Ottonian Names

The first two Henrys and the first three Ottos were German monarchs of the Ottonian or Saxon dynasty (919-1024). In sharp contrast to the Carolingian dynasty which preceded, the Ottonians shared many names with contemporary families. This pattern no doubt correlates with the circumstance that as the Carolingian empire decayed, the throne became heritable through females. The Ottonians were not exclusive heirs of the empire, nor were they of the agnatic Carolingian line. Rather, they were the specific family whose lineage suddenly led to special distinction in the East kingdom.

King Henry the Fowler (919-35) derived his name from the maternal grandfather Henry (Heimeric, † 886), sometime duke of Saxony, later of Neustria. The name can be traced back in Duke Henry’s line – partly by means of the diminutive form Hessi – and some speculate that it arrived from the Cancorid family powerful on the middle Rhine in the eighth century. This tie remains unclear, and it should be noted especially that a person named Hessi was Westphalian princeps and Carolingian ally at the time of the subjugation and conversion of the Saxons in the 780s. The Ottonian forebears may have been related to Hessi, in which case the choice and perseverence of the name Henry might have been conditioned by a desire to emphasize a Saxon background, given that this would not only distinguish the Ottonians as a Saxon royal dynasty, but also stress that it was they who ultimately united Saxony under one duke and integrated it into the East kingdom.

The name Otto arrived from King Henry’s father and can be traced back to individuals name Audulf. There is no appreciable doubt that Otto was a diminutive form of Audulf, even though the Ottonians never used the full form. The Audulfs were mostly Saxon, yet those successful in Carolingian Saxony necessarily had close blood ties with the Frankish aristocracy. The onomastic practices of the Ottonians must probably be understood in this light.

The name Liudolf, found in King Henry’s paternal grandfather and preserved in some subsequent generations, fits into the same context as the name Audulf. The evidence suggests that the -(wulf) radical common to these names was transmitted over several ancestral generations as a composite derivation (from sources as yet unestablished).

Bruno was the elder brother of King Henry’s father and the first of the dynasty to unite the Saxon duchy. His name reappeared regularly among later generations, notably in Emperor Otto I’s younger brother Archbishop Bruno of Cologne. It evidently derived through females from a Saxon opponent of the Carolingians. It spread among many families as a name given intentionally to sons designated for the church. The full form appears to be Brun-hard.

An elder brother of King Henry bore the name Thankmar, as did the son of King Henry by his first wife Hatheburg. That son was made illegitimate when Henry repudiated Hatheburg, and the name abruptly fell into desuetude. It is difficult to discern how the name Thankmar arrived to the family: many possibilities for composite derivation exist.

King Henry married secondly Mathilde, one of five daughters of the Westphalian noble Dietrich. It is recorded that Dietrich descended from Widukind, the Saxon leader around whom resistance to Charlemagne focused for many years, until Widukind capitulated. Significantly, none of the names of Mathilde’s several sisters, uncles and known forebears passed to the Liudolfinger. However, Mathilde’s own name quickly became a fixture and rapidly passed throughout the European aristocracy.

The name Gerberge was especially popular among the Ottonians. It arrived from King Henry’s paternal ancestry, possibly via the paternal grandmother Oda. There is reason to believe that Oda was a descendant of Gerold, the father of Charlemagne’s wife Hildegard. The name Gerberge could form as female analog of Gerold, where the first radical is preserved and the second replaced with -burg. As for the name Oda, it does not occur in the Ottonian imperial family, but continued to descend through it.

Like Gerberge and Mathilde, Hadewig became common among descendant families. It was the name of King Henry’s mother, and it appears to form as a composite derivation from the names Heilwig and Hadebert. The latter was born by a number of powerful Frankish magnates. The name Heilwig, however, appears in the Saxon mother-in-law of Emperor Louis the Pious and King Louis the German. That particular Heilwig probably had strong Frankish connections.

The name Liutgard appears in an aunt, sister and granddaughter of King Henry. It probably preserves the Liut- radical of the name Liudolf. Since there is reason to suspect several composite derivations among the Ottonian female names, it should not seem problematic that Otto the Great’s granddaughter Richlint, whose existence is newly established, bore a name that is clearly a composite. It derived from her maternal grandmother Reginlint, whose ascendants included a Rotlint.

It is remarkable that no new male names enter the family in generations descending from King Henry. This may be attributed in part to the relatively few male offspring spawned by the dynasty, although it does tend to demonstrate satisfaction in onomastic principles already adopted, or a manner of dynastic consolidation. Female names entering after the ascent to the throne include Adelheid, Sophie, Gisela, and Brigida. Both Adelheid and Gisela are direct derivations from the maternal ancestry. They point to the stature of Otto the Great’s wife Adelheid.

The names Sophie and Brigida are worthy of special attention. Sophie was selected as a Greco-Roman name by drawing freely on the Byzantine background of Emperor Otto II’s wife Theophanu. Indeed, the choice of this name spawned an onomastic custom amongst the aristocracy. The names of early Greek and Palestinian saints were selected almost at random as indicators of descent from one of the Byzantine princesses who married western emperors.

Some non-Germanic names such as Stephen, Judith and Beatrix, however, were already current in the high aristocracy. The name Brigida, belonging to an Irish saint, apparently expressed a relationship between the junior Ottonian line and the senior line of the Konradiner. The rationale for such non-Byzantine choices is far from clear: probably the circumstances of each relevant ascendant generation must be carefully evaluated in order to achieve insight.


Salian Names

We can contrast the names of the Salian dynasty with those of the preceding Saxon dynasty and in some cases observe reasons for shifts in onomastic policy. The Salian dynasty is defined here as consisting of those who descended from the marriage of Otto the Great’s daughter Liutgard with Duke Konrad of Lotharingia. It should be kept in mind that the Salian dynasty was far from prolific. There were never many opportunities for choosing names, yet the individual nuclear families cannot have been cognizant that they would not produce many children.

The name Adelheid was not received from the Ottonians, since the Salian dynasty descended from Otto the Great’s first marriage, not from his second wife Adelheid of Burgundy. It occurs in the mother of the first Salian emperor, Konrad II, and appears in his granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Its appearance suggests at once the independent outlook of the Salian dynasty and the imperial cachet the name already possessed.

The wife of Emperor Henry III bore the name Agnes, as did the daughter of Emperor Henry IV. It is a ‘Greco-Roman’ name of non-Byzantine significance. Unlike the last Ottonians, the Salians in no way descended from Byzantine princesses, so perhaps this name stressed the comparative irrelevance of Byzantine descent. As such it would suggest an independent dynastic outlook.

A daughter and granddaughter of Emperor Konrad II bore the name Beatrix, which was heritable via the Konradiner through Konrad II’s wife Gisela, whose sister was probably so named but is also documented with the name Brigida. In each of these Salian generations it was the eldest known daughter. Since the name Beatrix is non-Germanic and non-Byzantine, it reflects the independent outlook of the Salians and the value they placed on their Konradiner background, in that the Konradiner had briefly held the throne before the Ottonians.

With the name Bruno we have a clear onomastic inheritance from the Ottonians. Already it was being used regularly in the aristocracy for sons designated for the church. Emperor Konrad II’s uncle and first cousin, both churchmen, bore this name.

There can be no doubt of the relevance of descent from King Henry the Fowler in the choice of the name Henry for Emperor Konrad II’s son. Here was dynastic continuity, since Henry the Fowler had established a line of non-Carolingian kings of the eastern empire, and the child, the later Emperor Henry III, descended from that monarch through both mother and father. Further influences are easily detected. The name Otto was not chosen, for it depended too much on the Ottonians. The Salians, in other words, looked to their inherited right tracing back to Charlemagne rather than to Otto the Great in particular. Furthermore, the Salians were conscious of their Konradiner background.

We find the name Gisela in a daughter of Emperor Henry III: it was the name of Konrad II’s wife and arrived ultimately from the Carolingians. Already the name Judith occurs in a sister of Konrad II. It was the name of Konrad’s paternal grandmother. Mathilde is the only quintessential onomastic inheritance from the Ottonians. The name, which belonged to the Ottonian Stammutter (wife of Henry the Fowler) appears in Konrad II’s daughter and granddaughter.

Emperor Henry IV originally bore the name Konrad, which was soon handed to his younger brother. It belonged to the Spitzenahn, the first Salian emperor. The name Otto appears in the son of Otto the Great’s daughter Liutgard, but does not recur, despite the descent of the later Salians from this individual.

We should also consider names that did not pass to the Salians, even though they easily could. The name Wernher belonged to the father of Duke Konrad of Lotharingia, and he is the earliest known agnatic ascendant of the Salians. Like this name, all Konradiner male names disappear, with the exception of the name Konrad itself, which apparently was inherited via Wernher’s wife. It is possible that the name Wernher was discarded by later generations because more important dynastic considerations were being addressed.

Names current in the family of Konrad II’s mother were also discarded. These included Gerhard and Adalbert. The same can be said of the name of Konrad’s father-in-law, Duke Hermann II of Swabia, who transmitted partial primogeniture in imperial succession to the Salians. The name William, belonging to the father of Henry III’s wife, was not used, and this is remarkable, since a son William is customarily assigned as an uncle of Konrad II. We believe, however, that the William in question was an illegitimate son designated for the church († 1047 as bishop of Strasbourg).

Both the Ottonians and the Salians settled on a highly restrictive fund of male names, but each in different circumstances. With regard to female names, whereas the Ottonians drew primarily on female names that preexisted in the two or so agnatic generations preceding, the Salians accepted names of women who married into the family. The Salians seem to have been restrictive yet by no means self-conscious in their choices of female names. The Ottonians were self-conscious. Herein subsists the contrast between a family that sought a new identity as Frankish emperors from Saxony, and a family once more truly Frankish yet dependent on the preceding dynasty for its legitimacy.