In a rut II, the Brunftzeit

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Let’s say for the sake of argument that the writer, having the very sensible name Bardh Godwyn, passed down over generations by a hard-working and entirely believable family of Celtic forest dwellers, and certainly not a convenient pseudonym, instead had been given the unfortunate surname Brunst. It’s a peculiar enough thing to call someone, but such a thing exists, so we did some digging. Google Translate offers heat, rut, lust, and “rutting season” as meanings, translated from the German (according to the Wiktionary, “from Middle High German (1050-1350) brunst, from Old High German brunst, from Proto-Germanic brunstiz”). And lest we’re in any doubt about which is doing what in the Brunftzeit, a search of YouTube and German nature magazines will provide plenty of pictures of deer with attached commentary: “Jetzt röhren sie wieder: Im September beginnt die Brunftzeit der Rothirsche” announces one. Basically, “There they go again: In September, the rutting season of the red deer begins.” Die hirschbrunft. The deer rut.

And this, translated from the same September 2015 article: “The red deer is considered king of the forest. But the life of a king can sometimes be quite exhausting. Especially at rutting season.” One Brunst family member recalls the German nurse in the little walk-in clinic in college giving him the glad eye every time he dropped by to use their services. Explains a lot.

It’s also no surprise that if you were to follow up the family name in history and in heraldry, the coat of arms most often found (technically, an achievement of arms) depicts a silver stag’s head on a green shield, and then the helm, mantle, torse, crest and all the rest. The heraldic terminology for a blazon (a formal description of the achievement) would read something like: “On a field vert a stag’s head erased argent [facing] dexter”. If arms such as these were ever granted they would make perfect sense, at least based on the literal meaning of Brunst. The name itself dates back to Old Saxony, in the northwest of Germany, through the High Medieval period, both before and after the breakup of the region in 1180. After that, it presumably migrated as well to the eastern states around Meissen. There are still plenty of red deer and fallow deer in the forests and “nature parks” of NW Germany.

(Red deer belong to a different genus than the two species of Odocoileus native to North America — the white-tailed deer and mule deer. Their grouping in Cervus includes Sika deer and sometimes wapiti. Big animals, they’re found throughout Europe, including in the UK, where many believe they will have to be returned to the Continent after Brexit. That’ll be a tough one, because the British take great pride in the fact that they are the largest land mammal on the British Isles apart from Boris Johnson, former Conservative Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.)

When it comes to a zoological preoccupation with deer, then — whether red and mule — a Brunst at least comes by it honestly. Not that it’s any concern of ours.

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