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Early Medieval Breton Names

by Heather Rose Jones

copyright © 2004, all rights reserved

Table of Contents


The Names

Inscription Formats

Bibliography and Abbreviations


The largest body of information on medieval Breton names begins around the 9th century with cartularies such as the Cartulary of Redon. Earlier names are harder to come by: references to Breton individuals in Frankish chronicles, and a small handful of stone inscriptions. A collection of the latter, spanning the late 5th through 11th centuries (but primarily the earlier part) are analyzed in detail in:

Davies, Wendy et al. 2000. The Inscriptions of Early Medieval Brittany. Celtic Studies Publications, Oakville.

Following each citation is the identifying code for the inscription from Davies et al. The letter identifies the region: F = Finistère, C = Côtes d'Armor, M = Morbihan, I = Ille-et-Vila, J = Channel Islands. Unless specifically noted, linguistic and etymological interpretations are from Davies et al.

The Names

Women's Given Names (probably)

Beladore (I1) 6-7th c. - The reading of the inscription is uncertain. It might be "Beladore", a genitive of a feminine "Beladora", but another plausible reading is "Belado re[quiescit]" with the latter part of the inscription either abbreviated or damaged. In the latter case, the name would most likely be masculine (q.v.). Under the first interpretation, we can compare the name with multiple examples of Latin "Bel(l)ator" as a personal name. But also possibly Celtic Belatu- e.g., in the Gaulish place-name Belatu-dunum, or the personal names Belatullus, Belatulla, Belatumara. The commentary seems to lean towards the latter, reconstructing a feminine Beladora, possibly related to Celtic *Belatu-rix.

Berthildis (I5) probably Merovingian in date - The name is Germanic in origin and is found elsewhere as a feminine name (see e.g. Morlet 1968 vol. I p.55).

Drilego (M4) 8-9th c. - The name may be a compound of "drich" (aspect, face, appearance) + possibly a variant of -lou, -leu "light"; cf. Driken, Roiant-dreh (CR). The inscription identifies her as "mulieris" (woman, wife), so the gender is certain.

Herannuen (M1) 7-8th c. - This is one of three names (Herannuen (f), Heranal (m) and Harenbili (m?)) that appear to reflect a deliberate echoing of protothemes within a family (see discussion below). The element "hoiarn" means "iron" and can be found in other personal names in Breton, see e.g. feminine Haelhoiarn (CR). The deuterotheme "-uen" provides the gender identification.

Melita (I6) late 5th - early 7th c. - A Latin name, compare Melitus, Meli in ca. 5-6th c. Britain, Mellita in 6th c. France (the source wasn't given for either of these), Welsh Melyd (Bartrum, an adaptation of the masculine Mellitus). The gender is identified from the grammatical form.

Prostlon (M6) 7-10th but probably 9-10th c. - Although there's no gender context here, the exact name is found in CR as feminine. See also Welsh feminine names with the elements Prost-, -brawst.

Rimoete (M8b) 7-10th c. - Probably a Latin genitive of Ri-moet[a], "king + majestic", but from the grammar presumably a feminine name.

Men's Given Names (probably)

Adiuni (F3) 9-11th c. - A Latinate gentive of "Adiunus", from an assumed vernacular form "Adiun". Compare with the names "Adiuneti" and "Adiutor" (ECMW no. 75, ICG no. 623, ICERV no. 102). Perhaps from a root form *ad-ioun; compare Welsh. eiddunaw, addunaw "wish for, desire". But see also "Iun-" in Old Breton names, Iuna (CR no. 139, 145), Iun-anau, Iun-keneu, Iun-hael, Iun-monoc, Iun-nimet, Iun-tiern, Iun-uual, Iun-uuallon, Iun-uuocon, Iun-uuoret (Loth 1890 143); also Welsh "Inabwy" better seen in the older forms Iunabui, Iunapeius (Llandaf).

Bodognous (C1) 6-7th c. - A Latin genitive of Bodognou. Compare Old Welsh Elbodug, Elbodg, Elbodgu (Bartrum), Artbodgu map Bodgu; OB Boduuan, Bodguan (CR), Boduuoret (CR).

Belado (I1) 6-7th c. - See the discussion of "Beladore" under feminine names. If masculine, this should instead be interpreted as "Belado re[quiescit]".

Brit... (M4) 8-9th c. - Possibly Brit[ou] in full form. Compare Britto (4th c. bishop). (I'm assuming the completion is based in part on the available space in the inscription.) See also the discussion of repeating themes across multi-generation themes.

Budnouenus (F1) mid 9th c. or later - Latin form of a vernacular "Budnouen".

Conbriti (M4) 8-9th c. - A Latin genitive of "Conbrit". The deuterotheme is presumably the same as that found in "Brit[...]". Conbrit is also found in CR.

Disideri (C1) 6-7th c. - A name of Latin origin: Desiderius "desired one", see e.g. Morlet vol. II p.40.

Felix (M9) 11th c. - Another Latin name: Felix "happy", see e.g. Morlet vol. II p.51.

Gallmau (F2) late 7th or 8th c. - This name appears to be a mystery.

Gennovevs (I7) 6-7th c. - In a more standard form, Gennoveus. The protheme is possibly Gen- "born" although this is uncommon with a geminate "n". Compare Gennai (CR) which may be a later form of the same name, also Cornish Genaius. This name may possibly be a masculine form of Genoveva (Genevieve). (See Morlet vol. I p.107 for Genoveva, although she treats the name as Germanic in origin.)

Heranal (M1), Heranhal (M5) 7-8th c. - It may be overly tempting to consider these two inscription not simply to be the same name, but to refer to the same man. See the discussion below about repeating elements in families. The protheme is hoiarn (iarn) "iron". CR has a wide variety of compound names in "Hoiarn-", although not this one or the next specifically.

Harenbili (M5) 7-8th c. - The protheme is the same as in the previous name. Most likely a Latin genitive of Harenbil.

Iocilin (F4) late 11th or 12th c. - This appears to be the French name Jocelyn, see e.g. Morlet vol. I p.107.

Iusti (F3) 9-11th c. - Gentive of the Latin name Iustus, representing a vernacular "Iust". The name is also found in Cornish and Welsh sources (e.g., Bodmin Manumissions, Book of Llandav).

Lagu... (M7) most likely 8-10th c. - This is most likely a fragment of a protheme equivalent to Laou-. Compare Laouic, Louuen- (the latter from CR).

Maeldoi (C3) late 7th c. - Possibly from elements meaning "prince + god". Compare Doenerth (C. Quimper) = Welsh Dounerth, Deunerth, Duinerth (Llandaf) from elements meang "god + strength".

Maonirn (I2) 7th c. - Probably from Celtic *magu- "servant, subject" often with suffixed "n", e.g., Old Welsh Maun, also Gaulish Magunia, Magunius, Maguno, Magunna (Evans). The deuterotheme is uncertain.

Mihael (C4) 8-10th c. - The Biblical name Michael.

N... (F3) 9-11th c. - Undecipherable except for the initial letter. (The gender is identifed by an associated "filius".)

Riocus (M10) 11th c. - A Latinized form, presumably of Rioc. Compare the Romano-British divine name Riocalat, as well as Rioch (CR), Riocus (CL).

Turtoualdus (I3) late 6th to 7th c. - Latinized form of Turtouald. Probably Germanic; compare Old English masculine Torhtweald.

Uenomaili (F5) late 6th or 7th c. - Latin genitive of Uenomail, found in CR as Uuinmael, Uuenmael.

...nomaili (F5) late 6th or 7th c. - The son of the man bearing the preceding name. The initial part of the name is missing or illegible. It is perhaps not implausible that he bore the same name as his father.

Vormvini (C2) late 6th or 7th c. - A Latin genitive of Uormuin, possible Uor+muin "over-sweet/dear". Compare Moeni, Moenken, Haelmoeni (CR). But also possibly Uorm+uin; compare Old Breton Uurm-haelon, Uuorm-haelon, Uurmhouuen, Uurmgen etc. (Loth), meaning "dark-shiny + white".

Other Name Elements


Elements indicating family relationships are the most common type of element after given names. These elements are very commonly abbreviated, especially by omitting the grammatical endings. This means that "filius" (son) and "filia" (daughter) may both end up being written "fil", with the gender of the word worked backward from the presumed gender of the preceding name. "Frater" (brother) is fairly straightforward, and any uncertainty in the highly abbreviated "fti" can by supplied by the context "X et Y fti fili Z" (X and Y brothers, sons of Z). In later medieval records, "wife" is more commonly rendered by "uxor". The word "mulier" is more literally "woman", and it isn't clear here whether it's simply used as an alternate or indicates a non-marital relationship.

Fili, Fili[i], [Fi]li, Filivs, Fil[i] (C1, F5, M5, M4, F3)

Fil[ia] (M1)

Mulier[is] (M4)

F[ra]t[r]i (F3)


My experience has been that, in early medieval records, the majority of occupational terms that appear are ecclesiastical, although the skewing of surviving records towards those preserved by churches may be a factor. Three inscriptions identify men as abbots, using various spellings and abbreviations of the Latin "abbas".

Abax, Abb[as], Abba (F1, M9, M10) 9-11th c.

Place Names

One inscription with a personal name also includes a place name, although the relationship between the two is obscured by an illegible portion. See the discussion of formats for more details.

Ran Hubrit (M1) 7-8th c. - "Ran" is a common place name element in Breton at this period (see CR), meaning "portion, part". For the descriptive, compare Welsh hyfryd "lovely, pleasant".

Serrigond (J1) 7-8th c. - The commentary is divided between considering this a given name and a place name. It appears alone as an inscription.

The following element is of uncertain meaning, but is probably not actually a byname. See the discussion on formats for the full context.

ib (M5) 7-8th c.

Inscription Formats

The largest single pattern for the inscriptions consists of a single name, but a significant number included family relationships (son, daughter, wife -- all in Latin), several of the later examples include the title "abbot", and one example appears to include a place of residence, although the inscription is damaged so the construction isn't entirely clear. Several of the inscriptions are damaged in part, with variable confidence in interpreting the missing parts.

Because these are primarily memorial inscriptions, the names typically appear in a genitive (possessive) form. In some cases, the object of this possession is explicit "[the] cross [of] So-and-So". In other cases, we only see the genitive form of the name (or what we can reasonably assume is a genitive form). These genitive forms can only be identified when the name has been given Latin grammatical endings. Breton doesn't have noun cases, but shows possession by word order, so when only a single name appears without Latin case endings, we don't know whether it is meant to be understood as possessive or not.

The grammatical forms of the names (as well as most of the "function" words, such as relationship terms) are taken from Latin for the most part, although some of the later inscriptions have un-Latinized name elements.

Single Names in the Nominative or Genitive

Of the 24 inscriptions with name elements, 12 consist simply of what is most likely a given name. This group includes both masculine and feminine names. In terms of names, we can also put into this category the two inscriptions that consist of "Crux [name]", i.e. "the cross of [name]".



Names with Occupations

As mentioned above, the only occupational term present is "abbot", and it always appears in the same format, following a nominative given name with no other elements.

Names with Family Relationships

Family relationships make up a larger group than occupations, and more varied. When multiple people are commemorated in an inscription, it becomes harder to associate specific formulas as "names" of particular individuals. (E.g., when you have "X and Y his wife, the son of Z", you have less direct evidence for "X son of Z" as a name formula.)



Names with (Possible) Locatives

One name may combine a patronym and locative, although the connection between the two is illegible. If the place name is associated with the personal name, we may supply a preposition such as "de", however it's also possible that the place name serves some other function in the inscription.

Repeated Elements in Families

Given how little data is available here, one apparent pattern is striking. In several multi-element names, there appears to be deliberate repetition of name elements between generations. This practice has been observed in various Germanic naming cultures, such as Old English, where the usual pattern is for the repetition of the protheme. Here we also see a deuterotheme repeated as a protheme. Of the six names where a father and child's names are included, four show some sort of repetition (including, possibly, repetition of the entire name).

These last two raise an even more interesting question. Both are found in Morbihan, dated to the 7-8th century, although they are found in different locations (Languidic and Crac'h). The father's given name appears to be the same in both cases and, given the protheme-repetition in both, it is tempting to consider that we may be dealing with a single family here: a father and his son and daughter, linked by a shared protheme.

Bibliography and Abbreviations

Bartrum - Bartrum, P. C. 1966. Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts. University of Wales Press, Cardiff.

CL - Cartulaire de l'Abbaye de Landévenec (ed. A. de la Borderie, Rennes, 1888)

CR - Cartulaire de Redon (ed. A. de Courson, Paris, 1863)

C. Quimper - Cartulaire de Quimper

Evans - Evans, D. Ellis. 1967. Gaulish Personal Names. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Llandaf - Evans, J. Gwenogvryn ed.. 1979. Text of the Book of Llan Dav. National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Loth - Loth, J. 1910. Les noms des saints bretons. Paris.

Morlet - Morlet, Marie-Thérèse. Les Noms de Personne sur le Territoire de l'Ancienne Gaule du VIe au XIIe Siècle. Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1968.

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