What is the etymology of the name "Tristram"?

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In Arthurian legend, the knight, Tristram, received his name at birth and was told that his name reflected his life: sad or melancholy. Certainly, that is the case.  He joined Arthur's Round Table, but his true story is linked with Isode, who became the wife of King Mark of Cornwall, but she is fated to fall in love with Tristram due to a "love potion" that Tristram and Isode accidentally drank. Mark is Tristram's uncle and the young lover is torn between loyalty to Mark and his love for Isolde. Their love ends tragically and has served as a basis for countless poems, a Wagnerian opera and a number of novels.

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I like questions like this. The name "Tristram" is the English form of the Welsh name "Drystan." Other forms of the name are Tristan and Tristam. The origin of the name is French "triste," from the Latin "tristis," which translate as "sad" in English.

Famous Tristrams include:

  • the medieval knight who was sent to Ireland by King Mark of Cornwall to bring back the princess Isolde (sometimes spelled Iseult) to be the king's bride; tragically, Isolde and Tristram fall in love and eventually die.
  • Tristram Shandy, the main character in Laurence Sterne's novel "The Life and Adventures of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman."


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There was no consensus in the sources that I checked, but Tristram (or Tristan) appears to be from Old French, altered (influenced by the Latin word tristis, meaning “sad” [triste in French]) from the Celtic male name Drystan, which was derived from drest, meaning “tumult or din.”

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