Name Research Without Books
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Name Research Without Books

Ursula Georges
ursula@yarntheory.net

These notes describe strategies and resources for researching medieval names for use in the Society of Creative Anachronism.

The Basic Goal

From Pelican, September 2004 LOAR (http://www.sca.org/heraldry/loar/2004/09/04-09cl.html):

First, what is the purpose of documentation and what should a summarization of documentation include? The purpose of documentation is to show the following:

  • that all elements of a name and all spellings used are found before 1650 (or are specifically allowed by the Rules for Submission or Laurel precedent)
  • the specific language or culture where each name element/spelling is found
  • Demonstrate that the entire name, as well as each name phrase, is constructed properly and that the grammar of each element is correct.

Good summarization pulls out the main points of the documentation and shows how they support the items listed above. It also provides a roadmap that others can use to find, double-check, and evaluate documentation.

Evaluating Sources

  • Does the source include dated spellings? Does it explain any normalization or standardization?
  • Does it provide references to check its assertions?
  • Does it make any claims that are obviously false?

Browsing the Web

The Medieval Names Archive
http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/

The Medieval Names Archive has general information on naming practices, and links to articles on names from specific cultures. Articles are reviewed before inclusion, and the archive includes notes on how to use specific articles.

Searching the Academy of Saint Gabriel Archives
http://www.s-gabriel.org/advancedsearch.html

There are several thousand Academy of Saint Gabriel reports on particular names and heraldic practices. If you're looking for information on a specific name, Academy reports can be extremely useful.

Academy Reports are stored by report number. If you know the number of the report you're looking for, you can open it directly; for example, Academy Report 2000 is at http://www.s-gabriel.org/2000.

The Report Archive (http://www.panix.com/~gabriel/public-bin/archive.cgi) is arranged in chronological order. You can use the report archive to pull up reports in a specific range, such as all reports from 2700-2800. The Report archive also has a search tool; this tool is very fast, but not very powerful. It only searches the information displayed in the table, so (for example) searching for the name Willewyn will not produce Report 2907 on Willewyn Glasswrytha, because that report is listed in the table under the report name Glasswright.

The advanced search tool is slower, but much more powerful. It allows you to search for words, parts of words, and combinations of words. When the Academy writes about a specific name, it encloses the name in angle brackets, so the advanced search tool also allows you to search only for words or parts of words enclosed in angle brackets.

academysearch

See also the Academy FAQ for Heralds, http://www.s-gabriel.org/faq/heraldsfaq.html and the Academy FAQ for Clients, http://www.s-gabriel.org/faq/

SCA Rules for Submissions and Name Precedents

More important for registration than for research, but the rules & precedents do cite some useful data.

Online System for Commentary And Response (OSCAR)
oscar.sca.org

OSCAR collects SCA name and device submissions. You can search OSCAR to find documentation that was previously submitted with a name or a device.

The SCA O&A
oanda.sca.org

The fact that a name has been registered doesn't prove it's authentic! But the O&A is still central to our game.

The Middle English Dictionary
http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/med/

Useful for finding spellings of words from our period. Includes surname examples.

The Anglo-Norman Dictionary
http://www.anglo-norman.net/gate/?session=S653591233682189

Dictionary of the Scots Language
http://www.dsl.ac.uk/

Records of the Parliaments of Scotland
http://www.rps.ac.uk/

Full text of Scottish parliamentary decisions, from 1235 to 1707. Includes many Scots personal names and place names.

The Problem Names Project
http://www.medievalscotland.org/problem/

The site introduction reads:

The articles in the Problem Names Project discuss various names and naming practices about which there are common misconceptions concerning their use in the Middle Ages or Renaissance. For example, some names and naming practices that many people today believe to be medieval are purely modern. Other names and naming practices which were used in one medieval culture are now mistakenly believed to have been used in others. Other common misconceptions concern the medieval pronunciation of a name or whether it was used by men or women in the Middle Ages. If there are common misconceptions about any aspect of the pre-1600 use of a name or naming practice, it may be a "Problem Name".

Some Heraldic and Onomastic Books Found for Free Online
Wenyeva atte Grene

http://slumberland.org/sca/articles/onlineheraldicbooklinks.html

Google Tricks

With www.google.com , you can:

  • Establish that a name exists today, and find various spellings
  • Find other names associated with a particular name
  • Find historical people or literary figures with a particular name
  • Search a particular site using the site: and inurl: tools 

books.google.com

  • Full or snippet text of many books
  • Nineteenth-century editions of medieval texts often available
  • Text may be limited to US visitors.

Tricks for Finding a Medieval Spelling in Google Books:

  • Guess a Latin spelling
    • Feminine names often end in -a, masculine names in -us
    • Add a Latin word such as filius 'son', filia 'daughter', or haec 'these'
    • For placenames, search for "de ____"
  • Add a medieval word or name
    • For French names, "Jehan" often works.
  • Use quotation marks as necessary

Other Useful Sites

The Medieval Heraldry Archive, http://www.s-gabriel.org/heraldry/

Medieval Names Archive Search Engine (beta)
http://www.google.com/cse/home?cx=008757934032998723857:bevbztqcmhs&hl=en

Searches most of the articles in the MNA.

CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts
http://www.ucc.ie/celt/

Irish texts in the original languages and in translation. Vast and full of useful tidbits, but the search tools can be finicky.

Perseus under Philologic
http://perseus.uchicago.edu/

Classical Greek and Roman texts and dictionaries.

Wikipedia, http://www.wikipedia.org/

A good general source for establishing that towns existed in period, and other historical information. Charts and "pronunciation" or "phonology" entries may help with transliteration and pronunciation. Not a source of dated spellings.

Omniglot
http://omniglot.com/

World writing systems. Includes sound files.

Library Tricks

Interlibrary Loan

Find out how your library's interlibrary loan system works, and take advantage of it! (Sometimes another library will lend you a book which your library only has in the reference section . . .)

Site Subscriptions

Certain websites are only available with an (expensive) paid subscription. Of these, some of the most interesting to an SCA member are the Oxford English Dictionary:

http://www.oed.com/

which lists historical forms of English words

and Early English Books Online:

http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home

which has scanned images of English printed books.

Just Walk In

Most academic libraries will let community members browse the stacks (at worst, you might have to sign in). Some also extend borrowing privileges to alumni for a fee. You may also be able to suborn a local college student.

Asking for Help

Mailing Lists

Sca-hrlds
https://lists.andrew.cmu.edu/mailman/listinfo/sca-hrlds

Kingdom Mailing Lists
http://heraldry.sca.org/lists.html#lists