Story of the Goths - Henry Bradley

Gothic Personal Names

Readers of books on Gothic history are often puzzled by finding that the same name is often spelt quite differently by different writers. The reason is that the Gothic names have come down to us in the works of Greek and Latin authors, who have spelt them in the manner that seemed to themselves best fitted to express the foreign sounds. If Englishmen had to spell French or German names by ear, without knowing any system of orthography but that of their own language, we should find that the same name would seldom be spelt alike by two different persons. Just so it often happens that a Gothic name is given by two ancient writers in forms so widely apart that it is not easy to see that the same person is referred to. Modern historians sometimes choose one or other of the forms given in their original authorities, and sometimes they prefer to spell the names in the correct Gothic manner. To adopt this last course would often be very awkward, for we should have to use such uncouth and unpronounceable combinations of letters as Thiudareiks and Audawakrs, instead of Theoderic and Odovacar: The plan which has been followed in this book is that of giving well-known names in their most usual modern spelling, and in other cases to come as near to the true Gothic form as is possible without making the names difficult to pronounce ac-cording to ordinary English rules. Where the Gothic form of a name cannot be ascertained, the Greek or Latin spelling has mostly been left unaltered.

The names borne by the Goths were very much of the same sort as those used among the Anglo-Saxons and the other ancient Teutonic nations. There are many books which profess to explain the meanings of Anglo-Saxon or Old German names; thus Frederick is often said to mean, "one who rules in peace." This, however, is altogether a mistake. The fact is that old Teutonic names (at least those of them which are compounded of two words) were not usually intended—like some of those in the Bible—to express any Particular meaning certainly the name Frederic is formed of a word meaning "peace" and a word meaning "ruler." But the true explanation is that Fred- was one of a number of which it was customary to use as beginnings of names, and -tic was one of the words which it was customary to use as endings. Any word belonging to the one list might be joined to any word in the other list, even if the two were quite contradictory in sense. There are, for instance, ancient German names, which, if translated literally, would be "peace-spear," and "peace-war."

A glance at the list of words used by Goths, Anglo-Saxons, or ancient Germans in forming personal names would be sufficient to show, if we did not know already, that these peoples delighted greatly in war. They are, for the most part, words like "war," "battle," "victory," "spear," "army," "brave," "fortunate." Amongst them are also names of savage animals, chiefly "wolf "and "bear." Names of foreign nations, too, are found in the list. This looks at first sight curious; but when an Anglo-Saxon called his son Peohthere (Pict-army), or when a Goth called his son Winithaharyis (Wend-army), he probably meant to express a hope that the boy would grow up to be a great conqueror of Picts or Wends. So at least it must have been when these names were first coined; but, in later time, when they were established in use, parents would give them to their, children with as little thought of the meaning as modern parents have when they call a daughter Ursula ("little she-bear").

The following is a list of some of the most frequent words used in the formation of Gothic names, with their meanings, and the corresponding forms that were used in Anglo-Saxon names.

I.—Words used for beginnings of names

Gothic English Saxon
Akita- "terrible"  
Airmana- "lofty," Eormen-
Alh- "temple," Ealh-
Amala- "effort, toil" (?)
Anda- "spirit, courage"  
Ans- "god," Os-
Athala- "noble," Aethel-
Athana- "year" (?)
Auda- "wealth," Ead-
Badwa- "battle," Beado-
Baltha- "bold," Bald-
Daga- "day," Dseg-
Filu- "much."  
Frithu- "peace," Freothu-
Gaisu- "spear," Gar-
Gawi- "country,"  
Goda- "good" God-
Guda- "God."  
Guntha- "battle," Guth-
Harya- "army," Here-
Hauha- "high,"  
Hildi- "war," Hilde-
Huna- "Hun" Hun-
Liuda- "people," Leod-
Mahta- "mighty," Meaht-
Nantha- "brave," Noth-
Ragina- "counsel,"  
Reda- "counsel,"  
Reika- "ruler,"  
Sigisa- "victory," Sige-
Sunya- "true."  
Swintha- "strong," Swith-
Thauris- "daring."  
Thiuda- "people," Theod-
Thrasa- "confidence."  
Waihti- "fighting," Wiht-
Wandila- "Vandal."  
Wili- "will," Wil-
Winitha- "Wend."  
Wulfa- "wolf," Wulf-

2.—Words used as endings. (In the names as they appear in modern books, the final s, which is the name of the nominative case, is generally omitted.)

Gothic English Saxon
-badws "war," -bred (?)
-bairhts "bright," -berht
-balths "bold," -bald
-friths "peaceful," -frith
-funs "ready, eager" -fus
-gairns "desiring" -georn
-gais "spear,"  
-gauya "citizen."  
-haryis "army,"  
-liufs "dear," -leof
-mers "famous," -maer
-munths "protector," -mund
-nanths "daring," -noth
-reths "counsel," -red
-reiks " ruler," -ric
-swintha "strong" -swith
-wakrs "watchful," -wacor
-wulfs "wolf," -wulf

And in female names:

Gothic English Saxon
-gunth[i]s "battle," -gyth -hild
-hild[i]s "war," -hild
-swintha "strong" -swith

Amongst the Goths, as among all other peoples, diminutives or "pet names" were formed from ordinary pet names by shortening them and adding an affix. This affix was usually -ila, but sometimes -ika. Thus such a name as Audamer-s might become Audila or Merila; Wulfareiks might become Wulfila or Reikila. But just as in modern times children are sometimes christened Harry or Lizzie, so these Gothic diminutives were often used as regular names, as in the case of Bishop Wulfila and King Badwila or Totila.

There were other Gothic names, formed from the roots of verbs, or from other words, by adding the syllable a or ya, as Liuba (Leuva), from liufs, dear; Walya, from walyan, to choose; Wraihya (Uraias), from wreihan, to protect. In some cases the names ending in -a seem to be contractions or compressions of longer names, as Wamba, perhaps for Wandilbairhts; Gaina, for Gaisananths. It was not often that the Goths used ordinary nouns or adjectives as personal names, but a few instances do occur, such as Wisunths (Wisandus), "Bison," which was originally a nickname, but is found applied to certain persons as a regular name.