If we look at first names according to their historical origin, we find that most traditional first names in both Spanish and English come from one of the following four sources:
- Germanic names: this source is to be expected in English, which is a Germanic language, such as Alfred (cf. Sp. Alfredo), but we find many Germanic names in Spanish as well, in part because of its Visigothic past (200 years of ruling the peninsula between the 6th and 8th centuries), such as Álvaro or Rodrigo; actually, many of the Germanic names in Spanish and English are borrowed from Frankish, another Germanic language, such as Eng. Robert ~ Sp. Roberto.
- Hebrew names: these come from Biblical names and thus there are many cognates here too, e.g. Eng. & Sp. Daniel, Eng. John ~ Sp. Juan, Eng. Mary & Sp. María, or Eng. Esther ~ Sp. Ester. Names taken from the Bible have been extremely common in Christian Europe since Christianity began to spread there close to 2,000 years ago.[i]
- Roman (Latin) names: such as Sp. Julio ~ Eng. Jules or their feminine versions Sp. Julia ~ Eng. Julia; these names came to be used initially because they were names of early saints and martyrs of the Christian Church, which was, of course, the Church based in Rome (Christianity arose in the Roman Empire and from the beginning, Latin was the language of Western Christianity, which was based in Rome)
- Greek names: such as Sp. Jorge ~ Eng. George, also typically from the names of early martyrs and saints from the eastern part of the Roman Empire
From the names of male saints, female names were derived sometimes, such as Sp. Francisca and Eng. Frances, which are feminine versions of the original male names Sp. Francisco and Eng. Francis. Additionally, as already mentioned, women’s names have often been connected to the Virgin Mary in Spanish. A woman’s name could also stem from the location where the Virgin Mary was reported to have appeared, such as the Virgen de Lourdes and the Virgen de Guadalupe, which gave us the female names Lourdes and Guadalupe (see §46.2.5 below).
There are some names connected to Christianity that are not names of saints per se or names from the Bible, such as Sp. Salvador, meaning ‘savior’, which refers to Jesus Christ, or Angel, which in Christianity refers to a ‘a spiritual being believed to act as an attendant or messenger of God, conventionally represented as being of human form with wings’ (COED). Curiously, in English, Angel is a woman’s name (/ˈeɪ̯n.ʤəl/) whereas in Spanish, Ángel is a man’s name (/ˈan.xel/). The feminine form of Sp. Ángel is Ángela, though ángela is not a word for a female angel, since there is no such thing. It is just a feminine form of the word Angel, which has been around for a long time in the Western world, though English did not borrow it until the 18th century.
Primarily because naming conventions are tied to religion and also in part because of the shared European source of the English and Spanish languages, it is not surprising that there are many cognate first names in these two languages. Remember that England was Catholic until the 1530’s, when the English king Henry VIII renounced papal authority over the Church of England, which had been established in the 6th century. Thus, speakers of English and Spanish shared Catholic-based names and naming conventions for a long time. We will see a list of very common cognate names in a later section of this chapter.
We should mention that in the Spanish-speaking world, there are different naming traditions in different countries, although there are also many similarities. In Spain, during the Franco dictatorship that ended in the 1970’s, Catholic naming conventions were imposed on the population and names had to come from the approved list of saint’s names (Sp. santoral) and they could only be in Spanish and not in any of the other national languages, namely Basque, Catalan, or Galician (cf. Part I, Chapter 9). Although there is much more freedom nowadays to assign a name of one’s choosing to a child, traditional names are still used by many parents in Spain and in many other Spanish-speaking countries, though not all, the most glaring exception being the Dominican Republic.
Although the naming system in Spain is much more lax now than it used to be, in this country, unlike in the United States, names can still be refused by the authorities, the Registro Civil, the ‘registry office’. In 2016, there was a big controversy in Spain because the authorities had refused to accept the choice of Lobo ‘Wolf’ for a boy’s name by his parents. Although this is a well-known last name in Spanish, somebody at the Civil Registry did not think it was appropriate as a first name. Eventually, after a petition was signed by hundreds of thousands of people, the authorities relented and allowed the boy to have the name Lobo.
In the Spanish Basque Country, Basque names were not allowed during the Franco dictatorship, from 1938 on. Basque names can now be used, even names from mythological figures, such as Aitor, or after names of natural formations such as rivers or mountain ranges, such as the unisex name Alaitz. Some of the popular Basque names are equivalent to traditional Christian names, such as Paul (pronounced [pa.ˈul]), which is equivalent to Eng. Paul (pronounced [ˈpɔl]) and Sp. Pablo (the source of all this names was Latin Paulus, accusative Paulum). Some common modern Basque names were created in the early 20th century as part of the Basque nationalist revival, such as Koldo, which is equivalent to Sp. Luis and Eng. Lewis or Louis, and Kepa, which is equivalent to Sp. Pedro and Eng. Peter, and Nekane, which is equivalent to Sp. Dolores (see below).
In some Hispanophone countries in the Americas, there has been a much longer period of freedom to choose other types of names for one’s children, other than those sanctioned by the Church, even though traditional names are still quite common, if not the majority. In these countries, traditional English names are sometimes used in recent times due to US cultural influence, such as Michael, Maxwell, Erika, or Karen, as well as other unusual names. Unusual names are very common in the Dominican Republic, for example, where one encounters names from unusual languages, especially for girls, such as Arabic Zuleika and Yesenia, or exotic creations such as Yafreisi, Amiris, or Karttieris.
Regarding English first names, we should mention that until the Norman invasion in 1066, first names in England followed the Germanic tradition. Thus we find names such as Æðelstan, formed with the Old English morphemes æðel ‘noble’ and stan ‘stone’, or like Godgifu, an early form of the name Godiva, which meant ‘gift of god’, from the elements god ‘god’ and giefu ‘gift’.[ii] After the Norman invasion, however, Anglo-Saxon names lost their prestige, much like the English language did (cf. Part I, Chapter 12), and they were replaced by Norman and Christian names over the span of a century.
Some of the most popular male English names after the Norman Conquest were Norman names such as William (Sp. Guillermo), which was the most popular post-invasion male name, Richard (Sp. Ricardo), Henry (Sp. Enrique), Robert (Sp. Roberto), Roger (Sp. Rogelio), and Hugh (Sp. Hugo). Popular Norman names for women included Matilda (Sp. Matilde), Alice (Sp. Alicia), and Emma (Sp. Ema). Christian names, either Biblical names or names of saints, became popular as well, names such as Thomas (Sp. Tomás), John (Sp. Juan), Steven (Sp. Esteban), Nicholas (Sp. Nicolás), Catherine (Sp. Catalina), Agnes (Sp. Inés), Jane/Jean (Sp. Juana), and Mary (Sp. María). Very few Anglo-Saxon names survived this ‘conversion’. Among the male names that have survived are Alfred (Sp. Alfredo), Edgar (Sp. Edgardo), Edwin, and Edward (Sp. Eduardo); and, for women, Edith and Ethel (Sp. Adela). It is in great part because of this switch in the source of first names from the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) period to the Middle English period that we find so many cognate first names between English and Spanish.
 In English, Francisco is equivalent to Francis or Frank and Francisca to Frances, cf. §46.5.4 below.
 It would seem that some of these names were made to look as un-Spanish-like as possible by Basque nationalist authors Sabino Arana and Koldo Elizalde. Bq. Koldo is a shortening of Koldobika, which is an adaptation of Lat. Clodovicus, which was an adaptation of the Old Frankish given name Chlodowig, which is the ultimate source of Sp. Luis and Eng. Lewis and Louis. Bq. Kepa was taken from the original Aramaic language word for ‘rock’, Kephas or Cephas. That is because the names Peter and Pedro come from Lat. petrus ‘rock’ (source of Sp. piedra ‘stone’), the nickname that Christ supposedly gave to one of his apostles, Simon, who would become Saint Peter in the Christian tradition.
 The D.R. is not the only place where rare names are popular. It has been reported that there is a town in the region of Castile in Spain, Huerta de Rey (Burgos province) that in recent decades claims to have the largest percentage of uncommon names, such as the women’s names Orencia, Sinclética, Tenebrina, and Basilides, or the men’s names Rudesindo, Onesiforo, Floripes, and Ursicinio. In total there are 300 different names for the town’s 900 inhabitants. The difference is that these are all not made-up names, but lost names from ancient traditions, such as Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Visigothic, and Celtic traditions.