BMCR 2008.07.09

Celtic Personal Names

, , A Corpus of Latin Inscriptions of the Roman Empire Containing Celtic Personal Names. Aberystwyth: CMCS Publications, 2007. vi, 283 pages. ISBN 9780952747871.
, , The Geography of Celtic Personal Names in the Latin Inscriptions of the Roman Empire. Aberystwyth: CMCS Publications, 2007. i, 210 pages. ISBN 9780952747864.

The study of Celtic proper names in the Roman Empire is still in its infancy, but it has come far since Alfred Holder began publishing his monumental Alt-keltischer Sprachschatz in 1896. However, two recent reference volumes by Marilynne Raybould and Patrick Sims-Williams, A Corpus of Latin Inscriptions of the Roman Empire Containing Celtic Personal Names (henceforth Corpus) and The Geography of Celtic Personal Names in the Latin Inscriptions of the Roman Empire (henceforth Geography), make a crucial contribution to this field.

The Corpus lists over eight hundred inscriptions, mostly from the first to third centuries AD, from western and eastern Europe reaching far beyond the traditional borders of Gaul. Especially revealing of the widespread nature of Celtic names are the entries from Spain, Austria, and the Balkans. As would be expected, most names are drawn from tombstones as recorded in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. Typical is a short entry (NOR 036) from ancient Noricum found in the wall of a church cemetery in the Drau valley of Slovenia. It briefly lists the CIL reference, gives the provenance of the tombstone, records the Latin inscription, and finally translates the text, highlighting the Celtic names of the mother Devognata and her daughter Brogimara. The males of the family, it is worth noting, bear common Roman names. After listing all inscriptions by region, the volume lists abbreviations, an index of Celtic names, and a geographical index.

The Geography volume is an essential companion to the Corpus. It begins with a brief introduction to the names and the elements composing them, but the bulk of the work is a listing of names in database form by elements and geographical location, with latitude and longitude. Using these charts we can discover, for example, the above-mentioned name Brogimara is found in five other locations throughout Austria and the northern Balkans, though only twice in feminine form as opposed to the more common masculine Brogimarus. A map at the end of the volume is particularly useful in showing the concentration of Celtic names in specific areas, such as along the upper Danube.

Since it is not the intention of either of these volumes to offer a linguistic analysis of, an argument about, or any discussion of the Celtic names they contain, there is little to debate in them aside from whether or not a particular name is genuinely Celtic. I believe Raybould and Sims-Williams on the whole have adopted an admirably minimalist standard in rejecting questionable names and including only those with a defensible Celtic etymology. Scholars without a background in Celtic linguistics may find the volumes frustrating in their lack of explanation of name meanings and cognates, such as brog (“territory” — Old Irish mruig, Welsh bro, Latin margo) and mara (“great” — Old Irish mór, Welsh mawr), but these are easily available in standard etymological dictionaries. Others whose interests include the Celtic lands to the east of the Bosporus will lament the exclusion of many revealing Galatian names from these works. Nevertheless, the authors have provided scholars of the ethnic makeup of the Roman Empire an admirable and much-needed tool for exploring the distribution of Celtic names throughout Roman Europe.