, Volume 91, Issue 4, pp 701–715 | Cite as

The feminine name Wealhtheow and the problem of Beowulfian anthroponymy

  • Stefan Jurasinski


Since names in Beowulf are widely understood to reflect aspects of the characters who bear them, the standard translation of Wealhtheow as “Welsh slave” has caused scholarship to entertain two propositions regarding the significance of its etymology: either Wealhtheow was some sort of slave or captive, or the standard translation of her name is faulty, a name indicating bondage being unworthy of Hrothgar’s queen. What these divergent analyses of the name have in common is a shared conviction that names were meaningful in the era Beowulf describes. As this essay demonstrates, such a view is complicated by most of the current scholarly literature on the principles of name-formation in Old English. Since a number of the names in Beowulf are demonstrably real names that circulated outside of the poem rather than the coinage of the poet, conclusions about their meaningfulness cannot be offered without reference to these ideas. Accordingly, this essay approaches Wealhtheow as an onomastic rather than literary anomaly. In the process, it demonstrates that no meaning can be construed in a principled manner for the name-element Wealh- and uncovers a possible analogue for the peculiar behavior of the name-element -þeow in this compound.


Beowulf Onomastics 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishSUNY College at BrockportBrockportUSA

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