Gottmark: background notes

These essays are based on three emails that I posted to the Althing mailing list on 19 November 2002. Those emails in turn were based on emails and essays from discussions in 1993, 1996, February 1999 and February 2001. Since the topic seems to be a recurring one, it seems worth recording parts of its history to make it easy for people to get up to speed and move on to new suggestions.

A new name for "The Southern Reaches"

Since the conversation has turned to an SCA name for NZ, I'm sending you some information on the names "Gottmark" and "Belmarye". The notes on Gottmark are long-ish, so I'll split the emails.

What I'm looking for in a name for the NZ SCA

1. Short, easy to spell, easy to pronounce.

People should be comfortable with their own country's name. You should be able to read it aloud the first time you see it written (and get it right). Would it work as a battlecry?

2. Could have been a real placename in medieval Europe.

Make it real, not fantasy. Country names are a class of their own: there aren't many of them, but they do tend to follow certain patterns. The most common pattern is that they derive from the name of a tribe or group of people who lived in the country.

If it could have been around in medieval Europe, then it could have been around in later Renaissance Europe. If the name could plausibly have been around even earlier, with only minor changes to spelling and no significant change to sound, so much the better. Remember that some of the key naming patterns used in the New World were distinctively late-period, and wouldn't have been used any time before late period. "New [placename]", for instance, is a late formation (and is quite separate from "New [functional building or place description]", which is a common medieval form... but not for countries).

3. [Nice optional extra] Make it plausible for as wide a range of times and places as possible.

This is about making people comfortable by minimising obtrusive clashes between people's personae and their country's name. You can't include everyone, but you can get a wide span if you start with a common type of name that was used early on in a wide range of places in Europe. You could look at Roman names. I've chosen a name with roots in the migration of tribes through Europe around the fall of the Roman Empire. Then put this name through some accelerated ageing to turn it into something that might have been used in medieval times.

Notes on "Gottmark" or "Gotmark"

This name has developed some layers over the years There was a time when I told a different story about it each time I was asked, and a couple of other people have since chipped in. I like the richness that comes because this name could mean different things.

I've got three types of descriptions here. The third one -- the technical version -- is a work in progress, so skip it if you like.

1. The simple summary

The name "Gottmark" is a combination of the first half of "Gotland" (which my Collins English Dictionary -- note, not the Encyclopaedia Britannica -- says can be spelled "Gotland", "Gothland" or "Gottland") with the second half of "Denmark" (which the locals call "Danmark").

2. The myth of origin

Rome, which had been glorious, was, in its decadence, over-run by vigorous bands of Goths. These Goths, they say, had begun their Grand Tour of Europe somewhere in Scandinavia, and reached as far south as modern Spain, Italy and Greece. They were victorious; they were defeated; they re-emerged from the shadow of conquest; and they were absorbed into the rich blend of European genes and cultures. They threw the brittle bones of Rome into the cauldron along with their own northern flesh and the spices of the south, and brewed the stock of Europe.

They also left their name on places.

They say that Gotland, off the coast of Sweden, might perhaps be their homeland, and Gdansk and Gdynia both the "end of the Goths" marking the farthest extent of their lands.

It is for these people that our land is named.

For if you read the names of countries from a map of Europe you will find some with origins lost in time, and others named for the people who lived there when they first thought of themselves as a country. But the name of the people came first, before the name of the land they dwelt in.

Thus France is the home of the Franks, England -- Angle-land -- of the Angles, Scotland of the Scots (well, some of the time when they weren't in Hibernia), Denmark the Danes. The Frisii passed through Frisia, the Saxons through Saxony, and depending on your language Germany is the land of the Dutch, the Alemanni, or the Saxons.

For when these Goths reached the warm seas, who is to say they did not find boats there? And if sailing brought them to distant borderlands, might they not have called those lands the Goths' border or the Gotmark?

For a Mark or a March or a Marche is a place on a margin or boundary. It may be a disputed borderland, as the Welsh Marches or the Scottish March. It may be a buffer state as la Marche. It may be the border territory, as Mercia. It may be a purely administrative border, as the town of March. Or it may be the border of a people, as Denmark.

Gotmark is the borderland of the Goths. And whether in the laurel kingdoms we are the furthest border of Caid or of Lochac makes little difference. We live on the margin, but we remember running wild through the heart and guts of Europe.

Or there are other stories I could tell you... ;-)

3. The technical version (this is a work in progress: chip in if you can add to this)

Gottmark is a placename made up of two elements (a dithematic locative name). Both the first element (the prototheme - "Gott-") and the second element (the deuterotheme - "-mark") can be interpreted in more than one way.

Prototheme: Gott- (Got-, Goth-)

a. "of the Goths", an East Germanic people from Scandinavia who settled south of the Baltic early in the first millenium A.D. They moved on to the Ukrainian steppes and raided and later invaded many parts of the Roman Empire from the 3rd to the 5th century.

This is probably the derivation of the name of the island of "Gotland", which can also be spelled "Gothland" or "Gottland". It was used in other placenames around Europe where the Goths had influence, and is likely to be the origin of the first element in Gdansk and Gdynia.

b. Good: in Old Icelandic this is an acepted spelling for "good". Martin's mentioned that it means "good" to him, so it would be worth investigating whether there are other Germanic languages which retain this spelling.

c. God: Mod German "Gott" (among others). Although there are examples of places being named after particular gods, naming a place after "the gods" or the Christian "God" seems to be rare. (Although see Reaney The origin of English place-names p. 120ff for a discussion of the English situation which might have led to names such as "Godley".) This is more likely to be a medieval Christian re-interpretation of an existing name whose origins were already lost in the mists of time than an actual reason for naming. It might have reinforced the spelling with -tt- in a country which previously varied its spellings. This has appealed to some people as a link to "Godzone" ("God's own"), which is sometimes used as a descriptor for New Zealand.

d. Goat: for the sake of completeness, I mention that the English settlement of Gotwick is supposed to derive its name from "goat-farm". A "goat" derivation of Gottmark is conceivable (compare the story in Eirik's Saga of Leif Eriksson naming some islands Bjarneyjar "Bear Islands" after seeing a bear on one of them), but unlikely. (When were the Canary Islands (which are named after dogs -- canis -- not birds) named? Pliny mentions the dogs, so is the name classical?)

Deuterotheme: -mark

a. border, borderland: This word is found in many Germanic languages, and seems to derive ultimately from Latin "margo" meaning "margin" or "border". It is found in Old High German as "marha", in Norse as "mörk" and in Old English as "mearc". In Modern German and, presumably (check this) Danish it is "mark".

b."forest", "wood": How seriously do you take sagas? This is Old Norse, from Leif Eriksson's naming of "Markland", which the saga-commentators interpret as "Forest-land". I haven't actually found any other examples of "mark" "forest" in ON.

Overall construction4

I like the fact that this is a fairly generic Germanic name that could have occurred in a range of places. For purposes of registration we'd have to pick one time and place where both these elements could have been fitted together. That might influence our final spelling, but shouldn't affect the name's general shape or pronunciation.

Note that the SCA kingdom name "AEthelmearc" is constructed in the same fashion as "Gottmark", using the Old English version of the same deuterotheme. "Aethelmearc" means, roughly, "noble-borderland", and might provide a pattern for "Gottmark" as "good-borderland".

Denmark (Danmark)
Nordmark (real, and also registered as an SCA placename)
Ostmark (real, just south of Nordmark, between Saxony and Poland from the C10th)

A parallel would be "Sudmark", but that sounds like the ring around the bath...

Notes on "Belmarye"

In the time since "Gottmark" was first mooted (in about 1993) there have been at least three discussions of an SCA name for NZ. A couple of people found the sound of "Gottmark" too gutteral, so I went looking for a name with more of a Romance language feel.

"Belmarye" is one of the places where Chaucer's knight fought. When I first found it, the commentator said it was not known where Belmarye was, or whether it was a made-up exotic name. I've since seen a comment that it might been intended to be in North Africa, and I suspect that if I re-read Terry Jones's book on Chaucer's knight I'd find some more theories there.

The main result of proposing "Belmarye", or the alternative form "Belmarine", was that people started saying they liked "Gottmark". :-) Sinech liked Belmarine, with its overtones of "beautiful sea". Someone else said they didn't like it because it was "too Frenchy". I came to realise that there's an aesthetic split here between those who prefer Germanic languages and those who prefer Romance languages.

My current suggestion is to call the country Gottmark, and use Belmarye/Belmarine for poetry and rhetoric. This would be much like the use of the names England and Albion.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Improvements?

Notes on "Daunceny"

Daunceny is a stunt name, developed one evening as an example of what a softer, Francophone name might be like. For all that, it's not actually too bad.

Slightly-edited version of an email posted to the Althing list on Sun, 4 May 2003 08:18:51 +0000:

Gentil Michelet wrote:

> Bien alors pourquoi un français nom qui ne semble pas, pourquoi doit
> être être des noms après beaucoup de sauerkraut sucer les plongeons?
> Mais alors mon rôle est français si peut-être je suis prévenu.

I think (perhaps ;-) that you've discovered the great aesthetic divide between those who prefer Germanic languages and those who prefer Romance languages.

Okay, if you want to develop a francophone name package, here's how you go about it.

Look for real historical names of kingdoms, principalities, duchies, counties, etc, in the French-speaking regions. I've included a short list at the end of this email.[1] Check whether the spellings have been modernised or "Englished", and try to get close to older, French versions of the names. Your mission is to devise a name that wouldn't seem out of place in this list.

Look at the list and spot patterns. You might find that the names are predominantly one word with two or three syllables, or that a number of them have a certain style of ending.

Do a bit of research to find out how these names came about. Maybe some places were named after a longtime ruling family (Savoie) or the device of a one-time ruling family (Dauphiné). Maybe some were inhabited by a certain tribe when the Romans moved in (I think Poitou fits this description). Maybe some had particular features which appealed to the Romans (Aquitaine was a well-watered land). Some were named for the migrants who moved there later (Brittany, Normandy). Etc.

Pick a model that looks likely and substitute some appropriate local feature (or, indeed, some arbitrary feature that you can make relevant later) for the seed around which the historical name crystalised. Get a feel for how names aged -- what they looked like at various times in history and how they changed with changes in language and the passage of time. Apply the aging process to rub the name down to the essentials that survive.

Pick arms or a badge to complement the name, maybe through a subtle form of canting, or as part of the myth of origin that you'll compose about how the name came to be.

For example, you might go through this process and come up with the possible name "Daunceny" or "Dauncenie", doodle around for a bit and suggest arms of "Sable, a dance between three cinquefoils argent"[2], come up with a story that the lords of Daunceny bore only a dance on their shields until a queen who used the golden rose as her badge rewarded their service by granting them the right to use a silver version of her emblem, and see how the package appealed to the populace. (Well, actually I'd do a fair bit more research first, but we're using this as an example, right? It could as easily have been Guitaine, or Luny. ;-)

> > I would like to see a name which might really have been a
> > country-name in pre-1600 Western Europe. That, for me, has a deeply
> > satisfying beauty of its own.
> Cela est si romantique!

And do you not agree, my lord, that there is beauty, strength and rightness in a thing which is well fitted to its function?


PS: I've since heard people say "But isn't that the name of Keanu Reeves' character in Dangerous Liaisons?" Keanu Reeves' character was Le Chevalier Raphael Danceny. The spelling -an- or -aun- seems to have been fairly interchangeable, so they're pretty much equivalent. I take it as evidence that the stunt name is actually a pretty good French name, and I'd love to see whether a French surname source like Morlet has anything to say about it.

[1] The first-draft, grab-a-historical-map-book-and-write-down-names, list, some in "Englished" forms:

Normandy (Normandie)
Brittany (Bretagne)
La Marche
Savoy (Savoie)

[2] A heraldic dance is a fess dancetty — a broad zig-zag line horizontally across the middle of a shield. Three charges around a fess will default to two above the line and one below.