What’s Up with Walpurga?
|April 24, 2014|
I’ve never celebrated Walpurgis Night, which seems to be a big bonfire party held across large swaths of Europe every spring (April 30/May 1), but I am curious about the name of the holiday. Where does it come from?
It was named after St. Walpurga, an 8th-century English missionary whose name in Old English would have looked more like “Wealdburg.”
Her name reminds me of Willibrord, and for good reason — the corresponding saints were both Anglo-Saxons who lived right around the same time.
So what does her name mean?
As with Willibrord, there are two elements to Wealdburg.
The first element comes from the Anglo-Saxon word weald, meaning “power,” “authority” or “ruler.” This element can also be seen in Germanic names like Walter and Waldo.
The second comes from the Anglo-Saxon word burg, meaning “fortress,” “castle,” “town,” “city,” or something similar.
Now, Germanic names weren’t constructed so that the meanings of the two elements would form a phrase. So combining these two definitions to create something catchy like “ruler of the fortress” would be taking things a bit too far. Better to leave the definition at “power + fortress” or something like that.
Walpurga has never made the SSA’s list of baby names, but Walburga has — on and off from the 1890s until the 1920s.