Concerning the Names
Brianna, Branna, Brenna, and Brenda

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

©1997 by Josh Mittleman. All rights reserved

Last updated 2 Oct 1997

Although Brianna, Branna, and Brenda are widely believed to be medieval names, none of them has been found in use before the modern period. Brenna may have been in use in medieval and renaissance Italian, but no evidence exists of its use in any Celtic language, which is the context in which many people erroneous place it.

Brianna is a modern feminine form of Brian. The masculine name, originally Brion, dates back at least to the 9th century, and forms of it were in use in Brittany and Ireland from that time, and in England from the Norman Conquest onward [1]. The early Irish feminine name Briúinsech \BROON-shahkh\ is a feminine form of Brion (1) [3]. The variants Briane, Brianne, Briana, Bryana, etc. are also in modern use, but have not been found in medieval use [2].

Branna is a modern feminine form of Bran. The masculine form was one of the most popular names in early Ireland, and continued in use through the end of the middle ages [3]. On the evidence of some other names, it is possible that Irish Bran could have been feminized as Brannat \BRAHN-ahtch\ or Brainsech \BRAHN-shahkh\, but neither form has actually been found.

Brenna is a hypothetical feminine of Brennus, which is recorded in 3rd and 4th century Roman histories as the name of leaders of a Celtic and a Galatian tribe [4]. We have no idea what the original name might have been before the Roman historian latinized it; it might have been very different. In the context of late Romano-Celtic culture, which was heavily influenced by Latin, the feminine Brenna is plausible even though it is not recorded. The name is in use in modern Italian as Brenno and Brenna; we do not know if it survived through the Middle Ages or if it was revived sometime afterward [5]. There is no basis for considering either form of the name to be consistent with medieval Welsh, Gaelic, or Breton naming.

These three names were all constructed based on Latin usage. In Latin, names which ended -us were routinely feminized by replacing the masculine grammatical ending with the feminine -a. Since many names were recorded in latinized form by medieval scribes, non-Latin names like Brian and Bran can be found latinized as Brianus and Brannus. It is easy to treat them as Latin names and feminize them; but there is no evidence that these names were feminized before modern times. The suffix -a is not a feminine ending in medieval Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, or other Celtic languages.

Brenda originated in Shetland, possibly derived from the common Norse masculine name Brand (which itself was in use at least from the 12th century). The feminine form may also have been used at that time [2], but we have found no record of it. The modern popularity of Brenda dates from its use in the novel The Pirate by Walter Scott in 1821. The name is often associated with Brendan, but there is actually no connection [1].

Those interested in similarly pronounced feminine Irish names might consider Broinnfind \BRIN-yin\ or Bruinnech \BRIN-yahkh\, names used in early Irish literature [3].


Spelling conventions for Gaelic names changed from the early to late Middle Ages. The dividing point is roughly 1200. The spellings given above are standard for early medieval Gaelic. The corresponding late medieval spellings are:


(1) Pronunciation guides appear between backslash brackets, \ \, and are intended to be read as if they were modern standard American English with the emphasis placed on the capitalized syllables. \kh\ represents the hard, rasping ch sound in the Scottish loch or the German ach.


[1] E. G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).

[2] Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling, The New American Dictionary of First Names (New York: Signet, 1983).

[3] Donnchadh Ó Corráin and Fidelma Maguire, Irish Names (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1990).

[4] Laurel Letter of Acceptances and Returns, January 1987, Acceptances, Brenna the Disinherited (Milpitas, California : Society for Creative Anachronism, 1987).

[5] Emidio de Felice, Dizionario dei Nomi Italiani (Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1986).