But in reality, the world of medieval names holds a ton of strange and wonderful surprises — and they can all be found in the Dictionary of Medieval Names From European Sources, a fascinating glimpse into the naming customs of the middle ages.
Headed up by Dr. Sara L. Uckelman, Assistant Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Language at Durham University, and a team of scholarly types from all over Europe, the Dictionary is a comprehensive list of all the given (a.k.a. first) names “recorded in European sources written between 500 and 1600.”
It’s an amazing document, with names running the gamut from the super weird (Ratbald, Seafowl, Puglith, and Winegod) to the downright unfortunate (um … Bastard?) to the straight-up surprising … like these 20 names, found all over the place in modern society, that you’d never guess were being used at the same time as, like, chamber pots. Talk about major staying power!
(For our list of more “typical” sounding — but still historically accurate — medieval names, click here.)
Your mom might have a few friends named Susan (or be one herself), since it was a high-ranking #2 on the popularity charts from 1957-1960 — but this name first appeared in 12th-century England.
This is the name of a 6th-century Irish saint, and was used in various spellings (such as the Early Modern English “Brigyt” and the Middle Low German “Byrgytte”) all over Europe.
Found as early as 1197 as Theophania, it morphed into the more-recognizable forms of Teofanie and Tyffoine, and into the “modern-day” Tiffany whose popularity peaked in 1982 (and again in 1988) when it hit #13 on the U.S. popularity charts.
An ancient Greek name which was used as an epithet for Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Also popular in elementary-school classrooms, since it was in the top 10 most popular names from 2008-2011.
This ubiquitous ’80s-girl name held steady in the top 10 (and as high as #2!) for nearly two decades — from 1976-1995. But it was first used as early as 1591.
The feminine form of Sylvius and the name of a 6th-century saint, the mother of pope Gregory the Great … and still currently in the top 500 most popular girls’ names in the U.S.
Thanks in part to the ’80s sitcom Family Ties and its character Mallory Keaton, played by Justine Bateman, this name peaked in 1987 at #175 on the charts. Its initial known appearance, though, was in 1222.
This name — of Aramaic origin and meaning “gazelle” — has had some serious staying power. It was first used in Europe in 1574, and later was a popular choice among the Puritans, and later still, the name of a character on the beloved 1960-70s TV series Bewitched.
A feminine variation of Carl, and also the name of a 15th-century queen of Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Armenia, this name was in the top 100 most popular from 1961-1970.
A classic name that’s still in the top 1,000 most popular — and has been holding strong since it belonged to a 3rd-century saint. It didn’t really become commonly used until the late Middle Ages, though.
And now for the jousting, codpiece-wearing set: The medieval (and now modern) gentlemen with the names …
Could we think of a more quintessential ’70s-’80s name than Jason? After all, it spent the entire decade of the seventies in the top three most popular names. Except, it’s actually an ancient Greek mythological name.
This name is commonly used as a diminutive of Andrew — but it can also be derived from the Germanic personal name Drogo, which in Old and Middle French morphed into Dreue.
Lingering just below today’s top 500, this name was used in the 11th century in its Latin form, Quintinus, but used in this exact form since 1292. So, still old AF.
This name has been in the top 50 most popular since 2001. In the early 1300s it was “Luce,” but it’s been used in its modern form since the 1500s.
This sounds like an up-and-comer (Milo Ventimiglia, amiright?), and it is rising steadily. But it was already being used throughout Europe by the 1500s, those trendsetters.
We all know someone named Nathan. These days, you could throw a stone (proverbially, of course) and hit a Nathan. But it has actually been around for a looooong time.
First spelled “Dynys” in 1379, it also had variations such as “Denijs” and “Denys” and even “Denise.” It has been on the decline for the last few decades from its heyday in 1949, when it peaked at #16 on the charts. But considering it’s such an old name, that’s some serious longevity.
This one (referring to a person from Scotland, obvi) was first seen in the 1100s, but it landed in the top ten most popular names as recently as 1971.
Funny how this name belonged to a 10th-11th century high king of Ireland, yet is still just as fitting for the guy in the next cubicle (or the dog from Family Guy).
This name is actually the medieval form of the Hebrew name Jeremiah. Also the dude who Pearl Jam sang about, so still relevant.
It’s pretty impressive that these names have managed to not only hang on, but become popular — some of them wildly so — from medieval times to the Internet age. Their contemporary sound masks the fact that they’re actually relics.
Can’t imagine why Ratbald and Winegod didn’t stay popular, can you?
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