Originally written April, 1996, by Midair MacCormaic

Did you know that Cynnabar's name was originally rejected by the Laurel King of Arms? Indeed, we might have been referred to the Shire's original name, "Dearne Ansilet," until the group came up with something new, had not the conflict been resolved. I discovered this while digging through the Seneschal files, so let me have the honor of telling you the events as I can put them together...

Although we were originally called the Shire of Dearne Ansilet, this name was rejected by the Office of the Laurel King of Arms in 1980. Thus the search for a new name began. There are four basic criteria for an SCA name:

  1. Originality; creativity.
  2. Authenticity and linguistic correctness.
  3. Appropriateness to time and place.
  4. Avoidance of conflict with prior use in history, the SCA, and fiction.

Back then, the group had developed into a persona that they were able to articulate. The group felt like a fortified Italian city, located near two strong neighbors (The Barony of Northwoods and the Dark Horde), but open to trade and on good terms with both. They wanted a name that was simple, ancient and with an Eastern flavor.

After four months of discussion, the name Cynnabar came into being. The Science officer (back then, the Arts and Sciences was divided into two separate offices) discovered that under Ann Arbor was a large deposit of mercury, which, in its red sulphide form, was called in alchemy "Cynnabar."

From the _Oxford_English_Dictionary_ II 419, 1970 by the Clarendon Press, Oxford:

CYNNABER: cinnabar, cinnambre: (1) the red crystalline form of mercuric sulphide, HgS. (2) the pigment; vermilion (1382 Wyclif, _Jer._ xxii 14 "peynteth with cynoper"). (3) A rhombohedral mineral ore (1599 Hakluyt, _Voyages_ II, 229 "great quantitie of quicksilver and cinaper"). (4) a locality in the Middle Kingdom, somewhat near Northwoods. (5) Dragon's blood (1398 Trevish _Barth._De_P.R._ xix, xxvii 878; Hakluyt, op. cit. II 331 "sanguis draconis cinnabaris"). (6) Alcheme, a source of quicksilver; the way to make butter of antimony was by use of mercury from cynnaber (1610 B. Jonson Alcheme I iii 616 "cinaper").

Oh, well, yes, (4) wasn't really in the dictionary. The group slipped that in for fun (and acknowledged their playfulness) when they wrote their submission to the Laurel King of Arms.

But the important point they took from the definition is the reference to "dragon's blood." As Cynnabar seemed to be in the virtual center of the Middle Kingdom, and the dragon is the symbol of the Middle Kingdom, the name received unanimous approval from the group.

The group searched long and hard to find any conflicts with any historical, SCA, or literary use. Unfortunately, one slipped through their fingers.

In 1976, Edward Bryant wrote a science fiction novel called Cinnabar. You might remember Edward Bryant from other novels such as Fetish and Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead.

No one in Cynnabar, excuse me, in Dearne Ansilet, had ever heard of this novel. In an effort to get the name Cynnabar passed, the group wrote an appeal letter to the Laurel King of Arms (from which most of the information in this article is taken), stating:

  1. The choice of Cynnabar was made without any influence or reference to the novel.
  2. They do not know of any fame that the name of the Shire would garner from being associated with the novel. Indeed, in the two years they had been actively using that name in the Middle Kingdom, no one ever made the connection to the novel.
  3. They got the name from sources based on ancient meanings, not from the novel.
  4. Mr. Bryant did not invent the name Cinnabar, a fact which he clearly mentions in the book, so no one could accuse the group from stealing an original name from him.

The letter went on, suggesting that if Cynnabar got rejected, then the following alternate forms are available: Cynnaber, Cinaper, Cynoper, Cinnambre, Cinnabaris ("of Cinnabar").

The group also went one step further. They wrote to Mr. Bryant and asked his permission for use of the name. Here is his reply:

"Pursuant to our telephone conversation of today, let me extend to you all appropriate permissions in regard to use of the place-name 'Cinnabar'. I have no objection to the Burgh of Cynnabar's use of the name so long as the Burgh collectively conducts itself with honor and imagination. Please convey these sentiments to whichever parties you feel needful of knowing."

The letter was signed by the then officers of the group:

Daibhid "ruadh" MacLachlan, Seneschal
Eliahu ben Itzhak, Knights-Marshal
Elen O'Dynevr, Exchequer
Angelica of Lostwithiel, M. of Arts
Melisande de Marmande, Pursuivant
Ian MacIan of Annandale, M. of Sciences

As a final bit of information, the designation of "Royal Burgh" was used to reflect, as does the tower, the urban nature of the group, and the traditional autonomy (with respect to the Barony of Northwoods) of this group in Ann Arbor.

I hope you have all enjoyed this journey into the past. I can't find in my records when the name of Cynnabar was accepted. I assume it was 1983, but I have no proof. Any information on this topic would be appreciated.

Webminister's Note: The branch name "Shire of Cynnabar" was first registered in May of 1983. The group officially changed its name to "Burgh of Cynnabar" by registration in July of 1983. Ironically, the name was officially changed back to "Shire of Cynnabar" via registration in January of 1996. The above info comes from the SCA Armorial.  —Lord Wyllyam MacGregor