Monday, 5 December 2011

Name in the Spotlight: Eadgyth

A few months back I came across a very interesting article in The Guardian. It was about the discovery of the remains of an Anglo-Saxon queen, Eadgyth, granddaughter of Alfred the Great, half-sister of king Athelstan and wife of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor. Clearly she was a woman of mighty powerful connections, but she is unique in the sense that we know something about her. Women from the Anglo-Saxon period tend to be erased from history. More accurately, they tend to not even make an appearance in historical chronicles, so it is fantastic that we know who Eadgyth is.

Her half-brother, considered by some to be the first king of a united Britain, was eager to create alliances. He sent her and her sister Adiva (or Eadgifu) to see Otto I, who was to choose his favourite and marry her. Sources claim that it was love at first sight. He married Eadgyth and together they had two known children, Liutgarde and Liudolf. Even more fascinating than her impressive bloodline is that we can still get a sense of her personality. The article describes her as 'brave, capable and strong-minded', and a nun who knew her said the queen 'glowed with charm'. Clearly, she must have been something special.

But enough about the woman and more about the name. Eadgyth is an Old English form of the more familiar Edith. The original version was popular with Anglo-Saxon royalty, but with the Norman Conquest it was gradually changed to the softer, more airy Editha. There is some dispute over how Eadgyth is pronounced. The contenders are: EEd-Jee-th, EEd-gui-th or just plain EE-dith. I would probably lean towards the second option myself.

As for its meaning, Eadgyth is made up of two elements, 'ead' meaning prosperity/ fortune and 'gyth' meaning war/ strife. Its meaning could therefore be 'prosperous in war'. 

In terms of popularity, the familiar Edith was once a staple. In the US it was at its height in 1894 when it ranked at number 26, although it made an appearance every year within the top 1000 since 1880. In 2010 Edith was sitting at number 820, but it fared better in England and Wales, landing at number 259. Unsurprisingly, Eadgyth is absent from the charts.

Eadgyth, or Edith, is a perfect choice if you like 'old lady' names. It has the same vibe as Betty, and is equally as pretty as Hyacinth.