Eleanor vs Elinor, the original?

Which version of this classic name is the original? One of my favourite literary characters is Elinor Dashwood, but everyone I've asked about this version, thinks I've spelled Eleanor wrong! But surely Jane Austen can't have gotten this name wrong!

I know that Eleanor is the popular variation, but I prefer the spelling Elinor, as it sounds as it looks, and it is simpler. But would it always require explanation do you think? Does it look like a misspelling to you?



February 23, 2015 3:16 PM

If you like the spelling of Elinor and it carries meaning with you, I think you should use that spelling. It does look slightly misspelled to me but that's because I'm used to seeing Eleanor. I think Elinor looks nicer on paper, though, and once people get used to spelling her name, I think they'll like this spelling better than Eleanor. I don't think many people will be writing her name down or reading her name- people spell names all sorts of ways, think about McKayla, there are so many variants of it. I think Elinor is a beautiful name that won't require so much explanation, but people might bring up the spelling and say they think it's unique looking or different as Eleanor is the more common spelling.

February 23, 2015 3:33 PM

Well, if you want the original, it's Alienor.

February 23, 2015 9:19 PM

Or if you want to go _all_ the way back, it's ‘Ελενη. :-)

Here are some spellings and dates from English records:   
Alianor  1281
Alianora  1428
Alienor  c.1202, 1211
Alienora  1199, 1213, 1297
Eleanor  1361
Eleanora  1205, 1207
Elianora  1303, 1346, 1483
Elinora  1274
Elyenora  1273

(Note that the -a at the end may be a Latinization, with the actual vernacular [spoken] form ending in 'r', but it's generally impossible to tell for sure.)

February 23, 2015 9:29 PM

HNG, Eleanor is not a Greek name.  It's not one of the Helen/Ellen/Elaine bunch.  It's an Occitan name apparently made up "kre8tively" just for Eleanor of Aquitaine.  The supposition is that she was named for her mother Aenor, and Alienor means the "other" Aenor.  Aenor is probably derived from a(n unknown) Germanic root.  In any case, the name Alienor is unattested before Eleanor of Aquitaine, and due to her enormous influence and large number of descendants, the name became extremely popular thereafter.

February 24, 2015 1:08 AM

I've been meaning to start a thread about "kre8tive" inventions from long ago that became beloved standards... I should really do that now, but am not sure which forum it should go in!

February 24, 2015 1:51 AM

The ones I can think of offhand are literary inventions like Miranda and Stella.

February 24, 2015 1:54 AM

That's also the case for others I could think of, too - Vanessa, Wendy. Eleanor is the only creative innovation I can think of that wasn't for a character first!

February 24, 2015 1:57 AM

Oh! Cedric and Cora, too!

February 24, 2015 2:04 AM

Trawling behindthename.com to find some non-literary examples. Besides Glenda, I'm finding various Gott- constructions invented in the 17th century and also Leberecht.

February 24, 2015 2:51 AM

Well, all those Puritan Praise-God-from-whom-all-blessings-flow names were invented for individuals, but they didn't go on to become beloved standards as per your criteria.  What about those names formed by using prefixes like De-, La-, Ja-?  A number of them have gone on after their formation to be used for other children?  At least some of them have become "standards" of a sort.

Oh, there's Nevaeh, which if I remember correctly was invented by a Christian rock musician (or at least some kind of musician) which has become a beloved standard in some demographics.

April 9, 2016 12:06 PM

Evangeline also

February 24, 2015 2:31 AM

Oh please do start one! I'd put it in Names and Society.

February 24, 2015 6:06 PM

I checked all the name books I have, and they (almost*) all agree that Eleanor comes from a Provencal version of Helen. These are the generally-knowledgable sorts of books, not unresearched baby name dumping grounds, so I'm inclined to give them some credence, although I do realize that sometimes new research disproves old beliefs. I'm curious where the "other Aenor" idea comes from. It doesn't sound implausible, but is there "smoking gun" evidence for it, like a record that actually uses alia Aenor?

*The one exception is the Hungarian "standard reference" on baby names by Ladó, which derives Eleanora from Arabic Ellinor 'God is my light'. I haven't a clue where he got that derivation, or whether it's an actual Arabic name or word(s).

February 24, 2015 7:21 PM

Ooh, I can make use of my latest name book, K.M. Sheard's Llewellyn's Complete Book of Names (with the very long subtitle).

It says (any typos mine): "Although Alianor is almost certainly a medieval Provencal form of Helena, there is an outside chance that its origins are actually Germanic -- being possibly one and the same with Aenor. Alianor is often said to be the source of Eleanor, and the two were often used interchangably in the middle ages; the English Queen Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, for istance, was known as Alienor in Aquitaine. Her mother's name was Aenor, and folk-etymology likes to derive Alienor from a combination of L: alia "another (female)" + Aenor. This play with words may have been in the minds of her parents, but it is not the source of either Alienor or Eleanor. Both had already been in use for at least a hundred years at the time of her birth; Eleanor of Normandy (c. 1011-aft. 1071) was the aunt of William the Conqueror, while the wife of the tenth-century Aimery II de Thouars, was called Alienor. Thus the superficial "other Aenor" meaning can only really have been an influencing factor in the naming of the Duchess. Such thinking is often a factor in choosing names today and there is no reason to suppose that things were all that different a thousand years ago."

I have been enjoying this book, for what it's worth. I was initially a bit put off by the subtitle ("For Pagans, Witches, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, Mages, Shamans & Independent Thinkers of All Sorts") but I'm glad I got it!

February 24, 2015 10:02 PM

Interesting book, and title ;-)

Thanks for writing that out, and to all who have contributed to this mini mystery of what is quite a popular name.

I am so glad that Alienor fell out of use!

February 24, 2015 10:09 PM

Why are you glad Alienor fell out of use?

February 24, 2015 10:43 PM

Because of Aliens! Thought that was self-explanatory. Even if the pronunciation is different, the spelling is too similar and teasing is therefore a likely result. I imagine a child named Alienor would wish they weren't. I am not sure when the term 'alien' became widespread in reference to outer space lifeforms, and to describe foreign or unknown strange humans in a strange environment though. Perhaps that is one reason it fell out of use...?

Why, do you like it or something? It's not your middle name is it? Sorry if I have offended you.

February 25, 2015 12:13 AM

I do like it, but I'm not offended. I was just confused. I hadn't made the alien connection. 

I don't feel I can use Eleanor (which I love) for a future daughter because it's too close to my first daughter's name, Elena. But I am considering Alianor (this spelling) for a future daughter, with nn Nora.

April 6, 2016 5:38 AM

I was trying to sell my boyfriend on the Provençal Alienor last year and the first thing he said was "it contains Alien," which had never occurred to me either. I also love the Catalan Elionor.

February 24, 2015 11:32 PM

I love the scholarship here! I'm kind of also loving the idea of Alia- as a potential (super frilly) feminine version of -son: Alianne, Aliamichelle, Aliessica, Alisabelle, etc.

February 25, 2015 12:18 AM

Very pretty. I have just been watching Game of Thrones and now realise why the similar sounding Aria is so popular! TV really does get into people's brains!

February 23, 2015 6:53 PM

If you need an explanation, saying "E-L-I-N-O-R, like in Sense and Sensibility/Jane Austen" should stop name snobs in their tracks ;-).

February 23, 2015 8:34 PM

If we'd have used the name, we'd have gone with Elinor - I like the stripped down simplicity of it, plus the Jane Austen connection.

February 23, 2015 9:17 PM

(Though, to be clear, Jane Austen used both spellings - there's an Eleanor in Northanger Abbey.)

February 23, 2015 8:57 PM

Both Eleanor and Elinor are legitimate spellings, but as Miriam pointed out neither is the original. I do think most people will expect it to be spelled Eleanor, but Elinor is a known and fairly phonetic spelling as well. Either way you'll likely have to spell it for people at least some of the time.

February 25, 2015 2:01 AM

I prefer neither. I prefer Elenor, which is my sister's name. Eleanor has an unesscesary letter, and I don't like the look of Elinor. This could all be because I'm used to my sister's name, but I still will always prefer Elenor.

April 2, 2016 12:59 PM

Elinor was my mother's name.  Her father was a northern yankee from upstate New York and her mom was of French decent from Beauford, SC....They married in 1909 and Elinor was born in 1914.  Don't know why they chose that spelling.


April 2, 2016 1:05 PM

I read this long ago and googled to make sure I remembered it correctly:

"The name probably originates as that of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1120s–-1204). She was the daughter of Aénor de Châtellerault, and it has been suggested that having been baptized Aenor after her mother, she was called alia Aenor, i.e. "the other Aenor" in childhood and would have kept that name in adult life; the name Aénor itself appears to be a Latinization of a Germanic name of uncertain form." 

I also remember her step mother was named "Danberouse"  not sure of the spelling but it meant Dangerous in Languidoc whis what was spoken in the Aquitane back then 

April 2, 2016 2:09 PM

That naming story is essentially a medieval urban legend.  The name Eleanor is documented long before the birth of Eleanor of Aquitane. 

Dangereuse (Dangerosa in Poitevin) de l'Isle Bouchard was Eleanor of Aquitaine's maternal grandmother, not a stepmother.  Dangereuse (the dangerous one) was a nickname (not her baptismal name) referring to her infamous love affair with William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, considered the earliest of the troubadours.   Eleanor's mother Aenor was the daughter of "Dangereuse" and her husband Aimery of Chatellerault, and Aenor married William X, Duke of Aquitaine, the son of her mother's lover and his wife Philippa of Toulouse.  The scandal of Dangereuse and William IX would be considered lurid even by today's standards and would be well worth a historical novel (although I don't know of one).  I taught William IX's poetry in a unit on the troubadours, and they are x-rated enough to make both me and the students blush.

Languedoc and Languedoeil are two dialect areas in medieval France.  They are distinguished by their words for 'yes'--oc in the south and oeil (ancestor of the modern oui) in the north.  The dialect (language) Languedoeil is properly known as Old French and because it was the language of Paris and environs it developed into Modern French.  Because Languedoc is also a geographical term, referring to French provinces, the language is more commonly referred to as Provencal or better, Occitan.  Occitan is still spoken today by a fraction of the population of southern France.  Occitan is very similar to Catalonian as spoken in the area of Barcelona.

By EVie
April 2, 2016 6:48 PM

Ooh, I love a good historical scandal. Off to look that one up!

April 4, 2016 9:30 PM

As already pionted out both spellings have a long history. I chose Elinor for daughter number two born in Nov. We have had no problems at all with spelling and only one mispronunciation. She was called El-ner by a receptionist.

April 5, 2016 2:43 PM

I think Elinor would constantly be correcting others about the spelling. I think either spelling is fine, honestly, and I do like Elinor as a spelling... But I think you just have to be comfortable knowing that it won't ever be the more common or more accepted spelling.

April 5, 2016 5:18 PM

The background on Eleanor/Elinor is fascinating. I'm probably in the minority here, but I've always preferred Elinor. I just like the look of it better.