It sounds like a name from The Faerie Queene, or maybe Game of Thrones.
Only it isn’t. Instead, this one is far more mysterious.
Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Alifair as our Baby Name of the Day.
Alifair and the Famous Feud
Back in the second half of the nineteenth century, two families on the West Virginia-Kentucky border found themselves at odds.
It isn’t clear what sparked the conflict – lingering North-South hostility post-Civil War, a Romeo-Juliet story, a hog.
In any case, the Hatfields and the McCoys battled it out over several decades, and a dozen people lost their lives in the feud.
One of those victims was Alifair McCoy. The bloodiest night in the history of the feud became known as the New Year’s Night 1888 massacre. Members of the Hatfield family surrounded the McCoy’s cabin, while the family slept inside. They set fire to the cabin, and shot those who fled, including Alifair.
Alifair: Form of …
Alifair immediately feels vaguely familiar, probably because it looks a little bit like older forms of some well-established names:
- Oliver comes from either Germanic names like Alfher – from elements meaning “elf” and “warrior” – or the Norse Aleifr, from elements meaning descendant and ancestor. The same pieces look like they could easily have given rise to Alifair. While Aleifr is always masculine, Alof is an accepted feminine form.
- Alfred has similar origins as Oliver, and while Alfreda has been widely used as a feminine form obscurities and related names are plentiful. Ethel is also a cousin. Add the two together, and variants include Elfleda, Aldreda, and Ethelyn – the last of which was pretty common into the early twentieth century.
- Once Upon a Time Baby Names hypothesized a link to Elvira, via older form Allovera, which also seems plausible.
- It’s easy to imagine it could be an obscure name from the Adelaide-Alice family, too.
Other theories abound, and here’s the thing: it wasn’t a one-off name. There were dozens of women named Alifair, Allifair, Alafair, Elifaire, Ellafare, and other spellings of the name in the nineteenth century US, especially in the South.
Which leads me to suspect that it’s something like the equally mysterious Ladusky. Ladusky is a form of, believe it or not, Louise. It was whispered down the alley from some form – now lost – into the more accessible Ladusky. And then lost once more.
I went searching for ways that Alifair could have evolved from Adela or Alfreda, and I’ll admit – it’s a stretch. There’s the concept of the intrusive ‘r’ in accents, of course. But I’m coming up blank on exactly how this one might have evolved.
Alifair: Not Entirely Forgotten
The ill-fated Alifair McCoy is probably the best known bearer of the name, but she’s not the only one. There’s also writer Alafair Burke is the daughter of James Lee Burke, also a crime novelist. Burke was named for a great-grandmother.
And, of course, Alifair surfaces on baby name websites.
Overall, there’s some quite romantic about this name. It’s perfect for a fictional fairytale princess – and if a successful fairytale princess wore this name, it’s easy to imagine catching on.
But Alifair’s other strength is a mix of accessible pieces combined with an out-there feel. Girls’ names from Alice to Allison to Alexandra make Ali- a familiar name element. And while -fair is incredibly unusual, we have a sense that “fair” means lovely, beautiful – putting it in the company of Bella and Jolie.
Spell it Ellafair and it becomes even more of a modern smoosh name.
If you’re after a wearable obscurity, Alifair is one to consider.
What do you think of Alifair? Which spelling do you like best?
Kinshasha Dunton says
My great grandmother was named Alafair, some records spell her name Alifaro. She was born in 1884 and died in 1965. I have been trying to learn more about her so this was an inspiring post!
Dellitt Wilson says
This reminds me of the name Taliferro, a surname that was sometimes used as a first name in the Virginia area. I could see that easily being shortened to Alifaro. Or Alifair.
Barbara P. says
Both my mother and her twin sister had the middle name Alafayre (the spelling was due to some sort of family tradition that girls had to have a “y” in their name). They were born in Eastern Kentucky. They both hated the name, but I always thought it was beautiful! 🙂
This is a fun one to say with a southern accent
Jack Morgan says
My Great Great Great Aunt with last name Stone & Goodman from Rogersville Tn. Living in Wyoming county Wva was dying during child birth when the midwife let her know she gave birth to a baby girl the mothers last request was” if my baby lives name her Cynthia if she dies please name her Alifair ” I don’t know the significance of the choice of names but I thought someone might have some info that would help me understand.
My grandmother “died” when she was a baby and her grandmother “brought her back to life.” Her original name was Alifair. The story goes that they said “the baby Alifair died” they named the same baby girl Ethel. My grandmother’s name was then Ethel. I have always wanted to know what really happened at her birth.
That’s my granny’s name
Here in Kentucky
A couple of more theories to consider would be that fair could be a reference to a place, I believe in British Isles sometimes Fair is part of a place name and would originate due to markets or fairs held there. Elle (or Alli etc.) could refer to the actual place. A consonant could be left out, no idea which. But anyhow. Another idea would be that ‘fair’ is just a dialect pronunciation of ‘ver’ or ‘vere’, which could come from Latin, meaning faithful or true or honest. My favorite idea right now, though, is it is just Alva or Elva with that intrusive R sound.
Alof is great too
I’m not sure why, but I can’t get away from my impression that this should be a masculine name.
Could it be the similarity to Alfred and Oliver?
I’ve got this one on my family tree several times. My great-great-grandmother and her six sisters all had wonderfully elaborate and quirky names. This was one of them. I’d have to check the spelling, but I believe the full name was Mary Elafair.
I should have fact checked before I posted. Mary Elafair was from a different family. The eldest sister was Elizabeth Allifair.
Both exciting finds, Emily!
Mary Elafair is lovely.
With Alistair near the top of my boy’s list, how can I not add Alifair to my girl’s list? Such a pretty name! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
I love it too, and immediately was reminded of Alistair.
Megan M. says
I’ve suggested this one a few times too! (I think during contests that I didn’t win, LOL.) I’ve been intrigued by this name for a while. I love Alafair Burke’s books. I love it as a possible fairytale princess name!
I saw a June Allifair in a birth announcement awhile back and I have loved it ever since. Plus, I recently found an Alifair Antoinette so I’m happy to see it getting used.
Great write up as usual!