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Medieval names took many forms.

Human Names

Human names tend to use combinations of the following:

e.g. Ingrid, Michael, Giovanni, Ivan, Catherine, Tomas
Christians tended to take names from the New Testament or saints. Names from the Old Testament (Abraham, Isaac, Moses) were considered the province of Jews, although there were of course exceptions. There are occasional instances of girls being given the names of flowers or precious stones (e.g. Rose, Emerald) but these are unusual until very late in period when the influence of classical literature by way of the Renaissance even occasionally resulted in use of a pagan deity name (e.g. Diane de Poitiers).
  • Locative surnames incorporate some aspect of where an individual lives or comes from.
e.g John of London (English), Jhonne Glasgow (Scottish), Jehan de Paris (French), Johann von Augsberg (German), Juan de Burgos (Spanish). These can also be descriptive, such as the English surnames Fleming (meaning a person from Flanders) or Wallace (meaning a person from Wales).
Another type of locative surname is a toponym, in which a person is named for a natural feature (such as Hill, Shore, or Field) or an artificial field (such as Bridge, Church, or Wall).
  • Patronymic/Matronymic surnames cite one's father's or mother's name.
e.g. Thorvaldr Thorgeirsson (Norse), Bernardo di Vincenzo (Italian), Boris Ivanovich (Russian), Ifor ap Dafydd (Cymraeg/Welsh), Sean U Neill (Irish), John FitzGilbert (Norman
Depending on the culture, women would use differentiating terminology to indicate "daughter of":
e.g. Sigrid Njalsdatter (Norse), Ceinwen ferch Llewellyn (Welsh), Aine inghean Sheain (Irish), Natasha Ivanova (Russian)
One of the best-known examples of a matronymic is that of King Henry II of England, who was also known as Henry Fitzempress (his mother was the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor and continued to use the title Empress even after she'd married his father, Count Geoffrey of Anjou.).
To further confound naming practices, Henry adopted his father's nickname, Plantagenet (due to his habit of wearing a sprig of Planta Genesta (common broom) in his hat) as the name of his dynasty.
  • Nicknames are a type of surname which describes some aspect of the individual -- often a physical attribute or characteristic.
e.g. John Longshanks, Eric the Red, Vlad Dracule
  • Occupational surnames describe what the individual does for a living.
e.g. Thomas Wheeler, John Cooper, Edward Carpenter, William Chandler
An occupational byname can be a good way to incorporate your hobby, vocation, or an activity that interests you, in your SCA name.
  • Surnames of clan or family affilation
e.g. O'Brien, MacNaughton, di Medici

Which specific names and types of bynames are appropriate for you depends entirely on what you are trying to re-create. The most important factors are the time, place, and culture you want to re-create, but your gender and class are important, too. Not all types of surname were used in all cultures -- many early medieval cultures used no surnames at all. Some modern naming customs are not a good guide to medieval naming customs. For example, the Spanish custom of multiple given names and compound surnames refering to your mother and father did not come into general use until well after our period. However, the modern practice of inherited surnames (that is, using the same surname as one's parent) is well-documented within our period.

See also:

Place Names


Names in the SCA

Your SCA persona will have an SCA name that should be registered with your herald and the SCA College of Arms. Although there is no requirement that you register your name, doing so guarantees that no one else in the SCA can (legally) use it. It is far more important that you choose a name that is a good re-creation of the naming customs of some medieval culture. You can find reliable information to help you do that at the Academy of Saint Gabriel and particular in its Medieval Names Archive. Be careful using other web resources: Almost none of them are intended as sources for accurate historical re-creation, and so the names you find there will generally not be correct.

Your branch will have to register a name as well. Some types of branches often follow particular fashions in naming, e.g. some colleges are often named after a patron saint. This follows one of the historical models for naming colleges in medieval Europe.