Period-Names-art - 12/15/14
"Picking Out A Period Name in the Society for Creative Anachronism" by Wulfhere of Eofeshamme, Amlesmore Herald.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
You can find more work by this author on his blog at: http://wulfhere.blogspot.com
Picking Out A Period Name in the Society for Creative Anachronism
by Wulfhere of Eofeshamme, Amlesmore Herald
One issue that often comes up in the Society for Creative Anachronism is that a member picks out a name for his or her persona, brings it to a herald, tries to get it registered only to find out it cannot be registered as it cannot be found in period sources. And ofttimes this is upsetting to the member as they have become attached to the name, and may even have been using it since they picked it out. A lot of this heartache is simply because SCA members do not realize that any name they register for a persona must be authentic. It must be the sort of name that someone from the era of the persona would have had.
This is specific to culture and language as much as it is time period. Thus Offa of Tamworth might do well for an Anglo-Saxon persona of the tenth century, but not for a 16th century Austrian persona. Offa of Wien would not be likely to be able to be registered as the name Offa is an 8th century Anglo-Saxon name and would not do for a 16th century Austrian persona. Of course there is always the question of why must a name be from the period?
Why can't someone just make up a name? The answer is that name creation is like anything else in the SCA. A woven tablet using Mickey Mouse as a pattern would not get very far in an Arts and Sciences competition nor would a fighter be allowed to fight in SWAT armor. Of course while not being able to use the modern name one wants is frustrating nearly all of the frustration in picking out a name that can be registered can be avoided if one realizes from the start that he or she must use a name that may have been used in period. It may mean some changes in how a SCA member approaches choosing a name though, and this is where heralds can be a great deal of help. The first step one should take before ever choosing an SCA name is consult a herald.
When choosing a name there are three simple questions that must be answered when one creates a persona for the SCA. They are who, where, and when. Who is the persona, what culture is he or she a part of, what language does he or she speak? Where does the persona live? Has he or she always lived there? And finally, when did the persona live? Until a SCA member can answer those questions there is no use in picking out a name. To pick out a name a member needs to know what people the persona is a part of, what language would the name be in, and when the persona lived. Once a SCA member knows those things they are ready to choose a name for his or her persona.
Whether the member is doing it his or herself or having a herald do it for them the first step is to look at period sources for when and where the persona lived. Some heralds maintain name lists a SCA member can look at, and there are some databases online, but one may have to look through period manuscripts and records. By looking at period sources one can get an idea of the names available. For some times and places there may be a great number of names. For others there may not be many.
In general the later the time period the greater number of names that will be available. That is not to say a person should limit themselves to later sources. In some cases in earlier periods it is possible to construct a name on known naming patterns. For example someone might attempt to register the name Wulfræd if he is doing an Anglo-Saxon persona on the basis that it may follow known Anglo-Saxon practices of name construction.
Not all sources of names are created equal. Anything with the word "baby" in the title should be avoided as the point of such sites and books is to provide modern names for modern babies, not document the origins and meanings of names. A good source of names should provide the date the names were used as well as list the period documents the names were mentioned in or better yet the period documents themselves. Period literature like Icelandic sagas and records like parish registries are both good examples of sources for period names.A herald can help in this search and point one in the direction of period sources of names.
There are two reasons people generally pick out a name. One is based on how the name sounds. One wants a name that sounds a certain way. The second reason is based on meaning. One wants a name that has a certain meaning. Neither reason is more important than the other. This is something one should keep in mind when picking out a name. If one is looking at how a name sounds it is a simple matter of looking at names that sound like or are close to what one wants. I have seen some people even willing to allow this to determine the time and place of their persona. They are willing for their persona to be of any time and place within the period just to have a name that sounds a certain way.
Folks wanting a name with a certain meaning often need not be so flexible. In many cases it is just a simple matter of finding a name that has the meaning they want. There are other reasons one might want a certain name or type of name. For me I simply wanted a name used in the time period I chose as well as one used in the culture my persona existed so I looked for names used in 8th century Anglo-Saxon England. I chose Wulfhere as I admired a king of that period with that name. Others may want to use early versions of a family name. Say if Henry is a common name in his or her family they may choose to use it or an early version of it. No doubt there are other reasons a person may want a certain name ranging from naming themselves for a famous personage (choosing the name Richard because he or she admires Richard the Lion Hearted) to wanting a name similar to their own modern name.
Once one has chosen a given name the second step to choose a byname. Again one can rely on a herald to help him or her. In later periods bynames can be surnames. Surnames of the period can be found in period documents. I have a friend that uses the 16th century version of his maternal grandfather's surname. He used a parish registry of the 16th century to document his surname. Since surnames did not often exist in earlier periods bynames were simply something that described the person so as to differentiate he or she from others with the same given name. These may be locative, describing where the persona is from; descriptive, a byname that notes something different about the persona; patronymic,a byname that tells who the persona's parents are; or occupational, a name that gives the occupation of the persona.
Since surnames were not used in 8th century England I had to choose a locative, a descriptive, a patronymic, or an occupational byname. I wanted my persona to be from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia so I chose a town that existed at that time in what is now that part of England. I really did not care where in the kingdom of Mercia my persona was from so I simply looked for a place whose name could be found in documents of the period. I found Evesham, England which was in Mercia mentioned in a very early charter for a monastery so I could document it easily and therefore chose it. I could have just as easily decided I wanted my persona to have a certain profession and chose a byname based on that. Say if I wanted my persona to be a farmer I might have looked for Anglo-Saxon words for farmer. While rare in the period of my persona I could have used a descriptive name. If say I wanted my persona to be known for being handsome I may have chosen Wulfhere se Alor. Or while also rare in my period I could have used a patronymic byname say Wulfhere Wuffessunu. Like given names bynames must be documented in some way. A herald can be a great deal of help here. A SCA member may know he or she wants something like a byname meaning "the weaver," but not know how to say it in the language of the persona. Here a herald can help by suggesting words they know, or get help from another herald that is familiar with the language.
Finally one must figure out how a name is constructed specific to the language the persona's name is in. For most this will simply mean going to a herald and having him or her do it for them. However if one wants to do it his or herself this is how it can be done. How a byname is constructed varies from language to language and sometimes from century to century. For example, with an early period Anglo-Saxon byname if a locative the place name must take the dative case (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dative_case">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dative_case for an explanation of the dative case). In some languages it is possible to construct a name following known patterns and using words commonly used in parts of names. This must be documented differently than simply finding a given name or byname in a period document. One must show that each part of the name would have been used in a language's methods of name construction.
Using the example of Wulfræd earlier one would have to show that Wulf- was used as part of an Anglo-Saxon name, and that -ræd was also. This also applies to bynames. With Anglo-Saxon locative bynames one can make up place names. Thus Wulfræd could be Wulfræd of Wulfeshamme as places were often named for people. Wulf was a common Anglo-Saxon given name while -ham was a common ending for the names of villages and towns. Some other languages do this as well. The page http://heraldry.sca.org/names/patterns.html">Naming Construction and Patterns gives many ways names were constructed in the various time periods of many of the cultures personas can be from in the SCA. In my case the form of Evesham in my period was Eofesham and the dative of that was Eofeshamme. I also had to use something denoting that I was from there. Since "of" is a good Anglo-Saxon preposition meaning "from," and can be found in the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, and is accepted by the SCA College of Arms as a legitimate form of Anglo-Saxon name construction I used it. Note my name is still going through the registration process so it could become Wulfhere æt Eofeshamme if the heralds so choose, æt being a less commonly used Anglo-Saxon word meaning "from."
Choosing a name one wants in the SCA need not be a heartbreaking experience. One must simply realize that names like everything else in the SCA must be in period. Choosing a name is no different from a scribe only using known motifs and fonts from the period the SCA covers. One would not expect a scribe to do a scroll in Times New Roman simply because they liked the look of the font. Similarly one would not expect a fighter to fight in modern bomb armor simply because it is lighter than wearing period plate or chain armor. Choosing a name is no different. And to use the comparison of the fighter again, fighters often rely on armorers to make their armor. In the same way an SCA member can rely on a herald to help create their persona's name.
Once one has chosen a name, and documented it, or had a herald document it, one is ready to register the name. Registration varies from kingdom to kingdom and one is encouraged to find a herald in his or her kingdom to help or go to his or her kingdom's heraldry website to see how to register a name. It usually consists of giving one's contact information, a birth date for identification, and listing the sources one used to document the name. In some cases one may have to provide photocopies of the sources.
Even well documented names may not be able to be registered. Sometimes someone is already using a name or something similar, and each SCA member's name must be unique to her or him. However, generally if one has done his or her homework or has a good herald doing all the groundwork for him or her registration is a painless if long process. A piece of advice though, it is possible to over document. When I started the registration process for my name I sent 19 pages of documentation overwhelming our poor submissions herald. The truth is only one or two pieces of documentation is needed for the given name and byname. One could perhaps easily provide only one piece of documentation for the given name and one for the byname and if from reliable sources get his or her name registered.
The point is though if one chooses a name from period sources, or constructs a name using period practices there will be a lot less heartache than simply picking out a name, and then hoping it will pass. If one wants to know more about choosing a period name it is suggested he or she go to http://heraldry.sca.org/names.html">SCA College of Arms - Name Articles
Copyright 2014 by Berry Canote. 202 E, Mulberry, Huntsville, MO 65269. <swainwodening at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.