From Mary of Magdala, the female disciple of Jesus Christ cited in the New Testament, we have the names Magdalen and Magdalene. Oxford Dictionaries includes the archaic definitions of magdalen, a reformed prostitute, and a home for reformed prostitutes.
According to Etymonline, the Greek female name Magdalene was anglicized to Maudelen in the early 14th century. In Aramaic, Maghdela meant “elevated, great, magnificent” while in Hebrew מגדל, migdal (or migdol), meant “tower” or “fortress”. From the comments, @John Lawler mentions that in modern Hebrew - migdalor stands for ‘lighthouse’ lit = tower + light.
Two eminent and prestigious English Colleges are named after the catholic saint but their names, although spelled Magdalene and Magdalen, in keeping with tradition are pronounced /ˈmɔːdlᵻn/ mawd-lin
Magdalene College Cambridge
One of the questions we are asked most commonly is about the pronunciation of the name of the College! Though nowadays spelt in the biblical and continental way, 'Magdalene', the College name is customarily pronounced 'Maudlyn'.
The College at its refoundation by Lord Audley in 1542, was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. The choice of the name of Mary Magdalene appears to have had a touch of vanity. In many early documents, the name is clearly spelt as pronounced: 'Maudleyn', containing within it the name of Audley himself! The final 'e' on Magdalene was an attempt, with the advent of the postal service in the mid nineteenth-century, to distinguish us from our sister College, Magdalen Oxford.
Magdalen College Oxford
People are regularly surprised at why Magdalen College is pronounced “Maudlin”. This charter offers a reason why. Waynflete decreed that his College should be known as “Collegium beatae Mariae Magdalenae” in Latin and “Maudelayne College” in English. In the 15th century, English speakers called St. Mary Magdalene “St. Mary Maudelayne” (or “Mawdelayne”), without the “g” – like “Madeleine” in French. It was only later that we put the “g” back. Magdalen College, however, like Magdalene College, Cambridge, has preserved the old pronunciation of her name.
It's pretty straight forward how the English adjective maudlin, meaning ‘tearful’ and ‘highly sentimental’, was derived from the Anglicized name Maudlene but less straightforward is the whereabouts of the letter "g" that must have been seen and — more importantly — heard in migdol, Magdala and in the Greek Magdalene. In fact, the "g" is included in the following IPA transcriptions:
/ˈmæg də lən/. Unbeknown to me, the last ‘e’ in Magdalene is sometimes pronounced /ɪ/ as in
So although the "g" was absent from Maudlene, both Cambridge and Oxford later sought to reinsert the "g" in their college names. Why?
Why did Cambridge and Oxford replace Maudelyn and Maudlin with Magdalen(e), and when exactly did this happen?
Why didn't the spelling also change for maudlin, when the name Magdalen(e) and the noun magdalen was introduced in England?