What do you get when you throw a name nerd into an Old English graduate course? A list of Roman and Anglo-Saxon names she insists would be perfectly usable on a modern child (much to her husband’s chagrin).
As part of my coursework, I was assigned to read Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, an 8th century account of how Christianity developed in Roman-controlled Britain. Amidst all the Ethelreds, Cadwallas, and Wulfheres (and the handsome but done-to-death Aidan), I unearthed these somewhat usable gems:
Alban – St. Alban was the first British Christian martyr, beheaded in the early 4th century for hiding a priest in his home during a time Christianity was illegal. Though his name has never ranked in the U.S. top 1000, it shares the two-syllable ends-in-N pattern of so many current boys’ names. The “Al-” beginning might sound a little dated (think Albert and Alfred), but if Jude Law can make Alfie sound sexy, perhaps Alban would be the next logical choice.
Alaric – The name of this 5th-century Gothic king means “ruler of all.” It has the familiar sounds of Alan and Eric but the feel of a literary prince (a la Caspian). Overall, I think it would be a dashing middle name and a daring but workable first. It has never been in the U.S. top 1000.
Justus – Justus was Archbishop of Canturbury in the 7th century, and his name was recently rediscovered at the end of the 20th. Since 1994, Justus has ranked consistently in the bottom half of the U.S. top 1000. It has at least three things going for it: the cool Roman “-us” ending, the similarity to familiar Justin, and the feel of a modern virtue name (like Jessica Alba’s daughter, Honor).
Hadrian – Emperor Hadrian was perhaps best known for commissioning the building of a long stone wall stretching through the moors of Northumberland in order to keep out the barbaric Scotsmen. While the emperor has a firm place in our history books, his name has survived in the present century only in the form Adrian, currently ranked #61 in the U.S. The drawback to Adrian, though, is that he skews feminine to many people. Hadrian is unmistakably masculine. I see this as a very wearable option. After all, Hayden and Adrian are top 100 names, so why shouldn’t more parents turn to Hadrian as an alternative?
Caedmon – The ultimate literary name. Caedmon was purportedly the first poet and songwriter who composed in English (instead of Latin). In Old English, the ae should be pronounced as a short a sound (as in cat), so the name should be said as KAD-mon. The main problem you would run into with this one is that many people would want to pronounce it with a long vowel, as KADE-mon. If you can get around that obstacle, I think this name would sound perfectly in tune with a playground full of Aidans, Cadens, Jacksons, and Gavins.
Caelin – Caelin was a 6th-century king of the West Saxons. The name should be pronounced KAL-in, but I fear it would be often mispronounced as the more feminine KAY-lin. Still, with Collin hot in the U.S. and Callum hot in Britain, Caelin just might appeal. Plus, it shortens easily to the jaunty “Cal.”
Finan – Finan was an Irish monk who succeeded St. Aidan as the bishop of Lindisfarne. Could we hope to see his name succeed Aidan as well? As best I can tell, the name derives from Finnan, and should thus be pronounced with a short i, as FIN-in rather than FIEN-in. This strikes me as a very wearable option, though perhaps it would be best to toss in the extra n for ease of pronunciation.
Colman – No, not the ice chest…that’s Coleman. Colman was another bishop of Lindisfarne who was involved in a famous controversy over the proper date to celebrate Easter. (He lost.) Things the name has going for it: it’s Irish (that’s in), it’s also a surname (those are in), and it sounds like the up-and-coming Cole.
Ronan – Ronan was an Irishman involved in the Easter debate. (His side won.) The name means “little seal,” and it’s likely to strike most as a very stylish choice, perhaps thanks in part to its use on celebrity baby Ronan Day-Lewis.
Redwald — Redwald was a 7th-century king of East Anglia. His name means “strong counsel.” Color names (like Scarlett, Violet, and Grayson) are red-hot right now, so why not give your child a name that could be shortened to “Red”?
and, of course:
Bede – We can’t forget the monk and historian from whose work all these names have been gleaned. I’m not sure how this one would go over as a first name (because of its similarity to the word “bead”), but it could be a charmingly eccentric one-syllable middle. Parents tired of the expected James and John but looking for something with religious and historical meaning might consider Bede.
Which of these very old names would you consider usable (if any)? What are your favorites and least favorites?