An Oxford Historian
Updated: May 28, 2021
What do 'Anglo-Saxon' nicknames look like, and what sources do they appear in? What trends and themes emerge?
My research focuses on nickname use among the 'Anglo-Saxons' - how the names change with time and space, what names are chosen, and whether this reflects social systems and groupings. Drawing on sources from the 'Anglo-Saxon' world, up until Domesday Book (and its satellites), I'm compiling a database of all nicknames. Specifically, I'm focusing on nicknames that are non-geographical (eg. of Kent), non-occupational (eg. the Farmer) and non-genealogical (eg. son of Godwine). What we're left with are a set of colourful, evocative and occasionally openly offensive names, the origin of which are often humorously unexplainable
Below are a selection of some of the more unusual examples I've found so far:
(as a disclaimer here, all translations are from the quoted sources - there's much room for debate!)
William Hurant - 'The Shaggy-Haired One' (Tengvik 1938, 318)
A landholder in Suffolk, found in Domesday Book. This is presumably a relatively simple descriptive nickname for a person in need of a haircut.
Edmaer Anhande - 'One-Handed' (Tengvik 1938, 285)
Found in Textus Roffensis, this is presumably another relatively obvious descriptive nickname.
Osbern Giffard - 'Chubbycheeks' (Tengvik 1938, 346)
Found in Exon Domesday, this is also a nickname focusing on an observable characteristic.
The implication is less clear, however - does it perhaps point to over-indulgence? Applied to two individuals, it's possible that this had began to serve a surname function, inherited by descendants - this is a phenomenon largely agreed to have started after the Anglo-Saxon period.
Ælfric Præt - 'Ingenious' (Kemble 1846, 13)
Found in Vita Herewardi militis, this seems to be an expression of praise.
Robert Inuefiat - 'Perverted' (Tengvik 1938, 348)
This ominous nickname is found in the Essex section of Domesday Book - it's impossible to tell if it's intended as a light-hearted 'banter' or a more serious attempt at social criticism.
Ralf Sciteliure - 'Diarrhea Liver' (von Feilitzen 1976, 171)
Referenced in Winton Domesday (the Survey of 1148), this name might well be a reference back to a particularly unfortunate past event in Ralf's life...
Godwine Wambestrang - 'Wombstring' (Tengvik 1938, 357)
Found in the Inquisitio comitatus Cantabrigiensis, the significance of this nickname is a mystery. Presumably it harks back to a defining moment in the individual's life, either at his own birth or at the birth of another (potentially even an animal?).
Chawete - 'Owl' (von Feilitzen 1976, 152-3)
This example is found in Winton Domesday (the Survey of 1148). References to animals are always hard to interpret - is this nickname a reflection of an occupation involving the animal, or rather suggesting a physical or behavioural similarity? It's also a prime example of a nickname being used in isolation, with no forename - a feature that is less frequent among the Anglo-Saxon corpus, but not surprising.
Ernuin Cattesnese - 'Cat's Nose' (Tengvik 1938, 298)
Referenced in the Yorkshire section of Domesday Book, it's unclear if the cutesy image that this has in English is also applicable to the Old English word.
Alwin Aitard - 'Fire Hard' (http://dmnes.org/name/Aitard)
Referenced in Winton Domesday (the Survey of c.1110), the implications of this name are unclear. Perhaps it references a particular past incident involving fire? Perhaps it references his status as a craftsman using fire?
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Check out my previous articles on Anglo-Saxon (here), Viking (here) and obscene (here) nicknames. A new Deep-Dive article on Interpreting the Emporia can be found here.
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von Feilitzen, O. 'The Personal Names and Bynames of the Winton Domesday' in M. Biddle (ed.) Winchester in the Early Medieval Ages (Oxford, 1976), pp. 143-229
Kemble, J. M. On the Names, Surnames and Nicnames of the Anglosaxons (London, 1846)
Tengvik, G. Old English Bynames (Uppsala, 1938)