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Genèse médiévale de l'anthroponymie moderne. Tome VI : Le nom, histoire et statistiques

Pascal Chareille


Patrick Geary

Texte intégral

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title:-Romeo, doff thy name; And for that name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself.
(Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2)

1Juliet’s belief that names do not matter proved tragically false, as she and her lover could not escape those fatal names of Montague and Capulet. Names have power, a power to delimit, a power to explain. This power of names, and their usefulness as a tool for social analysis, has long been recognized by sociologists and demographers in the study contemporary societies. Only recently however has the study of European anthroponymiques in the distant past moved from a marginal area of philological research to the center of international scholarly interest, as medievalists across Europe have turned their attention to the tens of thousands of personal names found in necrologies, memorial books, tax rolls, charters, notarial records and the like. European naming systems changed radically between Antiquity and the Renaissance: first from the Roman tria nomina to single Germanic names composed of two name elements, then to Christian names, and then exploded in a bewildering array of qualifiers, sobriquets, patronyms, and geographical or occupational designators that finally stabilized into surnames. At the forefront of this international renewal has been an extraordinary team of French scholars under the direction of Monique Bourin who take as their point of departure that these transformations are not trivial but correspond to profound changes in social relationships. At the heart of this team, the individual whose methodological and theoretical reflections has both made the whole enterprise possible and kept it honest, is Pascal Chareille.

2In a numerous previous studies Chareille has provided the statistical sophistication and methodological rigor necessary to move beyond impressionistic and often naïve interpretations of this massive data to nuanced and rigorous evaluation and analysis. For many years scholars in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and North America have impatiently awaited the publication of the present volume, in which Chareille presents a comprehensive examination of the statistical methodologies and the epistemological limitations of anthroponymie médiévale.

3Chareille is an historical statistician, or perhaps a statistical historian, exercising his craft at a moment when quantitative history has entered a sudden and profound eclipse. And yet as he reminds us in this book, history is in essence a study of change, and change cannot be understood without comparison, and comparison requires measurement, that is, statistics. To compare is to judge differences in place, time, or social category not only qualitatively but quantitatively. And yet historians too often approach the question of quantitative change naively and imprecisely.

4Nowhere is this more of a fundamental problem than in dealing with the tens of thousands of names transmitted by our sources. How can we assess naming patterns given that we never know the totality of the name pool available at any given date but only that subset of names that happen to appear in our written sources? Did the stock of personal names decline, remain the same, or increase between the ninth and eleventh centuries? What names or name elements were more common within different communities or across different centuries? Need a name be very frequent within a given community to be considered specific to it? Is it meaningful to describe a name within a given kindred as relatively rare, was excentrique, or original? How can naming patterns be used to assess special mobility, migration, and dispersion within medieval societies? Can variation in names among socially or geographically distinct groups be used as an indirect measure of cultural distance? Can variation in naming be used like, or even in conjunction with, genetic analysis to research population dispersion over time? These are all essentially statistical questions, and there are right and wrong statistical tests to answer them, tests that require at once a profound knowledge of statistics but also a deep, humanist understanding of Juliet’s question, “What’s in a name?”

5In a the careful and lucid chapters which follow, Chareille draws on data bases stretching from Carolingian polyptiques to the Florentine Catasto of 1427 to patiently explain both the underlying technical problems of anthroponomic investigation and the correct procedures for their meaningful statistical analysis. With his deep understanding of statistics and demographic methodologies, but with an equally deep understanding of the limitations and particularities of medieval onomastic sources, Chareille takes the reader through all of these questions and more, explaining how such questions can be usefully posed and meaningfully answered by social historians of early Europe.

6The result is a book that challenges the reader: it challenges the social historian to rethink how history must be researched and written. Its formulae, graphs, and tables make unusual demands on historians formed in the tradition of belles-lettres. But it challenges the demographer and philologist as well to rethink the very nature of medieval evidence, so radically different from modern sources and yet so easily confused with it. And finally, Chareille challenges every reader to remember, above all “que derrière la sécheresse des listes de noms crûment accumulés, il y a des hommes et des femmes, des histoires individuelles que bien souvent l’historien ne peut reconstituer que grâce au suivi des anthroponymes. »

7I applaud the appearance of this important book; I regret that I did not have it as guide when I was making my own tentative forays into anthroponymie médiévale, and I invite the reader to follow Pascal Chareille, un vrai biochien ogre de la légende, dans la poursuite de son gibier, la chair humaine, à travers les noms.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2008

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