Sunday, January 18, 2015

Robin Redbreasts, Robert, Red Hair and Rethinking

A few weeks back I mentioned I was looking into the name Robert and its possible relation to the words ruby and ruddy. My contention being that maybe Robert was another red name.

Anyway, I think I've made a breakthrough. A robin redbreast keeps popping in our garden and it made me wonder if the name robin meant red as well.

According to Wikipedia;
The distinctive orange breast of both sexes contributed to the European robin's original name of redbreast. In the fifteenth century, when it became popular to give human names to familiar species, the bird came to be known as robin redbreast, which was eventually shortened to robin.
This doesn't seem quite right to me. The idea that people started giving animals human names seems a little bit silly to me. I can't imagine the fifteenth century was that quaint. It seems much more likely that it was named robin simply because it was red. This is backed up by the next line on the Wikipedia page that states;
Other older English names for the bird include ruddock and robinet.
Robinet is obviously just another version of robin, and the name ruddock actually meant red - hence the word ruddy - supposedly deriving from the Old English word rudig.

Now given that we're told that the name Robin derives from the name Robert, this must mean that the etymology of both names is wrong. Wikipedia tells us that Robert... a Germanic given name, from Old High German Hrodebert "bright with glory" (a compound of hruod "fame, glory" and berht "bright").
I would say that hruod, rather then meaning fame/glory as stated, was actually a variant of the word red, giving the name meaning as something more like bright-red.

Interestingly, if we can accept that Robin/Robert meant red then this in turn would also shift our thinking in regard other people from history and fable that had the name. Robin Hood would possibly become red-hood (Little Red Riding Hood??). Robin Goodfellow (aka Puck), that famed figure from English folklore, would also maybe need rethinking. Not to mention all the various king Roberts.

I also read that in the twelfth century the name Ruddock (and other variant spellings of the name) was given to people with extreme sexual habits. Is this where the word rude comes from?

Incidentally, is the word hood a variant of head?

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