Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about Early Britain.

During the very earliest period when we catch a glimpse of the English people on the Continent or in eastern Britain, a double system of naming seems to have prevailed, not wholly unlike our modern plan of Christian and surname.  The clan name was appended to the personal one.  A man was apparently described as Wulf the Holting, or as Creoda the AEscing.  The clan names were in many cases common to the English and the Continental Teutons.  Thus we find Helsings in the English Helsington and the Swedish Helsingland; Harlings in the English Harlingham and the Frisian Harlingen; and Bleccings in the English Bletchingley and the Scandinavian Bleckingen.  Our Thyrings at Thorrington answer, perhaps, to the Thuringians; our Myrgings at Merrington to the Frankish Merwings or Merovingians; our Waerings at Warrington to the Norse Vaeringjar or Varangians.  At any rate, the clan organization was one common to both great branches of the Teutonic stock, and it has left its mark deeply upon our modern nomenclature, both in England and in Germany.  Mr. Kemble has enumerated nearly 200 clan names found in early English charters and documents, besides over 600 others inferred from local names in England at the present day.  Taking one letter of the alphabet alone, his list includes the Glaestings, Geddings, Gumenings, Gustings, Getings, Grundlings, Gildlings, and Gillings, from documentary evidence; and the Gaersings, Gestings, Geofonings, Goldings, and Garings, with many others, from the inferential evidence of existing towns and villages.

The personal names of the earliest period are in many cases untranslateable—­that is to say, as with the first stratum of Greek names, they bear no obvious meaning in the language as we know it.  Others are names of animals or natural objects.  Unlike the later historical cognomens, they each consist, as a rule, of a single element, not of two elements in composition.  Such are the names which we get in the narrative of the colonization and in the mythical genealogies; Hengest, Horsa, AEsc, AElle, Cymen, Cissa, Bieda, Maegla; Ceol, Penda, Offa, Blecca; Esla, Gewis, Wig, Brand, and so forth.  A few of these names (such as Penda and Offa), are undoubtedly historical; but of the rest, some seem to be etymological blunders, like Port and Wihtgar; others to be pure myths, like Wig and Brand; and others, again, to be doubtfully true, like Cerdic, Cissa, and Bieda, eponyms, perhaps, of Cerdices-ford, Cissan-ceaster, and Biedan-heafod.

In the truly historical age, the clan system seems to have died out, and each person bore, as a rule, only a single personal name.  These names are almost invariably compounded of two elements, and the elements thus employed were comparatively few in number.  Thus, we get the root aethel, noble, as the first half in AEthelred, AEthelwulf, AEthelberht, AEthelstan, and AEthelbald.  Again, the root ead, rich, or powerful, occurs in Eadgar, Eadred, Eadward, Eadwine, and Eadwulf. AElf, an elf, forms the

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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