What's In a Couple of Names?

By Tilman Stieve

Occasionally the question of the origin, derivation etc. of Magneto's two first names Erik and Magnus crops up. After the most recent discussion on OTL (which had some interesting contributions from Alara and Diamonde) I sat down with a some books of names, dictionaries of biography and encyclopedias.

Here is what I found. Main sources were the Brockhaus encyclopedia, Webster's New World Dictionary, the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, the Neue Deutsche Biographie and Ernst Wasserzieher's: "Hans und Grete. Zweitausend Vornamen erklaert" (Hans and Grete. 2000 First Names Explained). 15th edition, 1959).

1. Variants:

a) Erik

'Erik' is the Scandinavian and Low German form of the name, the High German one is 'Erich', the English one 'Eric' and the Polish one 'Eryk' (thank you Alara).

b) Magnus

'Magnus' also appears in the forms 'Mang' and 'Manges' in the Alps and Southern Germany.

2. Meaning and Derivation

a) Erik

aa) from Old Norse/Old Icelandic 'Eirikr' (related to medieval German 'Erarich'): "rich in honor" or "king/ruler of honor". The first part of the name comes from the Germanic root '*aizo' which through a number of phonetic changes became Modern High German 'Ehre' and Modern Dutch 'eer' - "honor", the second ultimately from the Indo-European '*reg-' "to direct, rule", which among other things evolved into the English words 'rich' and 'right', Sanskrit 'raj' "to rule", Latin 'rex' "king", Modern High German 'reich' "rich" and Modern High German 'Reich' "realm, empire".

ab) However, it could also be derived from Old Norse 'Einrikr' "the only mighty one", where the first part of the name is derived from Indo-European '*oinos', whence many words meaning "one", such as German 'ein'/'eins', Latin 'unus' and English 'one'.

ac) Finally, Erik could also belong to 'e'/'ewe' "justice, law", in which case the name would mean "lawlord", "judge" or "ruler of law".

b) Magnus

ba) From the Latin word adjective 'magnus' "great, large", thus by being used as a (proper) noun it becomes "the great one". The word is derived from the Indo-European base '*meg(h)', which also evolved into Sanskrit 'maha' "big", Greek 'megas' "big" and English 'much'.

However, that is not the entire story.

According to Wasserzieher, the norther variant of the name Magnus was coined by king Olaf the Saint of Norway, who named a son in honor of Emperor Charlemagne (Latin: Carolus Magnus, German: Karl der Grosse, Norwegian: Karla-Magnus).

Charlemagne (742-814), who ruled over France, Germany and Italy was quite an impressive medieval king, who in 800 was crowned the first Western Emperor since the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

How impressive was he to his contemporaries? Well he was made a saint (canonized in 1165, unfortunately only by an Anti-Pope, and he is revered only in a few places) and the word for "king" in many Slavic languages is derived from his name (Polish 'krol', Russian 'korol').

I must confess, this does add an intriguing new dimension, because of course Professor X's first name is Charles, which is the French form of the name Karl, which owes a lot of its popularity to Charlemagne. Two sides of the same coin indeed!

While we're at it, the name Karl/Carl/Charles/Carlo/Karel etc. is rooted in Germanic 'karl' (Old High German: 'charal') which literally meant "full grown", but also had the meaning "freeman, yeoman", i.e. a person who was neither a nobleman nor a slave or serf. The word is related to Modern English 'churl'.

ba) In Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria the name is mixed up with the otherwise apparently extinct German name 'Magnoald', 'Maginald', 'Maginold' "he who rules with might". It is hard to tell if this 'Magnus' is a Latinization of the German name(s) or the identification is the result of a mistake (see section 3). This name seems to be related to that Thor's son Magni (looking around, I also found the name Magnerich (Magnericus), who was bishop of Trier from ca. 573 to 596.)

The first element of this name derives from the Germanic word for "might" represented in modern English 'might', German "Macht" and Dutch 'macht', which derives from the Indo-European '*magh-' "to be able", which also is the root for modern English 'may' (cf. German 'mag'), 'mage' and 'magic' (from the Old Persian 'magus', Iranian 'magu-', which referred to the Magi, the priestly caste in Ancient Persia and Media) and also 'machine' and 'mechanic'.

The second element, from 'wald' "ruler", is also present in names like Arnold, Oswald, Reynald and Walter.

3. Eriks and Magnuses from History

a) Erik

The Icelander Erik the Red (ca. 950 - ca. 1005) is of course very well known in America because he was the first European to reach (and name) Greenland. But even before him the name was quite frequent in the Scandinavian countries. And according to Wasserzieher, the name spread as a name of kings and saints from Scandinavia to Germany.

aa) Sweden: The first historically traceable King of Sweden was Erik VII Segersaell (the Victorious), who ruled from ca. 970 to 995. Seven more kings called Erik followed, the last one being Erik XIV (1533-1577), who ruled from 1560 to 1568.

Among them, Erik IX the Saint is probably most worthy of mention. He was crowned ca. 1156, tried to Christianize the Finns by a Crusade and was assassinated in Uppsala Cathedral in 1160. He is the patron saint of Sweden, his feast is on May 18th, and he is represente holding a sword and a banner.

ab) Norway: had four kings called Erik (or Eirik), starting with Erik I Bloodaxe (ruled 933 to ca. 935) and including Erik III Magnusson (1280-1299).

ac) Denmark: had seven kings called Erik. Erik I Ejegod ("always good") ruled 1095-1103, Erik II Emune 1131-1137 (assassinated), Erik III Lam 1137-1146 (died as a monk a year later), Erik IV Plovpenning ("plough-penny", because of a tax he raised to finance a crusade) 1241-1250 (assassinated and later canonized, Feast: 9th February), Erik V Glipping ("the one who blinks") 1259-1286 (killed by an earl whose wife he had defiled), Erik VI Menved ("Man's word!") 1286-1319.

ad) Germany: In German books, all Eriks mentioned so far are referred to as "Erich". I'll assume that in Northern Germany, where at least until the Reformation Low German was the normal language, the Erichs that follow were in fact called Erik.

The name Erich/Erik does seem to be confined to North German territories, at least as far as rulers go.

Brandenburg: Erich of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Magdeburg (1245-1295)

Saxe-Lauenburg (a duchy east of Hamburg): Five dukes called Erich, ending with Erich V (died 1436).

Brunswick-Grubenhagen: Dukes Erich I the Victor (1384-1427) and Erich II, later a bishop (died 1532).

Pomerania: This duchy had a ruling dynasty of Slavic origin. One of their princes, Bogislaw ("God's glory") thanks to the successful politics of his great-aunt, Queen Margaret of Denmark, inherited the thrones of all three northern kingdoms. Changing his name, he became Erik IV of Norway (1388), Erik VII of Denmark (1388) and Erik XIII of Sweden (1396). However, he made himself thoroughly unpopular in his three realms, was deposed in 1439 and had to end his days as plain Duke Erich I. of Pomerania (he lived 1382 to 1459). He had a relative, Duke Erich II of Pomerania-Wolgast.

Brunswick-Lueneburg (Hanover): Duke Erich I (lived 1470-1540)

Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel: Duke Erich (1500-1532) who was in Prussia with the Teutonic Knights but was a bit of a troublemaker.

All this would seem to support Wasserzieher's theory that the spread of the name Erik/Erich in Germany owes a lot to its popularity in Scandinavia. However, there was an earlier Erich (who definitely was an Erich, he came from Strasbourg), one of Charlemagne's vassals, Margrave Erich of Friaul (Friuli), who fell in battle in 799. But all the other Erichs I found are clearly from the North.

b) Magnus

ba) Saint Magnus of Fuessen: A rather mysterious saint. It may well be that the legend of his life combines two persons into one in the following manner: The Irish saint Gallus (ca. 550 to 640) came as a missionary to Switzerland, where he founded the abbey of St. Gallen. His companions were two Germans, Maginald and Theodo. In the 8th century, two monks from St. Gallen, Magnus and Theodo were called from St. Gallen to convert the inhabitants of the Allgaeu in southwest Germany. This latter Magnus may actually have been a Rhaetian (i.e. his native language may have been Rhaeto-Romanic), but everything is extremely contentious and shrouded in legend (so it may also be that they made up the part about his being St. Gallus' companion). In any case, he founded a monastery in Fuessen and died in 772 (feast: September 6th). His combat against paganism were transformed in legend to fights against a dragon and sundry demons. He is represented with a bear bringing him wood, defeating a dragon by raising a crucifix, driving out snakes or surrounded by all kinds of animals. He is especially revered in southern Germany, Switzerland and in Tyrol and is there reckoned among the Fourteen Helpers in Need (14 Nothelfer). Churches devoted to him are also named St. Mang.

People presumably named after this Magnus include the chronicler Magnus of Reichsberg (died 1195) and Prince Magnus of Wuerttemberg, a Protestant commander in the 30 Years War (killed 1622).

bb) Norway: Seven kings were called Magnus, starting with Magnus I Olafsson the Good (ruled 1035 to 1047, also became king of Denmark in 1042). There was also Magnus III Olafsson Barfot ("barefoot") who ruled from 1093-1103, Magnus IV Sigurdsson the Blind 1130-1135, Magnus VI Lagaboeter ("the law-betterer", lived 1238-1280), and Magnus VII Eriksson 1319-1355 (who was also Magnus II of Sweden).

bc) Denmark: After Magnus the Good there were no more kings called Magnus. However, a royal prince, Duke Magnus of Holstein (1540-1583), son of king Christian III, attempted to carve out a realm for himself on the Eastern Baltic. He was not successful and used as a political puppet by Czar Ivan the Terrible, who gave him the meaningless title of a King of Livonia in 1570.

bd) Sweden: Magnus I Birgerson called Ladulaas ("barn-lock", because he protected the peasants from the depredations of the lords), who ruled 1279 to 1290) and Magnus II Eriksson (see Norway).

be) German rulers:

Saxony (today Lower Saxony): Magnus, the last Duke from the house of the Billings. Named after his uncle, Magnus the Good of Denmark and Norway. Died 1106.

Brunswick-Lueneburg: Duke Magnus I the Pious (lived 1307 to 1369), son of Albrecht the Fat. Magnus II With the Necklace (1328-1373).

Saxe-Lauenburg: Bishop Magnus of Cammin (in Pomerania) (1390-1452), Dukes Magnus I (died 1543) and Magnus II (died 1603).

Mecklenburg (coastal duchy ruled by a Slavic dynasty): Three dukes called Magnus, Magnus III (1509-1550) was involved in the Reformation.

So far I have found neither an Erik/Erich nor a Magnus who was not either from Scandinavia, Germany or places under German or Germanic (Frankish) rule.

4) Possible Ethnic and Religious Aspects

a) Erik

I do not know of any German Jews who used the name Erik (which does not mean none existed; in the 19th and 20th centuries many assimilated Jews gave their children German names), but it should be remembered that 'Erik' is the Scandinavian and Low German form of the name, and Jews were a lot less likely to use Low German. Jews had been driven from Northern Germany during the Crusades and were not allowed to immigrate there again until the early modern era, by which time Low German was replaced by High German as the language of literature, churches and officialdom, so there was less incentive to learn it (Yiddish, by the way, is an offshoot of medieval High German). I am not sure about the names current among German Sinti before World War 2 (Gypsies first came to Germany early in the 15th century, so I would guess that they too did not frequently learn to speak Low German, but that is only a guess).

b) Magnus

Magnus was used as a first name by German Jews (e.g. Magnus Hirschfeld, the sexologist). Magnus is also a family name that is or was used both by Jewish and Gentile (or converted) families. Whether Magnus is likely to have been used by Sinti I do not know, but it is not impossible given that Magnus is a popular saint in South Germany.