Saturday, 19 September 2009

Morgan the dog and the etymology of his name

A research project at LaTrobe university aims to study ways to help people remember faces and names. Since I'm terrible at both of these tasks, I volunteered to take part. In the course of the first interview, one of the strategies mentioned was to make a memorable association with a newly heard name.

So, today, when I was trying to memorise the name Morgan (the name of a dog, I might mention), I thought of Morgan the pirate. I can't remember anything about Morgan the pirate, but his surname has stuck in my memory. The dog is black, and I thought it might be a black business being a pirate.

So far, so good. The black dog is named Morgan...

But then I wondered about the word morganatic. Being an occasional reader of Regency Romances (well, more than occasional), I know about the morganatic marriage between George, Prince of Wales and Mrs Fitzherbert. But how did such a marriage get its name?

I was surprised to read on TripAtlas that morganatic marriages have never been a part of British law; but that does explain why society in the early nineteenth century did not recognise the marriage.

WorldWideWords says etymologists puzzled over the origins of morganatic, and even at one time believed it might derive from the unequal marriage between Morgan le Fey (a fairy) and a mortal.

Michael Quinion, the author of WordWideWords, suggests that the generally accepted meaning is associated with an old word for Morning Gift, morganegiba (think of the modern German word for morning, Morgen). In an old custom, a husband would give a gift to his wife the morning after a marriage was consummated. In a morganatic marriage, this is all the wife receives - she can't make a claim on the husband's rank or entitlements and neither can any children of the marriage.

Incidentally, I was interested to read on TripAtlas the assertion that the church pushed for the adoption of the practice of Morning Gift as a way of giving women more security in a marriage - any lands or goods given were owned independently by the wife and held for her children.

But, after all this research, I'm left with the most important piece of information - my new canine friend is named Morgan!

Perhaps I could have saved myself a long process if I'd taken notice of his owner's assertion that his name means 'lives by the sea' - but no associations occurred to me about a young black labrador and the sea.

Hmmm... wait a minute? Weren't Labrador retrievers originally bred to help fishermen haul in the nets?


Mary said...

Doesn't a pirate live on the sea? Maybe that can be a connection.
Is the arp language connected to the 'pig latin' I seem to remember my older siblings speaking?

parlance said...


Pig Latin is another of the language games children play, but it's based on a different way of arranging the letters. If I remember correctly, you take the first letter off and put it on the end, and then add some ending - ay, I think.

Sp pig would be igpay and table would be abletay.

Ok, I'll try to remember Morgan lived on the sea. Actually, I might remember he became governor of somewhere. Not sure...