I was reading in Tim Clarkson’s The Picts: A History today. Clarkson was discussing how the Pictish kings have a very small number of names, even though they all have different fathers and are from apparently different patrilinear families. Clarkson supports the traditional matrilinear succession.
He discusses various ideas about why there is such a small number of Pictish names used for their kings — Bridei, Talorc(an), Drust [Drustan/Tristain], Domangart, etc. The one idea he doesn’t mention, and no one has that I know of, is that there is such a small number of names because they are being named by their mothers. If it is matrilinear succession then it is a female kindred that power passes among the sons of a group of related women. These women give their sons names that are common in their families, names of their brothers in particular. A fairly small group of related women, all cousins, would have a fairly small group of familial names to give.
There is this idea that the Picts had matrilinear succession but that their women were powerless. I don’t think that is true at all. Their women had prestige and honor. I only know of two sources of information about Pictish women, a Roman era account that talks about the arrogance of Pictish women ( not unlike the queen of the Brigantes, whose husband was the ruler.) These women certainly had prestigue. I actually think the role of women among the Brigantes at the time of the Roman conquest could give us a great deal of insight into Pictish practices. I also recall reading an archaeology report of a Pictish cemetery were the highest status pagan burials were all female. Like the queen of the Brigantes, Pictish royal women may have had religious roles that trumped political actions by their husbands or sons. Ironically, that reminds of of a very high status Scythian female burial found several years ago (Pictophiles will understand why I’m reminded of this. 🙂 ). If matrilinear succession and female status was based on female religious roles then it may follow that matrilinear succession broke down within a century or so of the conversion to Christianity.
I know some of you are thinking that this is impossible because fathers name children. Really? Give me one good reference for that. I can give one to the contrary. I remember reading in Ian Wood’s book The Missionary Life how Alcuin’s Life of Willibrord actually says that his mother named him, but that translators always change this to his father in the English editions — translator’s bias. Also, if you think of about Anglo-Saxon naming there is good reason to think that mothers did name the children. It explains why there are so many name elements common in the mothers family among the children. Consider the names of Eanflaed of Northumbria’s children: Ecgfrith (pronounced Edgefrith), Ælfwine, Osthryth, and Ælfflaed. These names match better with Eanflaed, daughter of Edwin (Eadwine), sister of Eadfrith and Osfrith, neice of Ælfric than for the family of Oswiu son of Æthelfrith. Note that Os- and -frith are also found in Eanflaed’s family; indeed, an Osfrith was her eldest brother. Now it is in the interest of a woman for her children to be successful among their fathers family because sons are a mothers social security, so mothers will take this into consideration in naming children. Also it is usually mothers who insist that sons are named after their fathers. I recall reading that boys that are named after their fathers today usually sons of single mothers. Naming a child after the father is a way of declaring paturnity. It was unusual for a medieval boy to have the exact same name as his father, but they often alliterate. It also fits for a mother to name the children because children are part of the woman’s sphere until they reach at least age 7. Consider how many children didn’t survive infantcy (age 7); many children never left the mother’s sphere of authority.