Look in any baby name book and you'll most likely see Eleanor listed as "The French form of Helen" or simply meaning "Light."
Eleanor, or more properly Alienor, was born in 1122 in Southern France as the eldest daughter of William, Duke of Aquitaine and his wife Aenor de Châtellerault. Back in the 1970s, author Marion Meade wrote a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine in which she made the connection between Alienor and Aenor, speculating that Alienor most likely came from the Latin phrase alia Aenor meaning "the other Aenor." Basically Aenor Junior or Little Aenor. Thus an alternate theory for Eleanor's etymology took route.
To add to this, the name has also picked up extra etymological ties along the way.
J.R.R. Tolkien has also coined the variant Elanor from his created Elvish language Sindarin, made from the words el "star" and anor "sun." He gave it to a star-shaped flower which Samwise Gamgee liked so much he named his daughter after it.
So which theory is the correct theory?
There may be an element of truth to the "other Aenor" idea -- if only as a deliberate association made by William and Aenor. A charter dated from 1130, when Eleanor was only eight, lists her and her mother separately as Aenordis and Alienordis showing that their names were regarded as differing slightly by their contemporaries. But "the other Aenor" link can have only been a coincidental quirk on the part of her parents.
The fact is, we cannot credit William and Aenor with "creating" Alienor, as the name was already in use beforehand. Aenor's own paternal grandmother was Alienor de Thouars (c.1054-c.1093) and she herself also had a paternal grandmother of the same name: Aenor de Blois (b.c.990).
Alienor de Thours is contemporarily recorded as Adenordis, Adenors, Aenoris, Ainors, Ainora and Adenorde.* Her grandmother was listed by the names Adenordis, Adamardis, Aynor and Ainor(a).
Adenorde almost certainly looks to be a Germanic name, composed of either adal "noble" or alda "ancient" and nord "north." The curious form of Adamardis may simply be a spelling mistake, but it is very suggestive of a feminine form of Ademar (Audamar), from aud "wealth, fortune" and meri "famous."
However, let's not dismiss Helen just yet. St Helena (or St Helen) was a very popular saint in medieval times, especially in Britain, and we do know that Elena was used as an Occitan form of Helen in Aquitaine. It was brought over to Britain by the Normans and for centuries Helen, Ellen and Eleanor were interchangeable.
Eleanor itself was perhaps used by the Normans themselves pre-Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor of Normandy (c.1011) was an aunt of William the Conqueror [though there is some doubt about her name as there is no record of it in contemporary accounts] and Eleanor of Champagne (1104-1147) was a granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Eleanor of Aquitaine was also recorded by the name Helienordis during her lifetime and other Eleanor's are later listed as Helienor, showing how easily Hel- could also be El- and Al- in medieval France.
It is interesting to note that most of the early Aenors/Adenordes -- who were never recorded as Alienor/Eleonore/Eleanor etc in their lifetimes -- have been known almost exclusively by these later forms since the 13th century, indicating a definite conflation between the two names.
It is quite possible that Eleanor of Aquitaine's nearly extinct family name Adenordis/Aenor became merged with the more usual Provencial forms of Helen during her lifetime and thanks to her fame, the two have been intertwined ever since.
Eleanor of Aquitaine had it all: beauty, brains, position, power – and wit enough to learn quickly how to use them to her advantage in a world totally dominated by men. When her father died, Eleanor was an extremely wealthy heiress and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right. Her guardian, the King of France, quickly had her married off to his son and heir and within months she was Queen consort of France. The marriage was not a happy one and after fifteen years produced only two daughters.
Frustrated and unhappy, Eleanor campaigned to have her marriage annulled and within eight weeks was married to the dashing Henry Plantagenet, then Duke of Normandy, later Henry II, King of England who was nine years her junior. Together they had eight children in quick succession and their descendants married into all the royal houses of Europe.
You can find out more about this fascinating woman in this video [BBC documentary - She Wolves: England's Early Queens].
As the grandmother of Europe, Eleanor’s name passed down through several royal lines.
Her daughter Eleanor of England (1162-1214), described by her great-grandson as "noble and much loved," became Queen consort of Castile, and thus the Spanish form Leonor passed down Spanish and Portuguese royalty. Castile’s Queen Eleanor had three daughters who passed the name through other royal houses:
Back in England, the country soon had a second Queen Eleanor when Henry III married Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291).
Their son, Edward I, also married an Eleanor: Eleanor of Castile (see above). By all accounts they had a very happy marriage, and, upon her death, Edward had twelve magnificent stone monuments erected, known as the Eleanor Crosses, marking the nightly resting-places along the route of her funeral procession.
In terms of popularity, Eleanor became established regularly by the 12th century but it wasn't especially common outside of the nobility. By the 15th century however, it became more established among all strata of society. We can see this in Smith Bannister's rank of top 50 names from 1538 to 1670 in England:
According to Leslie Dunkling, Eleanor ranked #13 in 1700 and #24 in 1800 in England and Wales, demonstrating its consistency.
It was often used interchangeably with Ellen, which also ranked within the top 20. Nell or Nellie were the most common diminutive forms from the 16th century, epitomised by Eleanor "Nell" Gwyn (1650-1687), the famous mistress of Charles II.
By the Victorian era, Eleanor wasn't quite as common as it had been from the 16th-18th centuries, but stayed solidly in the top 50. It ranked #34 in 1860, #37 in 1870, #39 in 1880, #48 in 1890 and #53 in 1900 in England and Wales.
Data from the 1881 census shows that, of the 54,845 Eleanors listed, most were situated in the north and south east of England. Comparatively, it was much less common in Scotland.
Elinor, the less common but well established spelling variant, numbering 2126, was more common in Wales.
By the end of the century, longer, more stately names like Catherine, Harriet, Amelia and Charlotte declined in favour of new shorter abbreviations like Ada, Maud, Eva, Ida and Minnie. Eleanor was one such who declined in favour of these shorter forms, while Nellie, Nora and Ella became more common as stand alone names.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Eleanor was still going strong in the top 100 in England and Wales: #52 in 1904, #67 in 1914 and #89 in 1924. But after that it fell out of the top 100 until it came triumphantly back in 1984, ranking #76, rising to #32 in 1994. Scotland, on the other hand, saw Eleanor at #44 in 1950, but it was out of the top 100 by 1974, and has been out ever since.
Dunkling's data for the number of girls registered with the names Eleanor and Elinor in every 10,000 births in England and Wales, however, suggests an earlier revival in the 1960s:
In the 1990s, Eleanor was well and truly back in favour in England and Wales. It peaked at #18 in 1999 and gradually declined in popularity up until 2008 when it hit a steady plateau between #55 and #65.
In 2013, Eleanor ranked #57 (1039 births) -- #55 in England; #88 in Wales. Elinor was #1098 with 32 births.
In 2014, Eleanor ranked #182 (25 births) in Scotland and #327 (5 births) in Northern Ireland.
* Eleanor of Champagne (1104-1147), granddaughter of William the Conqueror by his daughter Princess Adela.
* Eleanor of Arborea (1347–1404), Sardinian judge.
* Eleanor Parker (1922-2013), American actress.
Literature and other Media:* Elinor Dashwood, heroine of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1811).
* Eleanor Tilney, a character in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1817).
* Elanor Gardner, daughter of Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R.Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga.
* Eleanor Rigby, a song by The Beatles (1966).
* Elenore, a song by The Turtles (1968).
* Lady Eleanor, a song by Lindisfarne (1971).
* Eleanor Put Your Boots On, a song by Franz Ferdinand (2005).
* Eleanor Crosses, twelve stone monuments erected by Edward I for his wife, Eleanor of Castile.
|Variants:|| Elinor, Eleanora (UK), Alianor, Alienor, Alianora, Alienora, Elienor, Helienor (Medieval French), Eléonore (French), Leonor (Spanish, Portuguese), Eleonora (Danish, Bulgarian, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Polish, Swedish), Eilionoir, Eilidh (Scottish), Leonora (Italian), Eleonore, Leonore (German)
EL-en-ə (UK) [key]
|Ellie, Ella, Elea, Nell, Nel, Nellie, Nelw, Nora, Lena, Lora, Lenny, Nen|
Beatrice Charlotte Florence Alice Imogen Julia
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Thanks to Harmonie for requesting this post.