Origin of Abigail, A Lady’s Maid: It’s Downright Biblical!

Ever wondered how the waiting woman got her moniker?  Look no further than the trusty old book called The Bible.

Resource: Chambers’s Encyclopedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge, Volume 1

Handmaid Passage From 1 Samuel 25

18 Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses.

19 And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.

20 And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert on the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them.

21 Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him: and he hath requited me evil for good.

22 So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.

23 And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground,

24 And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid.

The common use of Abigail as a lady’s maid also appears in  The Scornful Lady, a play from the 1616 by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. 

The male version of Abigail?  Andrew.

6 thoughts on “Origin of Abigail, A Lady’s Maid: It’s Downright Biblical!

  1. I just stumbled across your blog. As an avid lover of all things 18th century, I love it!!! It’s great to know that there are others out there that share my enthusiasm. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m delighted you’ve wandered your way over–there can never be too many C18 fans out there 🙂

  2. Abigail is a Hebrew name, Andrew is Greek and it means brave, man. So I don’t think that the male from Abigail can ever be Andrew… the feminine from Andrew is Andrea.

    1. Hi Elena,

      When the names are translated by meaning and origin, you’re correct. Abigail and Andrew are not the feminine and male forms of the same name. However, Andrew is the male equivalent of a female Abigail, maidservant. So they are both servant designations, Andrew being uncommonly used. It originates from The Way of the Worlds, a 1698 play by William Congreve. Here’s a link to check out some of the history, if you like: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-abe1.htm

  3. The origin of the word “abigail” for a servant’s name actually comes from Abigail Mascham, the lady’s maid, and some say lover, of Queen Anne. There is no reference to “abigail” as a general name for a servant before that date, whatever its biblical origins. Abigail Mascham managed to oust Sarah Churchill as the queen’s favourite, and won her husband a title.

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