Anybody who knows their way around a hymnal knows that hymn tunes have names, and hymnal editors sometimes mix and match hymn texts with compatible tunes. Some of the most familiar hymn tunes have odd-sounding names like Nettleton, Darwall, Aberystwyth, Old Hundredth, Dix, Kingsfold, Truro, Solon, Nicaea, Slane, Coronation, Rockingham Old, Bellevue, Diademata, and Erie, not to mention several German phrases.

I have composed a hymn tune which I plan to submit for consideration in a new hymnal. As the composer, I get to name the tune. For recently composed hymns I've seen, the tune name often matches the hymn title. But in this case I'm submitting only the tune, and the editors will pair it with some other text. The song for which I originally composed the tune is a love song, and the title might be unfitting for a hymnal. It would work fine if I used a shortened form of the title. I was just wondering if there are any other considerations I should think about. How do people name new hymn tunes?


There are no strict rules for naming hymn tunes - as the composer, you're free to name it however you like. From a historical perspective, though, most tune names come from a few different sources:

  1. People. Often, tunes names will be given based on the name of the tune composer, or the author of the text it was written for. (This is almost always done well after-the-fact by hymnal editors, rather than composers naming the tune after themselves.) From your examples, tune names in this category are: Nettleton, Darwall, Dix, and Rockingham.

  2. Places. Frequently, this will be the name of the town where the tune was written but it could also be another place of significance to the composer or a place somehow related to the subject matter of the text. From your examples, tune names in this category are: Aberystwyth, Kingsfold, Truro, Nicaea, Slane, and Erie.

  3. Texts. For tunes written with a particular text in mind, the tune name is often a key word, theme, or phrase from that text. From your examples, tune names in this category are: Coronation, Diademata, and likely the "several German phrases" as well.

  4. Other. Occasionally, hymnal editors will also name tunes according to some other historical event or tidbit relating to the tune. From your examples, "Old Hundredth" is an instance of this - so named because it was originally published as the tune for Psalm 100 in the "old" Genevan psalter.

With all of that in mind, I'd encourage you to think about the origin of and inspiration for your tune as you name it. What prompted you to adapt your love song into a hymn tune? Why did you write the original song in the first place? Was there another person who was instrumental in the creation, revising, or publication of this tune? Even though you didn't write it for a specific text, what kind of hymns would it work well for? Did you have a particular image or idea in your head as you were writing it?

Hopefully one of these questions could spark an idea for a name. Otherwise, you can always submit it without a name and let the hymnal editor(s) supply one.


Hymnologist Carl Daw (Hymn Society) in an email exchange noted that it is entirely up to the composer to name the tune; in very rare cases, it may be overridden by a hymnal editor due to duplication or some such. You mentioned a couple specifically, so here is some detail:

NETTLETON was named for an evangelist favored by the composer DARWALL is named for the composer of a tune for the metrical version of Ps. 148 ABERYSTWYTH, a Welsh tune, is the name of a river on the coast of Wales OLD 100th - like all the 'OLD' names is from Sternhold & Hopkins "Whole Booke of Psalms" (16th C) as the Reformation brought singing into congregational use; this was the tune for the 100th Psalm. A second generation of metrical Psalms acquired arbitrarily-assigned place names, WINCHESTER OLD for example. (In the 19th C. we got WINCHESTER NEW.)

The German tunes are taken from the incipit of the original hymn text, such as LASST UNS ERFREUEN. (When England was in conflict with Germany, that was renamed VIGILES ET SANCTI in English hymnals of the time, as were such as ELLACOMBE, ST THEODULF, etc. - some of which have reverted).

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