English Baby Names, After the Norman Invasion

A BBC article from last year, “1066 and all those baby names,” describes how the Norman conquest drastically changed naming practices in England — how Anglo-Saxon names like Aethelred, Eadric, and Leofric were quickly replaced by names like William, Robert, Henry.

Here’s a quote from University of St. Andrews historian Robert Bartlett:

The ruling elite set the fashion and soon William was the most common male name in England, even among peasants. A lot of people changed their names because they wanted to pass in polite society – they didn’t want to be mistaken for a peasant, marked out with an Anglo-Saxon name.

This makes me curious about the naming practices of other conquered civilizations…did they change? If so, was it by force (i.e., native names made illegal) or was it a natural progression (as with Norman names in England)?


3 thoughts on “English Baby Names, After the Norman Invasion

  1. From Ed West’s Britain’s divided nation is revealed in our baby names:

    In Peter Ackroyd’s Foundation, the author notes that on an English farm in 1114 the workers were listed as being called Soen, Rainald, Ailwin, Lemar, Godwin, Ordric, Alric, Saroi, Ulviet and Ulfac. By the end of the century all these names had disappeared.

    Because the Normans had conquered England half a century earlier, all these men were easily identifiable as Anglo-Saxons just by their names. Likewise any William, Henry, Robert or Richard would have been a new arrival. Yet as inter-marriage blurred the distinctions, these names became instead class identifiers, although not for long, for such was the attraction of rising up in society where Anglo-Norman French was spoken that Norman names came to dominate. (Ackroyd records that at the beginning of the 12th century a boy from Whitby was recorded as changing his name from Tostig to William because he was being bullied.) Of the old English names, only Alfred, Edmund, Edwin and Edgar survived, while Edward thrived, largely thanks to the cult of Edward the Confessor.

  2. From David Hey’s The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (2 ed.):

    After the Norman Conquest the personal names that had been popular with the Anglo?Saxons and the Vikings fell out of favour. Some of the names favoured by the Normans were female equivalents of male names, e.g. Joan, Jane, Janet from John, or Patricia, Petra, and Paula from Patrick, Peter, and Paul. Others were biblical names or the names of saints. Joan and Agnes were first recorded in England in 1189, Catherine in 1196, Mary in 1203, Elizabeth in 1205, and Anne in 1218.

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