An Oxford Historian
Early Medieval Nicknames #2
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
After many requests, here is the next installment of nicknames! This is part of a series - check back at the past articles on Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Royal and Rude nicknames!
A quick disclaimer because there was some confusion last time: these names are 'Anglo-Saxon' in that they come from within the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. There are, however, examples in Old Norse and Old French from settlers in the Danelaw and after 1066 - the more neutral 'Early-Medieval England' has been sided with here.
Translations: Translation is always debatable, especially in the context of the dead languages here. I've opted for the translations provided by the secondary sources I quote below.
Aluric 'Fulebiert' - Foul Beard (von Feilitzen, 211)
This is presumably a reflection of poor physical hygiene but seems a bit harsh. In a similar vein is William 'Hurant' - The Shaggy Haired One (Tengvik, 318). Indeed, focus on hair seems to be the single most frequent theme in Early-Medieval English, especially in regard to colour. References to hair in other terms, like the 2 above, are considerably less frequent.
Ædui 'Al for Druncen' - The Wholly Drunk One (Tengvik, 340)
A fitting nickname, no doubt. It's hard to tell if this is intended to be in a jovial manner, or genuine criticism of socially disruptive behavior.
Lefstan 'Bittecat' - Bottle-Cat (von Feilitzen, 208)
This is traditionally interpreted in the same manner, for someone who drinks a lot. The Cat element is surprising, however, and perhaps point to a contemporary image (?)
Thurstan 'Cati' - The Merry One (Tengvik, 343)
An Old Norse nickname, this seems to have a rather positive outlook. Viking nicknames do show a trend towards praising positive attributes - is this individual, a descendant of Viking settlers, adopting this cultural tradition?
Perhaps to be interpreted in a similar way as the two examples above...
Ailric 'Brenebrec' - Burn Breeches (Tengvik, 385)
This seems likely to reflect an anecdotal incident in the individual's life. Did they accidentally set their trousers on fire during work? Were they forced to do so after an unfortunate accident...? The mind boggles.
William 'Malbeeng' - Bad Bench (Tengvik, 349)
A nickname in Old French, is this a reflection of bad craftsmanship? Certainly, Winton Domesday contains a large collection of occupational focused nicknames - is there a new attempt to hold service providers accountable for shoddy work?
Ralph 'Uifo Lupi' - Wolf's Face (Tengvik, 340)
Another Old French nickname, the exact implications here are unclear. Wolves certainly have an image of viciousness (and masculinity?) and perhaps this is the metaphorical allusion here. It's also possible an observational nickname - perhaps Ralph had a particularly point face/ ears? This is an interesting contrast to Odo 'Cul de Lou' - Wolf's Arse (Tengvik, 309), another Old French name.
Ælfgar se gyldena - The Golden (Kemble 1846, 13)
It's possible that this is a reflection to hair colour - was Ælfgar simply blond? Golden also brings with it lots of symbolic references, though - perhaps for oratory skills (such as modern English 'silver-tongue') or general spiritual purity.
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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 Anglo-Saxon thegnly diets 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)
Nennius' Historia Brittonum, available online here <https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1972/1972-h/1972-h.htm>
Tengvik, G. Old English Bynames (Uppsala, 1938)