Dr. Paul Booth of Keele University was looking through Chester County [UK] Court plea rolls for 1310, where he discovered mention of “Roger Fuckebythenavele,” who was in the process of being outlawed. Because Roger was referred to in this way on three separate occasions, Booth opines that “Fuckebythenavele” is Roger’s nickname, as opposed to the clerk’s private joke. Booth further conjectures that the derisive epithet refers to someone who is particularly incompetent and clueless in sexual activities. Those etymologists who thought that “fuck” first appeared in English about 200 years later find Booth’s discovery very exciting.
Most of the news reports stop with Booth’s putative source of the name, thereby failing to take up some truly interesting questions. I, for one, am less interested in this example as a proof of the longer lifespan of “fuck” and more about its implications for Roger. For example, why is Roger recorded with a nickname surname? Surely he has an actual last name, so why is it not used? Is this nickname like a rap artist’s name, by which almost everyone knows Roger publicly, to the exclusion of his legal name? If that’s the case, though, wouldn’t he be referred to as “Roger [Legal Surname,] known as Roger Fuckebythenavele”?
In a broader context, what does Roger’s nickname tell us about the use of “fuck” in Chester County in the early 1300s? Just how insulting was it? What level of taboo did it carry? For example, would the modern equivalent of this be “Roger Navelscrew” [humorous, acceptable in print, broadcast media, and casual speech, but rude] or “Roger Fucknavel” [still humorous, but vulgar, unacceptable in most print, broadcast media, and general common speech]? Does the appearance of “Fuckebythenavele” in a legal document suggest that the word was more acceptable in everyday speech than it is now?
I’m also curious about nicknames in general during this period. Do other similar nicknames appear — i.e., Sue Shit-in-soup or Peter Piss-in-bed? How commonly are such epithets used? Can we determine if they are supposed to be taken as shocking insults, as amusing jokes, or something in between? Can we draw any conclusions about the social status of people likely to have such nicknames?
In other words, this snippet of information makes me want to know more about Roger!