Regional Herald's Article:

Why History and Genealogy Sources Don’t Make for Good Name Documentation

Coblaith Mhuimhneach
Orbis Herald

A well-regarded history text or a reputable genealogy database seems to many to be a logical place to choose elements for a Society name. Unfortunately, such sources rarely offer any real information about the form names took in the Middle Ages or Renaissance.
The reason is simple. The goal of a historian or a genealogist is generally to identify particular individuals and report on their actions or lineages in such a way that modern readers can easily follow the story being told. By choosing a single, accessible version of any person’s or family’s name and sticking with it, they make it easier for the reader to keep track of who’s who. So they don’t typically maintain variations found in the original documents on which they draw for their information, but use normalized, modernized, and Anglicized (if they’re writing in English) forms. Someone known as “Lionor” during her lifetime, for instance, might be called “Eleanor” in a history text, and a family whose surname was recorded as “Ó Doireidh” in a medieval tax record might be referred to as “the O'Derries” in a genealogy.
When you put together an S.C.A. name, your goal is to create a realistic medieval or Renaissance name--something that you might really find in a document from your period or hear on the street if you could travel back in time. In order to do that, you need to see names in their original, true, historical forms. You’ll generally only find those in specialized sources, like name dictionaries, onomastic articles, faithful transcriptions of historical documents, and names lists extracted from such. The Medieval Names Archive, at s-gabriel.org/names, includes numerous lists of that sort, and a good consulting herald should be able to help you find additional resources if you need them.

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