b) Etymology of her name

Icovellauna’s name has been the subject of some controversy. Without explaining their etymology*, Anwyl proposes ‘protectress of health’ and Maurice Toussaint ‘good water’.1947 As for Sterckx, he relates the first element of her name ico to Irish icc, ‘act of curing’ or ‘recovery’, Welsh iach and Breton iac’h, ‘healthy’, derived from the IE root *iēkko -, an expressive expansion of *iēk - ‘to heal’. From this, he suggests to translate Icovellauna as ‘the One who improves Health’, but this etymology* does not take into account the second element of her name.1948 Olmsted agrees with Sterckx as regards the meaning of ico, and adds that vellauno comes from the basic root *uel-, ‘foresight’, which gave Irish fili, ‘seer’ and Welsh gweled, ‘to see’.1949 According to him, Icovellauna, who is etymologically related to the Celtic god Vellaunos, venerated with Mercurius in Hières-sur-Amby (Isère) and on his own in Caerwent (Wales),1950 would mean ‘the Healing Seer’. Lambert and Delamarre have however demonstrated that vellaunos means ‘chief’, ‘commander’.1951 As far as Jullian and Lacroix are concerned, the root ic-, also found in the name of the goddess Icauna, designates ‘water’.1952 Lacroix thus believes that Icovellauna is composed of ico-, ‘water’ and vellaunos, ‘commander’ and means ‘the One who commands Water’.1953 Delamarre, however, insists that the meaning of the word ico- remains obscure, for it cannot be related to any insular Celtic words.1954

The significations of ‘water’ or ‘healing’ for ico- are therefore highly unlikely and the attempts of scholars to link her name to the notion of water and cure, because of her association with the spring of La Sablon, are without substance. The meaning of vellauna tends to prove that she originally had military and war-like functions, but nothing in the goddess’s worship seems to support that idea. Like Segeta, whose name means ‘Victory’ and who is honoured in healing water contexts, Icovellauna might have been a goddess attached to protection and war in origin. This hypothesis, however, remains conjectural for lack of evidence.


Anwyl, 1992a, p. 40 ; Toussaint, 1948, p. 207.


Sterckx, 2000, p. 57 ; Degrave, 1998, p. 439 ; Polomé, 1997, p. 745.


Olmsted, 1994, p. 428.


CIL XIII, 2373 and RIB 309.


Lambert, 1995, p. 170 ; Delamarre, 2003, p. 310.


Jullian, 1921, pp. 216-217 ; Lacroix, 2007, p. 55-58 – see the part on Icauni in this chapter.


Lacroix, 2007, p. 57.


Delamarre, 2003, p. 187 ; Delamarre, 2007, p. 223