For many more names, please Return to Edgar's Main Page.
A Brief Discussion of
During the Middle Ages, spelling as we know it today did not exist. Words were written and spelled purely according to the writers whim. The writer often spelled words according to how they themselves pronounced them.
Since there were so many different regional dialects, words and names were written in many different kinds of ways. Adding to the confusion is the fact that many scribes wrote in Latin and routinely Latinized names. So few people could read at all that spelling did not really matter.
Thus we can see John, plain ordinary John, spelled as:
Ion, Iohn, Jan, Jehan, Jehn, Jen, Joan, Joen, John, Johne, Johan, Johann, Johanne, Johannes, Jon, Jone, etc.
However, in the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg (1395-1468) invented the printing press, revolutionizing the world of books, sparking an explosion in literacy, and creating the need for a standardized spelling. Soon, most words would have one, agreed-upon spelling.
Along with standard spellings for each word, Standard forms of names soon appeared as well, from J-o-h-n to creating the Francis/Frances distinction (Francis became male, Frances, female).
As the centuries wore on, more and more English people became literate, and less and less variations of names appeared among educated people. Writing ones name as Eller instead of Ella, Margret instead of Margaret, Marthey instead of Martha, or Sharlot for Charlotte (reflecting how they were pronounced in certain accents) was now a mark of ignorance. When immigrants came to the United States, they often (but not always) altered their names to conform with the standard American spelling. French Juliettes became American Juliets. Scandinavian Karls became American Carls (or even Charles), for example.
Few names had more than one accepted spelling, including:
Ann and Anne
Stephen and Steven
Catherine, Catharine, Katharine, and Katherine
Jeffrey and Geoffrey
Rowland and Roland
Sara and Sarah
Another exception is surname-spellings, reflecting how a common first name was spelled in surname form. This was especially common in the 19th century United States, as we see the surname-spellings of Allen/Allan, Bryan, Lewis, and Lawrence overtake the standard spelling of Alan, Brian, Louis, and Laurence.
However, in the 20th century, individuality became fashionable and many spelling variations cropped up in names, and, instead of being frowned upon as ignorant, became popular as names in their own right.
The Curious Fascination with Y
Y is an odd letter, being both vowel and consonant. Found near the end of the alphabet, with few words belonging to it, Y is often considered an exotic letter, like Q, X, and Z. When parents wish to alter a names spelling, they often add a y into the mix.
Beginning the 19th century and culminating in the 20th we see the great y for i switch (this often altered the pronunciation as well).
Kathryn was coined from Katherine
Carolyn, from Caroline
Jacquelyn from Jacqueline
Lynda from Linda
Lyndsey from Lindsey
Madelyn from Madeline
Robyn from Robin
Toward the end of the 20th century, the curious fascination with the letter y continued, not only with yn replacing ine and in but other vowels like on, en, a, and ey.
Some of the more common include:
Caitlyn and Kaitlyn from Caitlín
Ashlyn from Ashley
Austyn from Austin
Brandyn from Brandon
Camryn from Cameron
Chyna from China
Devyn from Devin
Eryn from Erin
Jasmyn from Jasmine
Jordyn from Jordan
Justyn from Justin
Kaylyn from Kayla or Kayley
Lauryn from Lauren
Taryn from Tara
Often, these new, y-inspired names like Camryn or Jordyn are considered feminine, while their original counterparts remain masculine.
Other Swaps, Drops, and Additions
Somewhat ironically, at the same time that many Is were being dropped for Ys, we see many names traditionally ending in y being switched for an i.
Of course, this switch-out is most often found, however, at the end of names ending in y. See Vicky/Vicki, Brandy/Brandi, Terry/Terri, Sherry/Sheri, Tracy/Traci, Kerry/Keri, etc.
Often, changing a Y to an I leads to a gender change as well. Most people, seeing the name Dr. Terry Jones, would think of a man; when they see Dr. Terri Jones they assume the doctor is a woman. See, for example, Terry/Terri; Bobby/Bobbi;Nicky/Nikki; Randy/Randi; Jerry/Jerri.
Another technique often found is the dropping or adding a silent leter to the ends of names. For example, the feminine e of many French names can be dropped, as when Carole, Lynne, Maude, Joanne, Leanne, and Blanche all lost their French Es and became Carol, Lynn, Maud, Joann, Leann, and Blanch.
Or consider the many parents who drop an h from names like Rhonda, Sarah, Leah, John, and Hannah to name their children Ronda, Sara, Lea, Jon, and Hanna. On the other hand, an extra h can be added to names that do not normally carry one, as in Tarah from Tara, or Mariah from Maria, Rebeccah from Rebecca, or Kaylah from Kayla.
Or consider the dropped vowels when the names Barbara and Deborah become Barbra and Debra.
Or consider the Cs of names like Caleb, Christopher, Crystal, and Jacob can, for a more Germanic feel, become Kaleb, Kristopher, Krystal and Jakob. Or K names like Kayla or Katie become Cayla and Catie.