Alba amicorum as a source for onomastic research. Examples from an underused genre

By Daniel Solling

In: Ortnamnssällskapets i Uppsala årsskrift 2020


A Stammbuch, or album amicorum, is a kind of friendship book that was kept mainly by students at German-speaking universities. It was primarily used to collect personal messages – Eintragungen, or inscriptions – from fellow students and professors. The tradition of keeping these albums emerged in Germany during the Reformation and subsequently spread, including to Scandinavia. It persisted right into the 20th century. An album amicorum usually consists of a volume with originally blank pages on which the inscriptions have been written. A typical entry consists of a quotation or maxim at the top of the page, followed by a dedication, generally with a place, date and signature. The commonest languages used are German and Latin, but entries in Classical Greek, Hebrew, French and many other European vernaculars also occur. Albums are often artistically decorated with drawings and coats of arms.

Onomasticians have made far too little use of albums of this kind. The present article emphasises that they can be an important source of new knowledge for research, above all, into historical personal names. With reference to an earlier study, it is shown for example how material from alba amicorum changes our picture of how the Chancellor of Sweden, Axel Oxenstierna (1583–1654), wrote his name. Contrary to the claims of earlier scholars, it emerges that Oxenstierna did in fact use a patronymic. The article also describes how material from these albums has revealed a new earliest record of a woman using a married name in Sweden, from 1654, when Agnes Margredht Wagthmejster geboren won Helmstedt employed such a name in an album inscription. Material from alba amicorum can in addition provide new insights into the use of patronymics and hereditary surnames in historical times.