The second in Dr Monk's series 'Reseach Snippets'. Here, in part 1, he takes a look at the problem of translating medieval Latinised names into modern English. In part 2, he will be exploring women's names and the meanings behind surnames.
Translating a thirteenth-century custumal, you come across an awful lot of names: names of people who owe services, money or food rents to the manorial lord. In this case, the lord is a collective one, being the Bendedictine brothers of the cathedral priory of St Andrew, in Rochester.
There are plenty of well-known given names (i.e. fore or first names) that appear frequently: John, Robert, William being three of the most common. But there are more unusual ones, too, such as Edwy and Salvi.
As the manuscript I'm translating, Custumale Roffense, is written in Latin, the names are usually Latinised. So John is Johannes; Robert, Robertus; and William, Willelmus. For the purpose of writing for a general audience (I'm writing a book about everyday life in the monastic world of thirteenth-century Rochester), I have to make a decision about how to translate Latinised names.
Most of the folk mentioned in the custumal are ordinary people working the land, and it's extremely unlikely they would have gone around using the Latinised forms of their names! My usual response as translator is to choose what is called the canonical name form, a standardised form that doesn't necessarily represent how a person would have written their name, were they able to do so, in the vernacular at the time, or indeed give us much of an indication of how exactly they would have pronounced their name.
As I often say to myself, translation is always a compromise. But whereas choosing John, Robert and William seems pretty straight forward, and not too controversial, sometimes the decision making process is more difficult for rarer names. Let me take the two examples above of Edwy and Salvi to illustrate what I mean.
As a scholar who's spent a lot of time looking at the Anglo-Saxons (pre-1066), using the standardised name form of Edwy grates on me, to use a piece of idiom from my childhood. This is because I know it derives from Old English Eadwig (the 'g' here is soft, by the way, and sounds similar to the ending on the modern name Eddie), and in fact appears in our 13th-century manuscript as eadwi, as you can see in the image above; and so it preserves the Old English ea vowel combination (known as a diphthong).*
*Technically, eadwi is in the genitive, or possessive, form, as it is part of the phrase Heredes eadwi, 'the heirs of Edwy', and so grammar dictates it must end with i.
So part of me wanted to keep the ea in my translation, because I liked the idea that this person had an English, rather than a Norman-French, name, and maybe he still said his name the way the Anglo-Saxons probably said it, which is more like Adwy than Edwy.
But then I reminded myself that I wouldn't do that with other Anglo-Saxon names like Eadweard, which I would readily update to Edward, and so I have ended up conforming to the canonical form of the name. Alas!
My choice of the name Salvi is problematic for a different reason, namely, I din't have much to work with! In the manuscript, as you see above, the name is written Salewi.**
**Technically, the i ending here indicates it's in the genitive, or possessive form, because it's part of the phrase Herede[s] Salewi, 'the heirs of Salvi'.
My hunch was that the name was a form of the Latin salvus (meaning 'safe, saved'). When translating medieval Latin, there is sometimes a correspondence between the letters w and v (for example the name Alvice has the Latin form Alwidis). This led me to check for possible names that derive from salvus, and so I arrived at Salvo.
However, Salvo has an Italian origin, and that didn't seem to fit comfortably with 13th-century England. I had wondered if it might be a name with a Nordic origin, and so my search then led me to the Old Norse name Salvi. I didn't exactly shout ta-dah! or Hallelujah! but this Nordic name seemed a more appropriate rendering. Ah, translating medieval languages is not always an exact science!
One of the things that I've found very interesting when translating this custumal is that not all the tenants' names are masculine, confirming the fact that women did hold land in later medieval England.
A number of widows are named outright as landholders owing services or rents to the monks, but I was a bit surprised to discover that the names that appear in the commonly occuring phrases 'the heirs of so-and-do' and 'son of so-and-so', were not always men's names. For some reason, I had assumed they would be.
I will be discussing this in more detail in part 2 of this research snippet, and I'll also be taking a look at surnames, wich are often referred to as bynames. See you there!
The other Monk of this website, Dr Christopher, is presently carrying out research for a book he's writing about the mundane aspects of Benedictine monastic life.
Now, as I cannot always be available to provide you with spiritual morsels, I thought it would be tolerably good to let him offer, for your consumption, some tid-bits of a more profane kind from his research.
Over forthcoming weeks and months, therefore, Dr Monk will be writing blog posts related to what he's currently reading and translating. This will be in essence, blessed ones, an exercise in tantalising, for he does not wish to show and tell everything before he actually publishes the book, which of course he wishes you to buy.
Here's the first of my research snippets. It's a translation of the beginning of a text (see image above) found in the 13th-century book known as Custumale Roffense, or the Rochester Custumal. This work is a survey of the rents and customs owed to the monks of the cathedral priory of St Andrew's in Rochester by their tenants who worked and lived on their various estates.
As you will see, however, this extract actually has nothing to do with rents and customs. Rather, it's from one of several medical texts that surprisingly pop up in the opening pages before the custumal proper starts. We can only surmise that the monk-scribe who included it thought it would be very useful. See what you think:
Saint Bede said that there are three days in the month of February, that is the Ides of February [13th], the sixth of the kalends of March [24th February], and the 11th day of the kalends of March [19th February], in which if anyone is born male, his body continues uncorrupted until the day of judgement.
As someone who has spent a lot of time reading early medieval (Anglo-Saxon) works (i.e. texts dating to before the Norman Conquest of 1066), I find it really interesting that one of the key writers of the period, the Venerable Bede (672-735), is alluded to in this thirteenth-century material.
Athough there is not universal agreement that Bede actually wrote a medical text, it is clear that Anglo-Saxon medical works survived and were consulted during the later medieval period. How closely they were followed is more difficult to determine, especially when we consider that different sources give different 'bad days' for such things as bloodletting. It seems to have been a very precarious business, seeking medical treatment in the Middle Ages.
The text that appears in the Rochester custumal reads like a compilation from various earlier material, drawing upon a Latin work (usually attributed to Bede) known as De minutione sanguinis sive de phlebotomia ('On bloodletting or phlebotomy') as well as vernacular works known as leechdoms or leech books, written in Old English.
Useful reading material:
Elizabeth Lazenby, 'De minutione sanguinis, sive de phlebotomia: On blood-letting or phlebotomy, by the Venerable Bede: A translation and commentary', in Medicine in Northumbria: Essays in the History of Medicine (The Phebus Society, 1993), pp. 58-80.
Stephen Pollington, Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore, and Healing (Anglo-Saxon Books, 2000).
You can see the first episode of 'Viking Dead' online ahead of the TV schedule by downloading it via UKTVPlay. Just click on the image above to go to the UKTV page.
In this episode the Medieval Dead team go to Lindisfarne ('Holy Island') in Northumbria, where in 793 'heathen men' of the North carried out a murderous smash-and-grab on the island's monastery.
The programme takes a look at recent archaeological digs to see what is being learned about the people who inhabited Lindisfarne in the early medieval period.
Towards the end, Dr Monk joins in the discussion about the atrocity of the 793 raid, and offers an appraisal of the horror in which more was stolen than just holy treasures.
If you want to wait for the TV showing, it is premiering on Yesterday Channel (available in the UK on Freeview) at 8 p.m., Tuesday 31st July. (Details on US and North American schedules are not yet available.)