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A Research Exercise: Behind the Name

Creating a living history impression requires generating some sense of place and purpose in the historical context the impression originates from. In my efforts to create an appropriate and authentic impression I have developed a characterization of the impression I portray, short of an SCA level persona. Part of this journey was developing the unique armorial and nom de plume I write these articles under, The Turnip of Terror. Among my colleagues, at events, or in the lists I go by my actual name. As my preference is third-person portrayal when doing living history presentations I have not developed a name for my impression outside of the ToT moniker and for many years now it had not occurred to me this may be an issue. And, since I do lean toward third-person presentation, it still may not be an issue.

But, since my name is sometimes said aloud to the public as part of demonstrations and fighting, I took a moment the other day and asked myself: per my goal of creating an authentic impression which could have existed despite even though it is a fictional narrative used as a teaching tool, is my name accurate and authentic for an English Knight in the late 14th / early 15th century? I have lived with my name under the understanding my first name is Hebrew and my last name is a modernized form of an older Irish surname. I was immediately consumed with serious doubts about the authenticity of my name for my living history pursuits.

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When in doubt, research it out!

First Names First: Ari

The story my father told me about my name and his inspiration to choose it involved the main character of a novel he was reading around the time of my birth (the title of which I have since forgotten.) He died in 2013, so I checked with my mother to see if she remembered the title and her version of the story was my father intended to name me after himself, but since using “Jr.” was not Judaic, finding a name which meant the same as his name was as close as he could get. Since the meanings I could find of the name Lorne do not match to any of the meanings of the name Ari I am left with a head-scratcher of a puzzle. I suspect both stories are true. Though it is unlikely I will solve the mystery, it appears I have always understood the nuts and bolts mechanics of his decision, and my mother retained the motivation.

Narratives about crusaders returning with lofty notions about using names for their children “from the Holy Land” strike me as somewhat “Kingdom of Heaven” level fantasy.

I am certain when he thought of Ari he thought of it is a Hebrew name, which appealed to him. Judaism was not the most popular form of faith in 14th/15th century England and even if I did not try to avoid religion as much as possible in my impression I am skeptical it would be a legitimate or believable name for an English nobleman. My gut instinct is the name was unheard of and narratives about crusaders returning with lofty notions about using names for their children “from the Holy Land” strike me as somewhat “Kingdom of Heaven” level fantasy; considering the domestic devastation of Jewish populations on English soil during the third crusade. Granted, those massacres were a couple of hundred years before the time frame I am aiming for.

This is assuming the lineage and provenance of the name “Ari” is what I have grown to assume it is. I associate my name with Israel based on my father’s religious affinity for one specific origin of the name. I am aware my name existed in and has meanings in a variety of cultures. Before now I have not done much research into what these cultures are nor have I tried to find if my name, regardless of its origin, had any presence in medieval England. I started with a general search for the name as if I knew nothing about it. Between Wikipedia and baby name websites I found a diverse etymology of the name. For this exercise, my goal is to understand if the name or a name pronounced similar to the way mine is, or in a form or usage I am unfamiliar with, has any primary source evidence it existed in late medieval England. So I first amassed all versions of the name I could find, to include spelling changes and what it may have been short or modified from.

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Metaphorical, digitally based, piles of course.

The name Ari exists as a Hebrew name meaning lion, an Old Danish / German / Finnish / Scandinavian / Icelandic name meaning Eagle, a Finnic form of Adrian, an Armenian name meaning brave, and in the Badaga language a name which meant sun-like and was sometimes changed to Harry. Aryeh is a male name and transliteration of the Hebrew word lion while Arieh is another name similar to Ari in the way it means lion, even if it isn’t exactly the word lion. Arie and Arié, Dutch names, are also short names for Adrianus, Arend, Arent, Arnout, Arnoud, and Aaron. Both Ari and Aris are shortened versions of a myriad of greek names.

Armed with this information I then set off to find any indication names such as these existed in England in the late 14th or early 15th century. This is an important process in vetting any aspect of an impression and is a common faux pax when it comes to material items added to a kit. Existing in the same time frame, but across the world in an alien culture to your impression (or even in contemporary culture) is insufficient evidence to justify using it as part of your presentation. “Souvenirs of war…”, “I bought while traveling…”, “It was a gift…” are all denounced rationalizations used to try to shoehorn something inauthentic into one’s impression and a bad habit to become comfortable with. Tribalism was strong, cultures fought wars over nothing other than disagreeing about aspects of culture. National identity was paramount in establishing one’s place in the world. As many social forces opposing the migration of fashion and trends from other cultures existed as existed towards adopting them. For this reason, I am not satisfied to know if a name existed in foreign countries, or even in adjacent cultures regardless of their social relations with England, but if it existed in England itself.

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One handy resource in the search for information about names recommended to me is a searchable database of medieval soldiers in the Hundred Years War hosted by the University of Southampton. I ran every variation of the names I found through the database, to include swapping the letter i for y. I also checked through various other compilations and records of given names (subsidy rolls, legal documents, wills, inventories, muster lists, officers records, and the like) in the time-period from around the internet. This was an arduous process, as searching for a three-letter name, the arrangement of letters which constitute characters within many other common words, meant more digging than I anticipated. In the searchable military database, I identified one Adrian and one Aaron. Searching elsewhere I did not find much else except for Adrian and Aaron in a few places. Suffice to say, I did not find a record of the name Ari or any of its closer derivatives in my search.

Perhaps I lack the Norse perspective, but I am not certain I understand the linguistic roadmap from the name Adrian to Ari, but then again how do you get Dick from Richard? (ask nicely, har har har.) However, it is not inconceivable for a hypocorism of many of the names listed above, or any name beginning with a short “Ar” sound, to be what I say out loud as “Ari.” Granted, I have no indication anyone ever used anything sounding like my name to shorten names starting with Ar and I have not heard of it used this way today either, but in high school, I met a Christopher who went by Topher; unusual to me and he is the only person I have met who chooses such a diminutive on the name.

I returned to the University of Southampton’s Medieval Soldier database and typed in “Ar%” to see what to choose from and it returned two hundred fifty records. The most common were names such as Arnold and its forms including Arn, Arnald, and Arnaldus. Over a dozen other names in various popularity such as Arthur, Archer, Archibald, Arbelot, Arriers, Arbau, Arnoullet, Ars, Arno, Arez, Arnaulten, and Arkyn showed up as well. I then re-ran my search for names which started with an “Ar” in other sources and found similar names from my search of the military database, with a couple of others to add to the mix, most of them variations on common names already found, such as Arter and Artheur and Artus which all remind me of Arthur.

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Wait, no, please, not that one.

It is clear my name, in any variation of spelling or pronunciation, was not used in the 14th century. But a name isn’t only sound, it’s also the name’s meaning or what it represents. Almost all names have meaning or significance either because they are actual words (think Heather or Chase), or they have meaning applied to them after generations of common usage, or because the name derives from words in other languages. The name Ari means Lion, Eagle, Brave, or Sun-Like depending on the language you started with. In homage to the original cultural intent of my father’s when naming me, I sought to find any period-appropriate English names which also means Lion. When returning to a generic search, the number of names with Lion as a part of their meaning is extensive. Whittling the filters and requirements down: English names, used in England, used in the 14th century; and verifying these names through the same processes followed above provides a simple list with freedom of choice based on name variations: Leonard (and variants, such as Lennard, Lienart, Leonidem), Lionel (and variants, such as Lyonell, Leonel, Lyonel), Leon (and variants such as Lyon, Lyell, Liellus), and Leo.

Research does not owe you the answer you want, just the truth.

All this research was satisfying, as research does not owe you the answer you want, just the truth. I can now, with confidence, make a choice. I can abandon the use of my given name in living history applications and adopt a period-appropriate name. I can continue to use my name knowing it existed in a form an English noble of the 14th century may have encountered it, but to use it now is a-historical for the culture I portray as any justification for its use as a legitimate name is tenuous at best. The final option is to apply hefty doses of artistic license and adopt a name which when shortened could sound like my name, despite having no evidence or common practice usage to show it happened then or now.

Surnames Second: Ailin

BHO

It did not surprise me researching the surname was easier. More time, effort, and documentation goes into family names. As I mentioned above, my last name is Irish, though, like many names, it has a variety of origins which may make genealogy frustrating, but is useful for these purposes. When I searched for the name Ailin I was immediately met with multiple spellings and origins include Aylin, Ayline, Aylyn, Aylen, Ailligg, Eiling, Adeling, Æeling, Aðeling, Ayling, Aylyng, McAilin, McAylin, and Ailéne. Almost all are in some way Irish, Breton, Anglo-Saxon, or Welsh. Using similar resources as above, to include the military database (no matches), The British History Online database, ancestry, and name websites I locate multiple instances of this name (in its variances) used in period. Variations with and without the ending G, such as Ayling and Ayline, appear in the historical record of the 14th century such as the Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward II: Volume 3, 1317-1321.

Conclusions

The social circles I operate in do not use personas, as such. It does not use personas in the way the SCA and other historically inspired (and/or fantasy-themed) LARPs do by assuming the role of a fictional person during an event and acting out structured or unstructured stories and interactions with others likewise playing the role of their fictional character. It rarely uses personas in the same way reenactors do, such as when they assume the role of an actual historical figure and act out the prescriptive activities and outcomes of specific historical events or battles. In my living history circles, the emphasis is on education, presentation, personal immersion in history, and experimental archaeology. Events I attend are insular style events such as Deeds of Arms with no characterization or third-person presentation public focused educational events to share knowledge and information.

It is more accurate in these contexts to acknowledge the modern person contrasting the impression they are portraying: “Sir Ari will show you what an English knight would have looked like in the lists of a medieval Deed of Arms” not “Sir Ari the English knight in the lists at a medieval Deed of Arms.” In many ways, I am making a much bigger deal of this than warranted. However, I find having a “character” in living history, not a historical figure and not one I pretend to be at events as such, aids in controlling the narrowness of focus in time and location while providing a useful guide when digging deeper into the history and develop a more authentic impression. Good impressions have a narrow aperture on time-period and location. Having a good backstory helps me tighten up the focus.

The exercise of researching my names was a great way to practice the methodology of research: approaching the topic without preconceptions, following the data instead of your desires, continue to ask questions every step of the way, focus on primary sources, and resist the urge to rationalize instead of document. It also allowed me to share such a process with you, starting with my initial preconceptions, the willingness to be open to alternative explanations than the ones I had come to accept without research and put the historical record in its rightful place as more important than my opinions. At the end of my journey with researching the name Ari, I recall the three alternatives I posed to myself. Upon further reflection, the third option of picking a name only to bastardize it for selfish reasons is nothing more than a long-winded attempt at justification and rationalization, the exact thinking I want to avoid when adopting or shedding aspects of a presentation. It is adding steps to make something ultimately a-historical appear to have more historicity than it deserves.

It is far easier for the general public with a passive interest in history to identify with a person than with a nondescript representation.

I have also softened my original, implied misconceptions: the idea where a name is not used in any capacity as part of my presentation after entertaining a compelling example where a name heightens even third-person presentations. Using a name in the context of your presentation ratchets down not only the time and place but adds a hook of human engagement for the public. The difference between “I represent a typical peasant levy raised by Baron de Clifford” and “I am John Doe, a cottar in the levy of Baron de Clifford” is subtle, but profound. One is an abstract concept of history, the other is a person and it is far easier for the public with a passive interest in history to identify with a person than with a nondescript representation. Based on everything I’ve researched, the honest choice when naming my impression to serve this purpose would be to assume an alternate name than Ari. My preference, in this case, would be toward the name Leo. Despite waning popularity in the middle ages, it still shows up in multiple primary sources as a given name; both in the military database record and the Warwickshire Hundred Rolls of 1279-80. It has the same meaning as my name as well as reflects the same number of letters, syllables, and vocal cadence as my name. Of course, third-person preference: “In my impression, I represent Sir Leo” not “I am Sir Leo.”

For my last name, the Irish and Welsh influences of the name are fitting for an English impression whose home is as close to Wales as the Cheshire area is (the home town for my impression.) Even if my heritage, though English and Irish on my mother’s side, does not trace my use of the surname through to medieval England, and considering the somewhat fluid way medieval English treated i and y, my surname with the medievalism of “Aylin” (as the Ailin spelling does not appear until the 18th century) is a historically authentic byname to use as part of a living history impression.

There you have it, one step toward a more thorough and authentic historical impression; may I introduce Sir Leo Aylin.