The Social World of Alcuin: Nicknames at York and at the Carolingian Court
By Mary Garrison
Alcuin of York: Scholar at the Carolingian Court, ed. Luuk Houwen and A.A. MacDonald (Groningen, 1998)
Introduction: In almost every book on the Carolingian world, and even in most textbooks on medieval history, there is some mention of the nicknames in use among the members of Charlemagne’s entourage: Thus Charlemagne was variously called David or Aeneas; Alcuin, Flaccus or Publius Albinus; Modoin, Naso, Menalcus; Pippin, Julius, and so on; and the list of aliases could be extended considerably. Whichever men and names are included, however, the catalogue in invariably offered as the most characteristic reflection of the shared life and literary aspirations of Charlemagne’s learned associates. And indeed, the by-names are a most illuminating category of evidence – at once whimsical and revealing, they seem to allow an instant and privileged access to the mentalities of those who bore them.
But there is more here than meets the eye. For merely to assemble a catalogue is to use these names as old fashioned historians used to employ archaeological artefacts: as illustration, rather than as evidence the real significance of which can only emerge in relation to its context, and through a comparison with similar artefacts. To begin with, there alternative names are far more diverse than the classical aliases usually cited, and they include names derived from the Old Testament, the animal world, and early Christian times as well.