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So you want one of those cool and awesome Old French soubriquets...


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People here may well know all about this already, but in case you don’t...

So, you’re an English-speaking Pendragon player or GM, and you want a knight to be “le [fun Old French adjective].”  A really useful resource here is the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, which can be searched for free online.  What makes it particularly useful is that you can search the modern English translations of words:

https://anglo-norman.net/search/

All adjectives will have the headword in the masculine singular*, suitable to be attached to a male knight.  You will have to do a bit of work if you want the feminine (“la [adjective]”), but the rules are fairly easy (sometimes easier than modern French).  The feminine form is often in one of the examples if one looks through them — if you have absolutely no French, look for la or une in front of a word, in which case it’s feminine singular.  That is, if the feminine is not given (the dictionary will give it to you if it appears in irregular forms).  Note that spellings were very variable, and the dictionary gives you a range, which is nice.

The AND isn’t an Old French dictionary as such — it’s a dictionary of the dialect of Old French spoken by the Norman conquerors of England.  But it’s fine for Pendragon purposes, especially since it includes Wace’s French (and it wouldn’t surprise me if Anglo-Norman French affected the way in which Malory understood the Vulgate).  As far as I know, there is no equivalent reverse-searchable dictionary of Old French as a whole that is easily usable by an English-speaker.  

The Dictionnaire étymologique de l’ancien français (translations in modern French) can be searched for an Old French word, if you want to check a word found in the AND.  It’s still a work in progress, and full coverage and full functionality are not yet there, but it’s useful if you have modern French.

 https://deaf-server.adw.uni-heidelberg.de

I’ve wasted a remarkably large amount of time finding weird meanings for words, so here’s a bit to throw into a scenario.  The PKs have to find a knight known as Sir Gilbert le Gentil.   Solution: he’s the knight with a male peregrine falcon (proper, which is very irritating for the poor bastard who had to paint it) on his shield.   It’s canting arms, since gentil can also mean the male peregrine falcon (or “tercelgentle,” a word which was entirely new to me).   Good chance for a high Falconry to shine.

EDIT: I’ve found another online Old French dictionary where one can reverse-search from an English translation, and one peculiarly useful for Pendragon, the Dictionnaire électronique de Chrétien de Troyes: 

http://zeus.atilf.fr/dect/

Also, an alternative to the DÉAF (above) once you’re exploring a word that you’ve found is to work backwards from Middle French: the Dictionnaire du Moyen Français links from its entries to several other dictionaries, including ones with Old French (which is how I discovered the Chrétien dictionary).

http://zeus.atilf.fr/dmf/

 

*Also nominative, but this is a point that is not likely to come up.

Edited by Voord 99
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(Precise I'm French...)

As a matter of fact, we often use these kind of nicknames when playing Pendragon. But always after a while, when the knight begins to be quite renown. Really, a good english-french dictionnary could be enough, since many modern french adjectives already existed in in Middle Ages.

But... but... (and thanks to Voord99)... Some Old French adjectives had different meanings than in modern French (and vice versa). Examples :

  • Pepin le Bref: means "the short", but in modern French "bref" is used mainly for short-speaking...
  • Gilbert le Gentil (quoting Voord99): in Old French, Gentil means "gentle", as opposed to "vilain" (same as in English), which refers to the lowest social classes of the Middle Ages. And in modern French, saying of someone "il est gentil" can be (see context) the same as "il est bien brave", refering to a nice but dumb person... A knight with such a nickname should be harrassed for this in tournaments...
  • Last, as in English, most actual french second names refer to a profession or a land designation. For example, mine means (in Occitan) "hazel grove"!!!

All this is a bit confused even for a French, and I'm afraid this is even more confusing for my fellow-english-speaking roleplayers... So, I advice to just translate your nickname in modern French (you'll have probably 95% chances to match a medieval-origin adjective!!!). But if you're planning some sessions in France, beware: in the Middle Ages, French is not at all spoken in the whole territory: Brittons speak Breton, Alsacians/Lorrans have germanic dialects, Basks speak Euskal, the whole South of France speaks three distincts occitan languages (and even have their own litteratures, from West to East: Gascon, Languedocien, Provençal), and so forth... Then if you want to add color to your nicknames, you can take a look at these (many ressources on the internet, but in French I'm afraid...). Last point: some take a latin nickname, like Carolus Magnus.

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Posted (edited)

Yes, I use a lot of the Welsh names from there.  The various spellings are particularly helpful, as you can have several different versions of the same name for different characters.  (I’d also suggest that people look at the list of Ogham names if you want a resource that lists what Irish names would actually be like in the 5th-6th century.)

What would also be useful would be a thorough account of the different ways in which medieval romance invented all those vaguely faux-classical names and other made-up names that were never actually real names.  There are an awful lot of those in the sources, and I think they’re an important part of the color — once I get into the reign of Arthur, I’m hoping to make most names like that.  

Obviously, one can just come up with names that sound similar, but I’d be interested, admittedly largely for intellectual reasons, in a more “authentic” way (or ways, really) to create fake names.  If anyone knows of a study of that across the genre, I’d like to read it.  Doesn’t have to be about Arthurian material, specifically.

Edited by Voord 99
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And for us who are already playing with a foreign language, adding another one into the mix is a bit too much for this GM. I am going to stick with English nicknames. After all, all those Norman knights with their Norman French nicknames had their nicknames in their native language... so since English is pretending to be the native language in the game, it is good enough for our nicknames, too.

Added bonus, we can all understand it without the need for online translators. 😉

But don't let me rain on your parade. I like using 'ethnic' names for Cymric, Romans, Saxons, French (Franks) and so forth... It is a nice shorthand to establish where the character is from. But I think I would still stick with English nicknames for the ease of use, as much as it might grate in some ears to have a French name followed by an English nickname...

Edited by Morien
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Posted (edited)

These things are very different for speakers of different languages, too.

If you are a native speaker of English (I and all of my players are), Norman French can be a significant marker that says, “This is medieval!”   There’s a whole set of romantic ideas about England in the Middle Ages that dropping into it evokes.  Plus, there’s a really gut sense for the English-speaker that goes beyond that that French=high status, the language of the educated, aristocratic.  Speakers of lots of other European languages have those general associations with French as well, of course, but it’s really intense if you’re a native speaker of English. 

So a knight called “le Cure Hardy” — that sort of thing is for me really evocative of the High Middle Ages in general and of Malory in particular.  In contrast, I basically don’t care for the ethnic side of the game as much, and I’ve minimized it — for instance, there are no distinct “Roman” knights (well, there are in Rome, but not in Britain) in my game.

I’m also just dealing with my frustrations with how I was taught French in school, which was relentlessly focused on the practical and systematically ignored anything about France that was not about very boring practical uses.   Fun fact: I have read a lot of French in my life, and spoken French moderately often, but I have never actually written a letter to an auberge de jeunesse, despite the Irish educational system being convinced that was a critical skill that anyone studying French needed to have.  

So plunging into all this is fun for me, damn it!  I intend to inflict Sir Whatever des Nerfs Durs on my players very soon.

Edited by Voord 99
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9 minutes ago, Voord 99 said:

Speakers of lots of other European languages have those general associations with French as well, of course, but it’s really intense if you’re a native speaker of English. 

Just out of curiosity... I don't know, but I suspect... that this might be especially a thing in Britain & Ireland (i.e. the areas where the Norman French aristocracy was stomping around), and much less so in USA, Australia and Canada. I would expect that Canadians would be giving a side-eye to Quebec right about now, while in USA, it might evoke more of a Louisiana Cajun vibe. Although I expect that there is a secondary split between those who are into Medieval literature (including Le Morte) and those who are coming from a non-literary background, too.

For Finns, there would probably be a similar thing with Swedish nicknames, given that the Swedes ruled over Finland from the Middle Ages to the Napoleonic Wars, and most of the 'local' nobility is actually of Swedish (or German via Sweden) extraction, with Swedish or German surnames. Then again, since many Finnish-speaking Finns detest having to learn mandatory Swedish in school, it would probably take some convincing to make them use it even in a roleplaying game. Mind you, if it were a historical setting, then yes, bring out Svens and Eriks. But I doubt we'd mix Finnish names and Swedish nicknames. It is one of those things that when it is your own native language, it sounds... weird.

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Posted (edited)

For Canada I’ll defer to any actual Canadians.

I live in the US, and do have a little sense of the history here, although I didn’t grow up here.  Historically, it was the case in the US that French was a very common second language in elite education, and that  France was romanticized as the source of culture.  There’s a specific obsession with Paris  — you can see that image of the city in films like An American in Paris, and — to pick a reference that’s very appropriate on a Chaosium forum — Chambers’ The King in Yellow.   I think a lot of this is a direct inheritance from English attitudes and was already there in the colonial period, but it persisted into the 20th century.  It’s still the case that a certain kind of shop is liable to call itself something like La Belle Maison to signal that everything in it is in good taste.  

That being said, there’s also a negative stereotype of the French (which is very like the English one, although maybe less oriented towards sex), and that too is unfortunately persistent — one could see it coming into play in the debates over the Iraq War or in the sneers at John Kerry being able to answer a French journalist’s question in French.

However, all this has faded a lot in recent decades — Spanish is far more often taught as a second language nowadays, and obviously Europe in general is no longer generally seen as The Source of culture.  I suspect that many Americans do not think much about France one way or the other.

With Finns, you could look in the other direction from Sweden to see a place where in the 19th century aristocrats were obsessed with being able to speak French...

Edited by Voord 99
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2 hours ago, Voord 99 said:

With Finns, you could look in the other direction from Sweden to see a place where in the 19th century aristocrats were obsessed with being able to speak French...

Oh yes, I am aware. We were part of Russia for over a century, after all. 😛

Our most revered* general, Mannerheim, was fluent in French before really starting to study Finnish after the Independence.

(* Imagine if Washington was the ONLY Founding Father, and you get the idea. Keeping the Russians from overrunning Finland during the WWII does that to you. And he became the President after the war, too.)

Edited by Morien
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On 3/11/2021 at 7:30 PM, Voord 99 said:

So a knight called “le Cure Hardy” — that sort of thing is for me really evocative of the High Middle Ages in general and of Malory in particular.

You mean "Coeur Hardi" I think ? "Cure" means "therapy" (often "balneotherapy"). A Roman knight I suppose?😊

As a source of inspiration, it makes me think of a XVth-XVIth century french knight called Bayard, whose motto/nickname was "sans peur et sans reproche" (fearless and flawless). Maybe take a look at knights' mottos (when known...) could be useful?

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On 3/11/2021 at 7:30 PM, Voord 99 said:

Fun fact: I have read a lot of French in my life, and spoken French moderately often, but I have never actually written a letter to an auberge de jeunesse, despite the Irish educational system being convinced that was a critical skill that anyone studying French needed to have.  

So plunging into all this is fun for me, damn it!  I intend to inflict Sir Whatever des Nerfs Durs on my players very soon.

????? 😳 Never wrote any letter to an "auberge de jeunesse" in a 43 years-life in France!!!!😲

 

On 3/11/2021 at 7:30 PM, Voord 99 said:

Plus, there’s a really gut sense for the English-speaker that goes beyond that that French=high status, the language of the educated, aristocratic.  Speakers of lots of other European languages have those general associations with French as well, of course, but it’s really intense if you’re a native speaker of English. 

For an elite language, I would choose Latin (of course, I'm French...), it allows anyone to agree with one another, and it explains the arrogance of Roman knights...

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56 minutes ago, Loïc said:

You mean "Coeur Hardi" I think ? "Cure" means "therapy" (often "balneotherapy"). A Roman knight I suppose?😊

As a source of inspiration, it makes me think of a XVth-XVIth century french knight called Bayard, whose motto/nickname was "sans peur et sans reproche" (fearless and flawless). Maybe take a look at knights' mottos (when known...) could be useful?

That's probably the intended word, but from what I can tell, "[Name] le Cure Hardy" was the spelling of the nickname given in Mallory to Sir Borre/Bohart/Bohort, one of Arthur's sons, and also to Sir Ozanna/Ozana/Osanna, a recurring minor character of the Round Table who mostly shows up to get beaten up along with a bunch of other third-stringers so that a more important character has something cool to do.

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Spelling in the Middle Ages was a bit random.  I doubt it helped with Anglo-Norman French that by the time of Malory, people in England still used French for all sorts of things, but it was no longer anyone’s first language if they were from England itself.  Mind you, their English spelling was chaotic, too.

According to the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, the following are all also spellings of coeur in medieval Norman French: coer, coere,  coeur,  couer,  cour;  cuer,  cueor,  cueur,  cuoer,  cuor;  qeor,  qer,  qeur,  qoer,  qor,  qore;  queer,  queor, quer,  quere,  querre,   queur;  quoer,  quoere,  quoor,  quor;  qur,  quuer.

Meanwhile, in Middle English “heart” could be herte, hert, hart, harte, heorte, hort, horte, huerte, hurte, or hirte.

Although all of those are probably closer to how the person spelling it actually was pronouncing the word than modern English “heart” is to how we pronounce it nowadays.  

Edited by Voord 99
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On 3/13/2021 at 9:20 AM, Leingod said:

That's probably the intended word, but from what I can tell, "[Name] le Cure Hardy" was the spelling of the nickname given in Mallory to Sir Borre/Bohart/Bohort, one of Arthur's sons, and also to Sir Ozanna/Ozana/Osanna, a recurring minor character of the Round Table who mostly shows up to get beaten up along with a bunch of other third-stringers so that a more important character has something cool to do.

It's Osenain Coeur Hardi in french 😉 He became a minor recurring character in my campaign ^^

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