Friday, May 1, 2015
Albion (AL-bee-on), one of the many old names for Britain, is a boy's name from the Latin albus or Proto-Indo-European albho, both meaning "white."
One legend has it that Albion was a giant and the son of the god Neptune. After Neptune put Albion in charge of ancient Britain it was named after him - possibly in the form Alebion. The legend obviously isn't true, but Albion is indeed ancient, and could possibly be older than the Latin albus, and it might have a much longer story. If the popular theory that Albion's etymology of "white" refers to the white cliffs of Dover is not where the story ends, then it would have an older origin. It is most likely the island's old name is from Proto-Celtic albi̯iū, meaning "world," although it could have started as a PIE word meaning "white," which would tie it together nicely. As "world," the specific meaning is "upper world," as opposed to the underworld. Many suggest the two meanings combined are legitimate, making Albion "white upper world." This would add a richer layer to Albion, considering there were ancient Celtic gods with Roman counterparts named Albiorix, which means "king of the world," and Albius. If Albion and Albiorix are actually related, and if albiorix and albus were born from the same word, that could mean Albion/Albiorix could have been the founding father of the Celtic tribe, possibly the same as Dis Pater, making this a baby name with some real weight.
Eventually Albion stopped meaning all Britain and only meant Caledonia. Scotland and sometimes all Britain was also referred to as Albany, but Albion is the oldest known name for the Britain, and Albany originated a bit later, partially as a title and partially as a nickname/variation, with stronger ties to Scotland. Scotland has been known as Alban/Albania and the Kingdom of Alba. Today, Albany is most used as a place name, but remains familiar as a baby name.
Related names include Albin, Alban, Alben, Alpin (Celtic) and Aubin (French). None have been popular recently, but in Roman and medieval times, and up to the 1930's, it was common. In 2015 on 8 boys were named Albion in the U.S., and since 1880 that number hasn't changed by more than a handful either way. The female forms of these names include Albinia, Albina, Alva, Alvit, Alba, and Albia. Elaborations include Fioralba and Rosalba/Rosalva. These names share an etymology with the word albino.
As a baby name, Alban may be the longest used, from about the 13th century. Three saints share this name, but Saint Alban was the first British Christian martyr during Roman times or about 300 AD. Saint Alban of Mainz (Germany) and Saint Alban Roe (England) came later.
Albion is also used in William Blake's mythology and poems, about the son of Neptune/Poseidon, but this myth has been written about by others.
For a time, Canada was referred to as New Albion and Albionoria, though they were short lived.