English: Ailsa Craig in the 1840s. Clyde. Scot...

Looking for a Scottish name with a rather stylish sound?  Here’s a possibility.

Thanks to Ali Lynne for suggesting Ailsa as our Baby Name of the Day.


Scotland has been much in the news lately.

This tiny piece of land has also made headlines in recent years.

Ailsa Craig sits in the Firth of Clyde, in the Irish Sea.  It’s a big boulder in the water, over 1,000 feet high but only 2.5 miles ’round at the base, formed from an extinct volcano.

Once a very small castle stood on the island.  From the nineteenth century until the 1990s, lighthouse keepers lived there, too.

The monks of Crossraguel Abbey, on the mainland, owned Ailsa Craig for centuries.

In the 1590s, the poet and papist Hugh Barclay was determined to restore Catholicism to Scotland.  Barclay took possession of Ailsa Craig, intending to use it as a launching pad for a Spanish invasion.  He lost his life on the island when his plot was discovered.

Ailsa Craig is now uninhabited, but day trips visit the island regularly.

The island’s biggest claim to fame is the granite that makes up the island itself.  It’s the material of choice for curling stones.

As for those headlines, they happened when the island went up for sale.  After the monks, the island became the property of the Kennedy family, holders of the title Marquess of Aisla.

The Kennedy family sold the island to an environmental trust focused on preserving the island as a refuge for shorebirds, like gannets and puffins.

But enough about the rock.  How about the name?

Possible origins include:

  • In Scots Gaelic, the island is called Creag Ealasaid.  Ealasaid is the Scots Gaelic form of the classic Elizabeth.  Ailsa could be considered a name in the key of Elsa/Eliza/Elise – a variant of the enduring name.
  • Vikings brought Old Norse names to Scotland.  Alfsigesey – Alsigr’s Island – is mentioned in some records.  Take apart Alfsigr and you have alf – to shine, or elf – and sigr – victory.
  • So elves, yes.  But fairies?  A few sources refer to the island as Aillse Creag – fairy rock.  Was this an origin for the name, or something else?  I was stumped until I read Elea’s post, which suggests this is a folk etymology.
  • Elea provided one more possible origin for the name: Carraig Alasdair, or Alastair’s Rock, from the Irish legend The Madness of Sweeney.  You can read it in English here.  This could connect Ailsa to Alexander, and sound-wise, she’s not so far from Alexa.

The island appears in many a literary work, including a poem by John Keats.

This is Ailsa’s charm – it sounds like Ailsa should be a name, a storied and romantic one.

And  a handful of women have worn the name, including philanthropist Ailsa Mellon Bruce.  Children’s author Geraldine McCaughrean has given the name to a fictional character and her real life daughter.

Dame Ellen Terry was a star of the British stage in the nineteenth century, and made a handful of movies in the early 1900s.  Her daughter Edith Craig was briefly known as Ailsa.

In the US, a mere fifteen girls received the name in 2013, making this one a true rarity.

Place name, literary name, sound – all of it makes Ailsa a powerful possibility in 2014.

What do you think of Ailsa?  Would you consider this name for a daughter?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I like this name.

    I agree with Catherine that a quick glance could have this name confused with Alisa.

    In sound, Disney’s Frozen brings Elsa to mind… which may also become a confusion for those using a spoken introduction.

    Then there’s the whole ‘ail’ beginning. Sickness isn’t exactly a nice association for a girl.

    And even after typing three negatives for the name, I still like it. It’s feminine, slim, and not overly-fussy.

    1. LOVE this phrase: ” … even after typing three negatives for the name, I still like it.”

      But agreed that it is potentially confusing, too. I hear Elsa when I say it.

  2. I love it and considered it for my 2nd child, who turned out to be a boy. The big drawback for me was the potential for confusion with Alisa.