I have long been familiar with the idea that Eleanor is actually not related to Helen, despite the fact that Elena and Ellen actually are Helen variants and Eleanor seems like yet another of those, no? Behind the Name, which I take to be the best and most trustworthy online source of name meanings and etymology, says this about Eleanor:
“From the Old French form of the Occitan name Aliénor. It was first borne by the influential Eleanor of Aquitaine (12th century), who was the queen of Louis VII, the king of France, and later Henry II, the king of England. She was named Aenor after her mother, and was called by the Occitan phrase alia Aenor “the other AENOR” in order to distinguish her from her mother.”
I even referenced this “fact” in my article at Nameberry about how the intention behind the choosing of a name matters more than the actual meaning of the name, using as an example one of you dear readers who had named her daughter Eleanor for St. Helen and then was horrified to discover months later (after the birth and after the naming) that Eleanor is not believed to be a variant of Helen. (Add to the confusion that in the Eleanor entry at Behind the Name, Ellen is listed as the short Dutch form of Eleanor. This is different than the English usage of Ellen, which is as a variant of Helen. Oh dear.) (Hence my assertion that if the mama wanted her daughter to be named for St. Helen, and she genuinely believed Eleanor to be a form of Helen, then then baby *is* named for St. Helen.)
THEN, I was checking in with the Baby Name Wizard forums the other day, and came across this:
“So a mention in another thread of the probably spurious etymology for Eleanor as “the other Aenor” from Alia Aenor reminded me…”
Wait a minute, what?
Of course I had to find the other thread with the “mention” of the “probably spurious etymology for Eleanor” (I’m sorry but “mention” is too casual a word for this rock-my-world bit of info), and indeed found this:
“… K.M. Sheard’s Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names (with the very long subtitle) … 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.'”
Color me flabbergasted. And ecstatic!!! How fabulous that there’s actually a legit and reasonable argument in favor of Eleanor being a Helen variant!!! What do you all think??
(And now I’m off to think some more about that book by K.M. Sheard referenced above, which I’ve long been intrigued by, but so put off by its title: Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names: For Pagans, Witches, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, Mages, Shamans & Independent Thinkers of All Sorts. Yeah. Bet you never thought you’d see those words on this blog! The commenter, whose thoughts and insights about names I always really enjoy and respect, made a point of saying, “I have been enjoying this book, for what it’s worth. I was initially a bit put off by the subtitle … but I’m glad I got it!” And a review on Amazon says, “Definitely not for Pagans only, this scrupulously researched volume covers a wide range of names, from the traditional, Old Testament Benjamin to the medieval French Goddess name Bensozie. A wealth of onomastic information.” That description just makes my mouth water … If I could actually consider myself an academic onomastician I would definitely need to have it, but as a mom of littles? I just don’t know if I could in good conscience let a book with that title in the house with all my still-forming boys. Maybe if I paper-bag-covered it? Like a school textbook? Or maybe I should look at it in the library … Have any of you read it? I’m such a sucker for good meaty name books with lots of info and commentary …)