N is for Names, or the Identity Crisis in Arthurian Legend

“The Lady of Shalott” by William Holman Hunt

According to some legends, the Celts believed that to know a person’s true name was to hold power over them. Some tribes even named their children one thing and then gave them another, permanent name when they reached adulthood. That’s why in many myths, a hero doesn’t learn his true name until he is armed by a goddess-like woman. In some versions of Arthurian legend, Guinevere asks Lancelot his name, but he is unable to tell her (because he doesn’t know) until after he completes a quest.

Why am I mentioning this?

  1. You’ll do great if it ever comes up at trivia night.
  2. There are lots of names in Arthurian legend.

Depending on the author and/or translation you read, the same Arthurian character could go by many different names. I’ve only included a few common ones here, but thought you might find it interesting to see who is who:

What’s My Name Again?
(Keep in mind that depending on the author, those listed below as the same character, might in fact be separate characters.)

  1. Guinevere/Gwenhwyfar (Welsh)/Gvenhvyuar (Welsh)/Ganhumara (from Geoffry of Monmouth) – There are about a million more. If you want to see all of them, check out this site. Some legends say there were two or three Guineveres.
  2. Morgan/Morgause/Morganna/Morgaine/Morgan Le Fey/Morgane – Traditionally Arthur’s half sister, she’s also sometimes called Anna.
  3. Galahad/Gwalchavad (Welsh)/Galeas/Galath – Son of Lancelot, he is one of three who find the Holy Grail.
  4. Perceval/Percival/Peredur (Welsh) – Knight who sees the Grail and also meets the Fisher King.
  5. Igraine/Iggraine/Eigyr (Welsh)/Igerne (French)/Ygerne (French)/Ygrayne/Arnive – Arthur’s mother.
  6. Isolde/Iseult/Iseo/Yseult/Isode/Isoude/Esyllt/Isotta – There are three Isoldes, 1) a princess from Ireland who marries Mark even though she’s in love with Tristan, 2) the Irish Isolde’s mother, and 3) a princess from Brittany who marries Tristan after he’s banished from Britain.
  7. Tristan/Drustanus/Drystan/Tristran/Tristram – One of Arthur’s knights, he loved Isolde.
  8. Gawain/Gwalchmei/Gawan/Gawaine/Gwaine/Gavan/Gavin/Walewein/Waweyn – Knight and Arthur’s nephew.

Are you confused yet? I know I am!

Do you think names have special power or significance? What does your name mean? Do you use a special spelling? Can you think of any other Arthurian characters that you’ve seen with different spellings of their names? Which ones do you prefer?

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One thought on “N is for Names, or the Identity Crisis in Arthurian Legend

  1. Pingback: Everything Old is New Again « Through the Mists of Time

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