Those Englanders, Anglers, Engels and Angels

Non Angli, Sed Angeli

Thoughts from an email sent Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Hi all

Wonderful, how the Internet opens up so many beaut hyperlinks. Here's one to Angeln , a small area in modern Germany, and from where it's often thought the original "Angles / Engels" came to England.

Its etymology is thought to be linked to a word meaning "Angling" for fish, brilliant, especially after chatting about Peter and the fishermen on Wednesday, from their enormous catch (in Greek — agra) of fish, to their catching (in Greek — zo-agreo) of men.

Because it also appears to be linked to "Engels", the German word for angels — messengers — bringers of information about events (in Greek — aggelospronounced ang-el-os).

Further thoughts are below, based on an article by "Palaver", I was reading at Yahoo Answers.

Blessings from Steve


Why England. not Saxonland?

The Angles, from which we get the name England, were invited by a tribal British king, King Vortigern, to come to Britain about 450 AD, after the Roman troops had left the place. The meaning of their name derives from a German word "Angeln" and is thought to mean "hook", as in angling for fish. Interestingly, the name is also closely linked to a different word with very similar spelling: "Engel" in German, also Dutch, Norwegian and Danish, which derives its meaning from the Latin word "angelus" and the Greek word "angelos" meaning "the messenger", yes, and from which we get those English words "angel", and "evangelist" meaning "good news messenger". Ironic, perhaps ? Maybe not.

The original use of the name Angli (for the people) and Anglia (for the country) is found in Latin writers during the seventh century, but only with reference to these Angles (as opposed to the Saxons and Jutes) e.g. a king of Kent, Aethelbert (540-616), is called "rex Anglorum" — "king of the Angles". And certainly Bede (672-735) never uses Anglia for the country as a whole: his name was Brittania or Britannia i.e. "Britain".

As a bynote, it was this king Aethelbert, and particularly his Frankish queen Bertha, daughter of the king in Paris, who, later in their lives, welcomed Augustine as a missionary in 596, when he brought a party of men from Rome along with a team of Frankish interpreters. Presumably these interpreters understood both Latin and the language of Anglia. Needless to say, the good news of God's son, of God's forgiveness, of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, of turning the other cheek, was found to be a welcome message, with thousands in Kent being baptised as a result. Schools were opened, some of which are still functioning today.

So with these Angles, if they established themselves in one part of the country (i.e. on the East coast, then moved north into Northumbria and Mercia), while the Saxons settled in the rest of the country (i.e. South West, or Wessex and South South, or Sussex and South East or Essex), why did the name of the modern country derive from the former rather than the latter? The historical evidence, though meagre, does not suggest that the Angles were any more numerous than the Saxons, or had greater military successes. Why, then, is the country called England, and not Saxonland, Sax land, or some other such form? It is a puzzle, but we can make some guesses.

The one context where the early Latin writers did give the Angl- element prominence was in the phrase Angl- Saxones, used at least from the eighth century to mean the "English Saxons" (of Britain) as opposed to the 'Old Saxons' (on the Continent). A long time afterwards, as the historical facts began to blur in the popular mind, Anglo-Saxons came to be interpreted as "Angles and Saxons", the combined Germanic people of Britain, which is how the term is used today.

But back in the eighth century Angl- did not have this sense. Rather, it was the crucial, contrastive element in the phrase "the English Saxons", as opposed to other kinds. Issues of identity being so important, perhaps it was this prominence which fixed Angl- in the intuitions of the people, as a label for the people as a whole?

Whatever the reason, we can see the name "Angl-" broadening its meaning in the ninth century, with the forms "Angel-" and "Engl-" now being found as well. The adjective English referring to all the people, makes its first appearance at that time. In a treaty made between King Alfred and the Dane Guthrum (around 880) we see English, as opposed to Danish, and it plainly refers to all of the non-Danish population, not just the Angles. At around the same time, also, English is used for the language: Alfred's translation of Bede at one point (Book III, Chapter 19) talks about a monastery "nemned on Englisc" — "called in English" Cneoferisburh, and Alfred quite often uses the name in this way. And in translating the Latin phrase "in regione Anglorum" (Book IV, Chapter 26), referring to the country of the Angles, we now find the phrase "on Engla lande".

Still, it took over a century before we find the phrase Engla lande referring to the whole country — by the writers of the eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to be precise. There was then a long period of varied usage, and we find such forms as Engle land, Englene londe, Engle lond, Engelond, and Ingland. The spelling England emerged in the fourteenth century, and soon after became established as the norm.


Post script — the forming of the UK, the United Kingdom click here for more info.

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