inherited surnames for quite
some time (in Iceland, to the present day).  I *think* that in Britain
inherited surnames arose after the Conquest.

In the "Welsh" page, a real howler: "The Celts identified themselves
by their patronymic preceded by 'ap' or 'ab' (son of)."

No, the *Welsh* did.  Most Celts were not Welsh!  The Irish, for
instance, used ui, inghean, O, mac, and other such things (at various
times; I omit the diacritical marks, BTW).  When I would say Welsh was
early enough to be approaching something callable "Celtic" (as a more
universal term), they were using "mab".  Also, the Welsh used "verch"
for metroymics.

If uneddicated I can find two errors in just seconds, what about the
rest of the content?

Don't bother using this site.  Well, OK, this site might have *one*
usage.  If you find a name under a particular category, it can show
you where to start looking for documentation.  "OK, it says it's
Welsh.  I'll start looking for other sources about Wales."  These
lists are certainly no place to *stop* looking if you want to be able
to justify a name as period.  And even as a starting place for the
simple question of "What language is this?" without having reliable
documentation, I'd recommend Christine Yonge's work.  You can't trust
her documentation in general, but at least there's some more
information to confirm or refute.  Then again, something http://... is
easier to get to than a library nowadays.

My rule of thumb #1: As a general rule, when I see "Celtic" (as here)
or "Teutonic", I raise a mental warning flag.  Oh, it might be a good
scholar using them in their technical meaning ... but I've mcuh more
often seen the words associated with ignorant usage.  It's like
"copyright" (or worse, "copywrite"!)  and "First Amendment" -- it
seems either the poster is quite knowledgable or quite ignorant, and
not much in between.

My rule of thumb #2: if I see a simple list of names, it's another
warning flag.  I check for sources.  Occasionally it's got good
sources, making it an extremely useful compact nugget of info.  Two
classics: Geirr Bassi's _The Old Norse Name_, with given names listed
from three named saga, and a bibliography with texts, grammars,
dictionaries, and an index.  Talan Gwyneks "A Glossary of the Personal
Names in D<i'>ez Melc<o'n>'s _Apellidos Castellano-Leoneses_", in the
1994 Known World Heraldic Symposium Proceedings.  Melc<o'n> is a
comprehensive book covering the 9th-13th centuries in Castile and
Leon, citing (inter alia) complete names in their period spellings.
Talan used it as a source for Spanish given names.

If, on the other hand, like the Web site above, no sources are given,
it's worthless or worse for scholarly use.

Here's a quote about another name list that's been circulating lately:

] "This is a list of some Irish, Scottish and Welsh names that I hope will
] serve as suitable examples for names in Dinas.  ..."
] Oh cripes! Not again!
] WARNING! These [particular] name lists are EXTREMELY
] unreliable. Although some of the names listed here do, in fact,
] correspond to the alleged language, gender, and name category as
] presented, MANY of them do not. Please DO NOT use this list as a
] source for SCA names. You have about a fifty-fifty chance of picking
] a name that is _not_ what it claims to be, and this could cause
] problems if you ever desire to register it.
] ...
] Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn
] (eternal vigilance is the price of scholarship)

Daniel de Lincoln
                             Tim McDaniel
                        Reply-To: tmcd at
    mcdaniel at is wrong tool.  Never use this.

More information about the Ansteorra mailing list