When you think of the “Dark Ages” or Medieval times, courageous knights, fair ladies, humble peasants, and royalty come to mind. Now, what were all those folks named? You might think some very strange-sounding names would be popular from the years 500 to 1600, but you’d be surprised. For every Humbelina and Meloria, which are some pretty out-there names, there were ten more Alices and Reginas.
Yes, the most popular names pre-Renaissance are names that you’ll still hear on the streets today. This means for those looking for baby name inspiration, it’s a rich time to explore. Our friends over at Baby Name Wizard point out that a team of historians has been compiling an online database of the most common names from the Medieval Ages. We picked through the literal dictionary of names, so that you don’t have to and found some of the most attractive names for girls from the times. Grab a sword, because we’re going to get a little wild with old baby names that we think still work in the modern world.
You might be more familiar with the name, Mabel, but Amabel came first. Amabel is a precious name for girls that means “lovable.” This English name has Latin origins and would be a perfectly lovable choice.
Another affable name, Beatrice replaced the Latin Beatrix after the fall of the Roman Empire. Beatrice is a gorgeous name that means “she who makes happy.” We must admit, the name does put a smile on our face.
Celestina is one of the most stunning names for girls, but it’s a bit lengthy! If you’re not worried about a little fuss, go with this charming name and call your baby girl Sally or Celest for short. Believe it or not, this name was used for both males and females in Medieval times. It means “heavenly.”
Yes, Diamond might seem like a trendy, contemporary name but it’s been used for girls since Antiquity. Diamond overtook the Latin and Greek forms of the name in the Dark Ages. As you’ve probably surmised, the name refers to the precious rock.
Elia is the feminine form of Elias and was wildly popular for fair ladies of the day. The old Latin form Elya, which was adopted from Hebrew, fell out of fashion and French speakers went with Helia while the English dropped the “H” and settled on Elia. The name means “God has answered.”
We’re fond of the Old French form of the name Felicia, Felize, which was a stylish name of the day. Felize has a cheery meaning “fortunate.” The Latin form of the name, Felix was also still in use at the time and was considered a gender-neutral name.
Find us a more pleasant name, we dare you. Genevieve is a beautiful name that has proto-German origins. It was plucked from obscurity and popularized by Genevieve of Brabant who is a heroine of medieval legend. While her original name was probably Genoveva or Genovefa, English ears heard Genevieve. The name means “kin woman.”
Like other virtue names, Grace was not much used in England before the 16th century, but unlike other virtue names, it shows up elsewhere much earlier. The Romans popularized the name Gratia which began to spread around Europe (which, of course, was part of the Empire) and different speakers had different ways of saying it. In Spain, Portugal, and France the name transformed to Gracia. Finally, the English modernized the name to Grace.
A bit off the beaten path, Honora is a name that means “honor” which apparently was a big deal (as any knight would attest) in Medieval Europe. People really loved this name and many forms of it are documented including Honor, Honors, Honorat, Honorata, Honoria, and Horabana.
Ingrid is a name that sounds like it’s been ripped right from a Medieval scroll. We have met a few Ingrids today and we’re fond of this name. Ingrid comes from Iceland where it belonged to the mythical god Ing.
It gained popularity on the continent after a 12th-century queen consort of Norway helped popularize it and later belonged to a Swedish saint before things took a turn for the moniker. Ingrid Ylva, the 13th-century wife of a Swedish nobleman, was reported in legend and myth to be a white witch. But, that was ages ago!
The popularity of the name Joan preceded Joan of Arc and it was one of the hottest names in Europe in the 13th century. The French even did the cool hyphenated thing they do with names. Similar to John-Paul, Joan was also used so you’d find Joan-Stephanie, Joan-Baptista, and the like. The name has Hebrew origins and means “graced by God.”
Katherine was such a popular name of the times, that an extremely rare thing occurred. There are tons of names for girls that are simply feminine forms of masculine names (think Louisa from Louis). The opposite happened with Katherine. Yes, people transformed Katherine to Katherin and used it for boys. No one knows where the name originated, though many suggest it comes from a Greek root that means “pure.”
Lena is still a popular name, especially in the UK. Perhaps it has such staying power because it’s the diminutive form of a ton of names. Believe it or not, Lena was considered a nickname for the popular, Leceline which means “lettuce.” It’s been some time since folks went around naming people for that leafy vegetable and today it’s more closely associated Adeline, Emaline, Helena, or Magdelena. Which means the name has many different meanings (lettuce need not apply).
Meredith is a beautiful name that’s switched genders over the last several centuries. Yes, Meredith was a masculine name and belonged to a number of Welsh princes in the 10-12 centuries. This Welsh name became so popular it crossed over to the continent and became Mereduco or Maredut. Meredith is an excellent name for a girl today even though it means “great prince.”
Nicole is the feminine form of Nicholas (originally Greek) and it was a very popular name around Europe. This was especially true for French-speakers where the name took many forms and scholars argue the name became the ever-so-French, Collette. In English, they didn’t get so romantic with it and it instead was the brute Nichol or Nycoll. The name means “victory of the people.”
Okay, so we know you’re not hearing a lot of this name outside of Germany (if at all). We bring you Odelgarde just to illustrate the way so many of these old names have changed and that many have not. Odelgarde is one such name that’s had some makeovers through the years.
It comes from Old High German and was very popular in the 6th Century. Then came the Odel names… Odelbals, Odelberga, Odelgilde, Odelhard, Odelhaus, Odelhilde, etc. There were a lot of Odels! Now, you’re probably more familiar with the attractive names Adelle or Adelaide which, thankfully, are much softer. The name means “nobility.”
The name Precious was first recorded in England in the 14th century. The name made its way to English speakers by way of France which adopted it from the Latin, pretiōsus. This name for girls means “dear.”
If you want to get fun with it, the name can also be spelled with an accent: Renée. It’s a feminine form Rene that the French popularized. It belonged to all sorts of important folks of the time including a legendary 5th-century saint, a 15th-century king of Naples, and a 16th-century prince of Orange. The name means “reborn.”
You might think that Ruby, as a name, is a modern invention. The name actually has roots in Old French and was first found spelled Ruby in England in 1581. Ruby, of course, refers to the red gemstone.
Just for fun: One of the most popular name R-names for girls of the time was Ratberta. Thank goodness that one has faded away.
The Biblical name, Susan which means “lily” or “rose” in Hebrew wasn’t found in England until the 12th century. While it’s extremely popular today, things didn’t really take off for this name with English speakers until the 16th century.
Scholars are uncertain where the name Theresa comes from but a possibility is from Greek, meaning “to harvest.” The name did not spread outside of the Iberian peninsula until the 16th century, with the veneration of Saint Theresa of Avila.
Tiffany, as we know it, was first used in the 16th century. Before that, Theophania (Latin) was another name for Epiphany, and in England, the name was used of girls who were born or christened on or near that holiday. Therefore, the name means “manifestation of God.”
The diminutive form of the name Ursa, Ursula, was always more common than the root form, due to the popularity of the legend of St. Ursula and the 10,000 virgins. In England, Ursa was not much used before the 16th century. There were plenty of Ursulas though! The name means “she-bear.”
While some claim that Shakespeare invented the name for his play Twelfth Night, the name was already in use before then, and its inclusion in the piece follows the playwright’s common practice of adopting Italian or Italianate names. The name was also slightly popular in Hungary. There, they took the Latin word for “violet” and formed Wyola and Iwola.
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We could curate a list of Medieval names without the inclusion of the beloved Winifred. In Welsh, you’ll find Gwenfrewi which later gave way to English form, Winifred in the 15th century. The name belonged to Welsh saint who became a martyr in the 7th century but was not widely celebrated until the 12th century. Word did not travel fast in those days! The name Winifred means “holy” or “fair” or “white.”
There you go! Can you believe that so many of the names in use today were being used as baby names in Medieval times? We hope you enjoyed these 25 Medieval names and are inspired to choose one for your little princess.