Baby names: The legacy of the Norman conquest

Published on August 5th, 2010 | by Admin


Why have Norman names such as William, Henry, Robert, Alice and Matilda been popular for 1,000 years after the Norman conquest?

Further wreathing the 11th Century in mystery, says Professor Bartlett, is how unfamiliar the names of the Anglo-Saxon protagonists are to modern ears – Aethelred, Eadric, Leofric.

By contrast, the names of the Norman conquerors quickly became popular, and remain common to this day – William, Robert, Henry, Alice, Matilda.

As these French-speaking, wine-drinking, castle-building conquerors swiftly took over England and intermarried with Anglo-Saxon women, it was not just newborns named in their honour.

“The ruling elite set the fashion and soon William was the most common male name in England, even among peasants. A lot of people changed their names because they wanted to pass in polite society – they didn’t want to be mistaken for a peasant, marked out with an Anglo-Saxon name.”

Look at baby name league tables today, and the Old English name of Harold languishes far below the French-derived Henry in popularity. William, meanwhile, was the second most popular name for boys 200 years ago, the most popular 100 years ago and has held its place in the top 10 in England and Wales since 2000.

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