Friday, November 13, 2015

Color names by DMNES: Black

The DMNES researchers have made their way through the rainbow, but there are still two colors left. In this post, they look at names deriving from various medieval words for ‘black’ or ‘dark’.
In terms of words directly meaning ‘black’ or ‘blackness’, we have examples from Latin, Greek, and Gaelic which gave rise to names.
Latin nigellus is a diminutive of niger ‘black’. NigellusNigel, and variants have a complicated relationship with the Gaelic name Niall (both found in English as Neil), and we have not completed the entry for this name — look for it in a future edition!
Greek μελανία ‘darkness, blackness’ is recognizable as a modern name, Melanie. The name was used only rarely medievally.
Old Irish dub ‘black’ was more commonly used as a nickname, but people familiar with Shakespeare’s famous Scottish play will be familiar with a name that uses that word: Macduff, which literally means ‘son of the black [man]’.
Looking beyond just ‘black’, Latin also has a number of words referring to darkness with respect to skin color or complexion, many of which gave rise to names.
The Latin word Maurus originally referred to an inhabitant of Mauritania or North Africa more generally, but due to the complexion of these inhabitants, the word developed a secondary sense of ‘dark brown, black’ by the post-classical period. [1] Mauro and its derivative Maurice (from Latin Mauritius ‘Moorish’, Mauritanian’) were found throughout Europe.
Another Latin word which originally referred to something other than a color and then developed a transferred meaning of ‘dark-colored, swarthy’ is aquila ‘eagle’. Aquila was used as a masculine name, and a diminutive form, Aquilina as a (relatively rare, early) feminine name.
Lastly, for this post, is the name Fuscian, deriving from Latin fuscus ‘dark, swarthy’, the name of an early saint.

[1] “Moor, n.2.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2015. Web. 21 October 2015.