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Early `Plant like' names around SW France and Switzerland

The first known example of 'Plant like' names in western Europe dates back to around 2000 years ago. Though he is found in the Alps, Julius Planta could have had links to almost anywhere in the Roman empire.

In 46AD, just 3 years after the Roman invasion of Britain, there is mention of Julius Planta in an edict of the Roman Emperor Claudius, granting citizenship to people living near modern Trento in the Italian Alps, which includes...

`I have for the matter under consideration sent Julius Planta, my friend and adviser. And since he has investigated and examined the matter with the utmost care, in consultation with my procurators, both those who were in the vicinity and those in other parts of the region, with regard to all other matters I grant him permission to make decision and render judgement ....'

It has been claimed [G.R.de Beer (1952) Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, p.8] that the modern Planta family, around its noble seat of Engadine in the Swiss Alps, descends from this nearby ancient Julius Planta, though it seems extremely controversial that the genetic link was intact throughout the millennium or more from 46AD to 1139AD.

DNA and other evidence for the name's genetic and cultural origins

Despite the evidence for Julius Planta two millennia ago, various Plant(e)-like names might have arisen separately, within a widely-spread pan-European culture, mostly within the last millennium. There is some developing DNA evidence for an influx of male lines from the east expanding throughout Europe around five millennia ago. Leaving aside a popular myth, different geographical clusters of Plant-like names might have been genetically unrelated at the times when the names were adopted.

The names Plante and Plant are found particularly in Aquitaine, in SW France, and in the NW Midlands of England. Some loosely related people, sometimes rather misleadingly called "Celtic", are found towards the Atlantic coast of Europe and towards the west of Britain, such as in Wales to the west of the fourteenth-century homeland of the main Plant family.

Though people living in England speak Germanic-based English in modern times, this should not be taken to imply that none had Atlantic-bordering genetic origins from a region where Celtic tongues were previously to be found. Strictly speaking, Celtic applies to a range of related languages found in Western Europe though these languages are now largely diminished. Estimates vary, but the Celtic branch of Indo European languages might have split around 5,000 years ago from Germanic tongues which evidently prevailed to the north east of the River Seine [Stephen Oppenheimer (2007) The Origins of the British].

DNA testing indicates that the migratory path of the male-line ancestors of the main English Plant family, and of very many other people, might have passed through central Europe from the east. The arrival of the broad family of Indo-European languages might have been earlier, perhaps more in tandem with the genetics of female lines.

There has been some reason to speculate that much of the European population might have over-wintered around Iberia during the Last Glacial Maximum, during when Britain was depopulated by ice until around 10,000 years ago. However, others have questioned this, especialy in view of the evidence for a more recent influx of male lines from the east, though in more detail it seems that this male-line influx was associated with just a few men whose male-line offspring then proliferated throughout Europe. Though some scholars have associated a conjectured migratory path of genetic traits with the spread of Indo-European languages from the Near East, the details are still a matter of on-going debate.

Leaving aside linguistic details, the DNA evidence shows that many men now living Western Europe descend down male lines from early men within the so-called R1b1a Y-DNA haplogroup, which evidently originated in a single man around 15,000 years ago. His male-line descendants evidently spread westwards from a region somewhere to the east of the Black Sea. Such male-line descendants expanded greatly throughout Western Europe, it seems, especially in an era from around four to two thousand years ago [Nature Communications paper, May 2015]. While the male-line descendants of other men from that time have no doubt died out, the founding R1b1a man has eventually fathered around half of all western European men now living - it seems that this was through descendants who interbred with a generally earlier stock of European females.

After coming from the general region of the Levant, the male-line R1b1 ancestors of the main English Plant family, in one view, reached the Black Sea perhaps around 9,000 years ago where this ancestry has been associated by some with the later Maykop culture (around 5,700 to 4,500 years ago) of advanced Neolithic farmers and herders who were amongst the very first to develop metalworking and hence metal weapons. It is then imagined that a male-line descent from these R1b1a men migrated, around 4500 to 4300 years ago (i.e. ca.2500 BCE), largely up the river Danube through central Europe into Western Europe.

R1b Migration through Europe

The genetic evidence indicates that a subgroup of descendants from the R1b1a2a male-line ancestors then acquired a further Y-SNP mutation called R1b-P312+ (this is sometimes denoted R1b-S116+ instead). This subgroup reached towards Europe's Atlantic coast. Then, one of the RIb-P312 men acquired a further mutation R1b-L21+ and gave rise to a sub-branch with many descendants who are now found mostly towards the north (including Britain) of the western fringes of Europe. A different sub-branch R1b-DF27, on the other hand, is found more towards the south (notably around the Pyrennees).

Living Distribution of R-DF27

It is estimated that the male-line sub-population that has the R1b-DF27+ mutation first formed around 4,000 years ago (i.e. ca.2000 BCE). A few hundred years later, a forefather of the main Plant family acquired a further R1b-L617+ mutation, perhaps near Iberia or SW France around 3,500 years ago. Other male-line descndants with that same R1b-L617+ mutation evidently remained near to Iberia, some now having the Ortiz surname for example in Mexico (apparently having traveled in more recent centuries to the New World). The Plants' male ancestral line, on the other hand, might have traveled as early as around 3,000 years ago to England, where their R1b-L617+ mutation and a further one R1b-FGC14951+ is to be found, amongst people now called Marsh, Tyndall, Teague, Payne, Spink, Rogers and Westmoreland, as well as for the main Plant family.

The pre-surname male-line ancestors of the main English Plant family evidently migrated up the Atlantic Coast to England between around 3,000 and 700 years ago.

The migration to England of the male line of the main Plant family could have been as early as the Bronze Age (around 3,000 years ago). This could have been associated with the Cornish tin trade, for example, with an Iberian ancestor perhaps sailing up the Atlantic coast in connection with this valued ingredient of bronze. Alternatively, it is possible that R1b-FGC14951+ men arrived severally and separately in England. Accordingly, perhaps the main Plant line did not arrive until as late as the 14th century AD when, for example, the Black Prince held the Atlantic coast Lordships of both Gascony (near Iberia) and Cheshire (in the main English Plant homeland).

According to the DNA evidence, the main family of men bearing the Plant surname started to diverge into their separate family lines around 700 years ago. This is broadly in agreement with the documentary evidence for the first known records of the name in England.

In modern times, there are others in Europe bordering the Atlantic with a Plant(e)-like surname, as well as the main Plant family. There are:

Possible linguistic influences on the name's meaning

Linguistic influences on the English Plant and French Plante surnames may have come not only from Old English but also from Welsh, Latin and old Aquitanian.

The Romans left Britain in 410AD; and in 491 Frisian tribes (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) brought the Germanic basis of Old English to Britain, though more recently some have conjectured that Germanic languages might have existed in SE England much earlier. Though important for the English language as a whole, this might not represent the main influence for Plant-like names. It is conjectured that most people in Britain at the time had been speaking Celtic. Though only about 20 Celtic words survived into English and only about 200 Roman words were found in the first 150 years of Anglo-Saxon English, one of these was planta. A similar word is found in Old High German, Old Norse, and French for example. Also, there was evidently an early interaction between the Latin word planta and the phonetically similar (Celtic) word clanda (meaning `family'). P-celtic languages such as Welsh are generally distinguished from Q-celtic languages such as Gaelic (where P is pronounced as Q or C). Within such a context, the Welsh word plant, meaning `children', and the Gaelic word `clan', can be considered to be linguistic assimilations with the word planta which had a Latin meaning `shoot' or `offshoot'.

In the medieval Age of Faith, when the Plant surname formed, the word plant was associated mainly with God's and man's `planted life', consistent with the meaning `offspring' or `children' or `family' whereas, in the more scientific age of modern English, the word is associated mostly with `a herb' as a more specific category of `planted life'. The commonly supposed meaning `gardener' of the Plant surname, which predates this change, ignores this very different semantic context in late medieval philosophy.

Old Aquitanian is considered to be the same as old Basque. For example, Aquitanian gods' names in Roman times match with Basque plant and animal names. This may be related to primitive beliefs in man's origins from the land or deities. Such ideas can include ones of regenerations from offshoots as offspring. It may be noted that such concepts span most of the so-called Great Chain of Being and reach right from the humble flora through the Welsh meaning `children' of plant to the use of the names of plants for Aquitanian gods. Medieval beliefs in `shape shifting' and the transmigration of souls also span a wide range of the species as do, around the times when surnames were forming, scholastic accounts of man's `vegetable soul'. In late medieval scholasticism, which incorporated pagan (largely Greek) philosophy into Christian beliefs, children were considered to be solely vegetative until they received an intellective component of soul from God.

In modern Basque, the word planta means `appearance' or `feigning'. Though the detail of interactions between the Latin and Basque meanings of planta is uncertain, it can be imagined that the French surnames Plante, Planty and Plantie involved a notion of the 'feigning' of individuals from one to another. To this limited extent, there is some conceptual overlap of `feigning' with the meaning `to reproduce' of the Welsh word planta and the associated meaning `children' of plant.

Early history of some similar names and a critique of a popular myth

Around 870AD, at the end of the reign of Charles le Chauve of France, a new Duchy of Aquitaine was begun in SW France with count Bernard Planta-pilosa (or Planta Pilus in Latin or Plantevelue in French), who had exerted his authority first on l'Auvergne and le Velay (869-872AD).

The name Plantapilosa in old Aquitanian might have meant 'hairy appearance' though, when Latinized, it can be related to a broom shoot, perhaps relating to an old Aquitanian deity. This may have led on to the Plantagenet nickname, with associated concepts of the `vegetable soul', as I have outlined in: John S. Plant (2007), The tardy adoption of the Plantagenet surname, Nomina, Vol. 30, pp. 57-84.

Less credibly, according to `The Da Vinci Code' of popular fiction and the pseudo-history of `The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail', the name Plantard is supposed to date back to Merovingian times. This has been dubbed The Plantard Subplot which includes:

In particular, the associated `so-called Razes genealogy' includes the `Plantagenet like' names...
  • Plantard - ardently flowering offshoot of the Merovingian vine;
  • Plantavelue - implanter or offshoot of hairy powers of renewal and healing; and,
  • Plantamour - implanter or offshoot of the Lord's creative love (or man's generative love).


Merovingians
The Merovingian Dynasty 450-751AD

To put the record straight:

There is evidence:

The debunked Razes genealogy claims that a blood line Planta in England descended from the Plantards. However, I know of no accredited evidence for that. In the context of the true evidence, there are various possibilities by which `Plant like' names could have arrived in England, such as..

Plant-like names around Western Europe and the possible influences of a popular culture

It seems possible that a popular culture may have led to `Plant like' names around Western Europe, though this requires some understanding of early beliefs.

It is possible to make various conjectures about the meanings of Plant-like names. For example, in Breton, ard means art or craft and plantan can mean to implant, such that a possible sense to Plantard is an `implant(er) of skill or divine magic'. The name Plantamour might be related through the `rose of heavenly love' to a `courtly love' sense for the name Planterose. The latter name may have held sense as an `implant(er) of heavenly love and healing' since the healing powers of the rose were believed to be many. Alternatively, Planterose may have related to the old French Planterosse with a `horse borne establisher' sense similar to that of Plantagenet.

The name of the Plantagenets however is more usually said to relate to their emblem, the sprig of broom. The sprig of broom is hairy and it can hence be related to a virile hair sense to Plantevelue. Such a connection seems less extraordinary when it is noted (a) that hair (and bone and nail) was said, in the philosophy of Scotus Erigena (a contemporary of Bernard Plantevelue), to contain only insensitive `vegetative life'; (b) the Merovingians were reknown for their cult of long hair; and, (c) in the Middle English herbal Agnus Castus, broom is ascribed the vertue of knitting together broken bones and sinews. Powers of healing broken bones could have been important to Plantevelue and the Plantagenets.

More particularly, a Latinized meaning of Plantevelue was `hairy shoot' and the sprig of broom is an instance of a hairy shoot. Names of philandering were popular at the time of Geffrey Plante Genest, who was the forefather of the Plantagenet surname.

The Y-line DNA Testing programme of the Plant Family History Group may shed further light on such possibilities. So far, the DNA results indicate that the English Plant family is from different male-line stock than the French-Canadian Plante family.

Subject to further findings, the possibility has been considered (Journal Number 27) that many Plant-like names are unrelated except that they arose from similar late medieval cultures, spread across Western Europe, involving Greek and Celtic traditions modified by Christian teachings, interacting with the Latin word planta. The Latin word planta implies life's foundations as `sole of foot' or `shoot for propagation' and, in (Celtic) Welsh, planta becomes `to beget children' and plant becomes `children'. This can be related to pre-scientific beliefs in mythic origins from the land as well as from blood ties.

Since the times of the Egyptian deity Osiris circa 2400BC there had been a long tradition of vegetation, fertility, and the soul and, even by the 17th century, the English poet John Milton described death as returning to earth and our mother's lap. In Welsh myth, Math could not live unless he kept his feet in the lap of a virgin and, with Gwidion, he created Blodeuedd from blossoms of oak, broom, and meadowsweet. There is various evidence of pre-scientific belief for life's origins that involved a mixing of concepts of the vegetable or vegetative soul (from the land) and intellective life from the Lord's Word (and from blood ties).

Plantevelue can mean `hairy foot' as well as `hairy shoot for propagation'. Both meanings can be related to contemporary beliefs about life's origins and to Pseudo-Dionysius writings on the All-Ruling Deity as the mighty root of creation springing forth various plants.

The Bible represents the foundations of God's kingdom as the smashed feet of clay of Babylon's third kingdom producing the miry clay at the foot of a mountain for the propagation of men's seeds (Daniel 2:31-44). It also represents men as the plants in God's vineyard (Isiah 5:7) and as the branches of Jesus as the vine with God as the husbandman (John 15:1-5). The rose is substituted for virgin birth in Middle English (cf. augmentation of the flesh) and peas for Jesus as the Prince of Pees (cf. the integrating vine of peas or peace). The 14th century Middle English poet William Langland states that `Love is the plant of pees' indicating a metaphorical grounding of man's or God's love not only on the planting of pea seeds but also on the integrating vine.

Though some Plant-like names may have related to a religious work ethic, there is sense as `scions of the holy vine' or `souls of God' for such names as Plantevine, Plantevin, Plantebene, Plantefeve, Planterose, and Plantamour. The vegetable soul of augmentation or porrection can explain the national emblems of England (rose) and Wales (leeks). In Switzerland, there are various Plant-like names including Plantaporrets (dialect for leeks), Plantefoi and Plantfor, and there is the noble Planta/Von Planta family. In `Plantagenet' England, Plantebene or Plantefolie can mean a `hallowed offshoot or child' or a `child of (contrition of) sin' and, rather similarly in Switzerland, Plantefoi or Plantfor can mean a `planted place or child of faith or testimony' or a `child of tribunal or conscience'.

Across medieval Europe the vegetable soul carried powers of nutrition, augmentation and generation. Meanings based on the sole of God's kingdom, or the soul of augmentation or porrection, or the soul of love or generation of children can explain such names as Planta, Planterose, Plantaporrets, Plantamour, and Plant.

A possible genetic link between Aquitaine and the main English Plant homeland

So far, the DNA evidence suggests that the male-line ancestors of the main English Plant family may have found their way broadly from the general region around Aquitaine to east Cheshire in England between 3000 to 700 years ago. There is evidence in 1301 for a Richard Plant in Flintshire, on the western border of Cheshire, and it is further known that the English Plant family was well established in Macclesfied Hundred of east Cheshire by the 1360s. As DNA techniques advance, it may well become possible to check out further such a possible connection of these Plants back to ancestors around Aquitaine. The following summary by Prof Richard E Plant outlines one possible historical context for such a connection.

Gascony, also known as Aquitaine, was brought into the realm of the English royal family through the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II in 1152. It remained in the possession of the English until 1453, and during the early part of this period the Gascons were, for the most part, loyal allies of the Anglo-Norman kings. Gascon soldiers were famous as crossbowmen. A contemporary chronicler said that they fought `like lions', and one modern author calls them `the Gurkhas of the later Middle Ages'. They were mercenaries, and were paid about 3d per day for their services. They were employed in the Welsh wars on several occasions by both Henry III and Edward I, but their most prominent action came in 1282-1283 under Edward I. At that time, according to payroll records, a total of 210 mounted soldiers and 1,313 foot soldiers were recruited. They suffered very heavy casualties in the battles. Because of the high cost of paying them, most only stayed for a period of three months and then returned home. They were sent to Wales by way of Chester, and as with soldiers everywhere, it is possible that one of them had a chance liaison with a local girl that resulted in a male child. It is also possible that some of them stayed in the area and eventually settled there.

To fill out the context, immediately after the battles, Edward I set about building a collection of castles, with the intent that these would protect a surrounding collection of settlers. These protected towns were called `bastides'. The first was built in Flint, which is only about 15 miles from Chester (although it is 50 miles from Macclesfield). The guards of these castles were crossbowmen. When the bastides were opened for settlement, some of the settlers were soldiers, some of whom could have been Gascons. Shortly after this period, Cheshire itself was opened for settlement, and indeed people from other counties who were considered outlaws in those counties could settle in Cheshire and escape prosecution. There is some evidence that some of the Gascons deserted and, though probably a minority, it is possible some might have made their way to settle in Cheshire. More generally, there could have been a Gascon influence in Cheshire around the times when the Plant name formed.

The possible transmission of a culture through the illegitimate descendants of Plante Genest

A possible line of influence can be traced through the names Plantevelue and Plante Genest starting in Aquitaine in France, leading on to a perhaps influential cultural context for the formation of the Plant surname in England.

Troubadour

After Bernard Plantevelue's 9th century founding of the Duchy of Aquitaine, it passed to William I of Poitiers in 951 and, by 1086-1126, to the troubadour (illustration alongside) grandfather of Eleanor of Aquitaine. The love poetry of William IX, duke of Aquitaine (1086-1126) was blasphemous, erotic, amoral and sensitive as in: "To refresh my heart in her/ To renew my flesh in her/ So that I shall never grow old". His granddaughter, Eleanor, married Geffrey Plante Genest's son, King Henry II of England, and their sons, including Richard I and King John, continued the troubadour tradition of `courtly love'.

The name Plantevelue means `hairy shoot' and the nickname Plante Genest means `sprig of broom' which is an instance of a hairy shoot. This can be set in the troubadour context of `renewal' by the shoot of a fresh family tree. Even by the times of Desiderius Erasmus (d 1536) `renewal' was still associated with the word plante (meaning `shoot'): "By this polecye nature hath prouided in our chylderne and neuewes we may be renewed and florysh fresh agayne ... she thus maketh one thynge to yssue out of an other (lyke as a yonge plante which is cut off, from ye tree springeth freshly vp)".

Geoffrey Plante Genest, count of Anjou and Maine was the father of King Henry II of England and, amongst others, Hamelyn, Warren earl of Surrey (London) - it is near Hamelyn's de Warenne descendants that the subsequent English Plant surname is mainly found. In 1200, King John married Isabella of Angouleme in Aquitaine who subsequently married Hugh de Lusignan, the most prominent baron of Aquitaine. In 1247, John de Warenne married Alice Lusignan (de Brien) and English resentments of favouritism towards the `foreign' Lusignans led on to the Baron's revolt in England, leading to the capture of King Henry III at Lewes (1264), though the king was freed by John de Warenne at Evesham (1265).

There is evidence the name Plante Genest (hence Plantagenet) was used for Geffrey by the 1160s; but, evidence for subsequent use of the name is weak until the mid 15th century. A rare early explicit mention is in the Close Rolls (1266): this refers to Galfrido Plauntegenet, serjent at arms, Wodestock, with garderode duties to the king. Also at Woodstock, with duties to the royal palace, there is the first evidence for the spelling Plente which is found in 1219 just after the times of Henry II's son, the lecherous King John; and this spelling can be associated with the meaning `abundance' or `fertile'.

The name spelling Plante occurs in England by 1262. In modern France, this spelling is clustered around Aquitaine. Though `Plant like' names may have arrived in England earlier (possibility 1), an Aquitainian influence could relate to possibilities of such names arriving in the times of the Angevin Empire (possibilities 2 and 3 above) with its three blocks: Anglo-Norman; Angevin; and Aquitainian. One can suppose an influence on the formation of the Plant surname in England from Geffrey Plante Genest's nickname, which fathered the subsequent royal surname, Plantagenet, as well as more immediately perhaps influencing the formation of such names as Plant.

The Plant surname is found in close proximity to various de Warenne lands around England until the mid 14th century; this is when the Plants are found settled in their principal homeland of east Cheshire which is also where the disinherited de Warenne family settled. Early Plants were also found near the lands of William Longspée (Long Sword) who was (like the de Warennes) an illegitimate descendant of Geffrey Plante Genest. It seems that there could have been an influence from the Plante Genest nickname on the English Plant surname, though this may have just been through the popularity around Longspée and de Warenne lands of the Plante Genest metaphor of a `growing shoot' for renewing life's origins.

The possibility of a Welsh influence on the formation of the Plant surname can also be considered: there was an early Welsh influence on the de Warennes through a 1225 marriage to Maud (Matilda) Marshall of Pembroke who had earlier married a half-brother of Longspée; and the subsequent homeland of the de Warennes, along with that of the Plants, was near Wales. In Welsh, plant means children and, in Old Irish, cland means family: both cland and plant are said to come from early adoptions of the Latin word planta. Phonetically similar words in modern English are clan and plant, though we now use other words for life's foundations: land; sole; sprig; scion; and child. Sprig and scion have both human and vegetable meanings, which is appropriate to a medieval view of life's origins as shoots from the land (man's vegetable soul) as well as offshoots from the Lord in His kingdom (intellective soul). Man's vegetable soul can be traced back to primitive beliefs about human life's emergence from the land.

In particular a culture of a `hairy shoot' tradition may have been transmitted by the Longspée and de Warenne descendants of Geffrey Plante Genest to the context of the formative Plant surname. More widely, such influence may have been ameliorated by more godly meanings such as through a mid-thirteenth-century Savoyard influence in England - for example, the Queen's uncle Peter of Savoy was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anglo-GasconSavoyard
Plantebene - pleasant shoot   _:_  
Plantefene - eager shoot   _:_  Plantefoi - planted faith
Plantefolie - wickedness shoot   _:_  Plantamour - planted love
Planterose - risen shoot   _:_  Plantefor - planted conscience

By the time that Plantagenet is known to have become an hereditary royal surname in the mid-fifteenth century, a more developed scholastic (godly) sense may have come to more the fore. In the intervening period, the English Plant surname (with possible spellings Plente or Plonte or Plaunt) may have held a Welsh-like `offspring' meaning that was compatible with the `growing shoot of renewal' sense of the influential nickname Plante Genest and the `fertile' or `abundant' sense of plente.

Initial meanings for English surnames are usually considered thinking backwards from modern times. However, in the case of the Plant surname, there were powerful earlier forces that could have influenced the word's meaning such that more modern concepts may have only later come more to the fore. Early possibilities of influence can be tied in with simple ideas for the formation of English surnames whereby the Plant name can be thought to be `locative' and mean from the fertile or planted place. In the medieval context, this can be associated with the generation of young animals, for example, though such sense can be considered to have subsequently led on to meanings such as an `industrial plant' meaning a place where products are generated.

The DNA and Aquitanian evidence is in keeping with the Welsh. An initial meaning associated with Plant was very likely `feignings' or `offspring' and the DNA evidence shows that the Plants comprised an abnormally large number of `children' of, at least mostly, a single family. But whose? Alternatively, the surname may have been initially ascribed to denote the first Plants were so named because they lived near a fertile or planted place.

That the first Plants had a cultural connection to the Plante Genest nickname is at least better evidenced than the modern myth of their blood-link to Plantard. Despite nineteenth-century claims, their connection to Plantagenet was more likely cultural than genetic; and, it is relevant to consider Plantagenet-related concepts about the vegetative soul.

See also: Towards a better understanding of the Plant and Plantagenet surnames.

Origins of Plant NameOrigins of Plant Name