Bisclavert, Bisclavret, Garwaf, Werewolves: what’s in a name!

The french werewolf "voirloup"
Image via Wikipedia

I was planning on writing a post about the etymology of the name Bisclavert, which was the name of my recently published short story about a medieval werewolf, based on the story of the same name by Marie de France.

I was surprised to find that the spelling I had used was actually a variant, and a less common variant at that! So what I have done is actually to go and change the name of my story to Bisclavret (The Werewolf) just to make things a bit clearer! I thinks its pretty obvious the story is about werewolves so hopefully that won’t spoil anything for anyone!

Back to the main purpose of explaining the etymology of the word, I found that this is actually pretty unclear. Marie de France in her lai tells the reader that:

‘Bisclavret’ is the Breton name,
the Normans call it ‘garwaf’.

The usual old-French word for werewolf seems to be garou, and forms part of the more modern phrase used in France now of loup-garou. But, according to Widsith’s help blog post, it seems very unclear as to where you get the werewolf meaning from the Breton bisclavert. The closet word in Breton is “bleiz” for wolf, but even that is not very close.

Perhaps Marie used a bit of artistic licence herself and made the word up anyway?

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