or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What's in a Name?

Now, about those carnations.


Yesterday I was doing some work for a customer whose surname was Wellige, which pretty clearly has to be German (and turned out to be). While working, I was musing on the name. The German word for "wave" is "Welle", as in the (among other tongues) English-language German broadcasting service Deutsche Welle. Some German adjectives end in "-ig", which is exactly like "-y" in English: "blood" in German is "Blut", and "bloody" is "blutig". German nouns and their adjectives are gendered, and one feminine ending is "-e", so, putting it all together, I surmised that what I was looking at was "welle" plus "-ig-" plus "-e", which is to say "wavy" (presumably from someone's hair, just as quite a few English surnames come from people's physical properties, such as Brown or Little or Strong).

And "wavy" is exactly what "Wellige" means. Being right is awesome!


Now, about those carnations.

On Wednesday I wore my last couple of drops of my sample of Carnation by Comme des Garçons. (This is irrelevant to the story at hand, but at some point during the day I realized that I had to own a bottle of the stuff. The last thing I need, I suppose, is more scents, particularly a 100-mL bottle of something I will never use up, but I had been desirous of it for over two years and I had to have it and that was that, so I placed an order that night, forgetting that the next day was American Thanksgiving, so it wasn't shipped until yesterday, but never mind.)

Also on Wednesday I was reading Beeton's Book of Needlework just to see what knitting patterns looked like back in the mid-1800s, and I ran across a pattern for a doily, or, more accurately in her parlance, a d'oyley.

Suddenly both of these things rushed together in one big gravitational collision and I realized that "oeillet", the French word for "carnation", also means "eyelet", and "oeillet" was obviously the source of "doily", something made more or less entirely of little eyelets: "d'oeillet" ("made of eyelets") becomes "d'oyley" becomes "doily". So obvious!

And also so completely wrong. Being wrong is not awesome. But it's a learning experience.

The original doily wasn't a dainty lacy thing: it was a piece of cloth, specifically a napkin (which could have been trimmed with lace, but wasn't itself lace). It didn't get its name from the French "oeillet" at all; instead, it was named from a London fabric merchant in the 1700s name of Doyly, which sounds sort of made-up and folk-etymology but is really true.

The surname Doily, Doyly, Doyley, or D'Oyley (Mrs. Beeton's spelling) is from French, mind you: from the Norman invasion, in fact. In France, your surname might have told where you were from, either your lineage, as in Marie de Guise, "Mary of the house of Guise", or your ancestral place of birth, as in Martin de Blois. The original Doily/Doyly/whatever tribe came from the town of Ovilly; "d'Ovilly" was quickly turned into such things as "de Olli", "Dolye", and "de Oylly".

In case you were wondering (I certainly was), "Doyley" is not at all related to Irish "Doyle". That comes from, as you might suspect, Gaelic; specifically, from "Dhubh-ghall", "dark stranger" (as a way of distinguishing the dark Danes from the lighter-haired Norwegians). "Dhubh-ghall" also contributed another pair of names, these Scottish, to the world's roster of surnames: "Dougall" and "MacDougall".


Blogger Jim (the Canuck One) said...

re: Dhubh Ghall

Just wanted to point out it'd be pronounced "doo'-gal" (or perhaps a little closer to "dyoo'-gal")

The "-ubh" ending is the source of that "oo" sound Americans are always accusing we Canadians of using. But, like the majority of Canadians, I pronounce "about" as "a-bout" not "a-boot".

Tuesday, December 02, 2008 9:30:00 AM  

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