Regal, capable, and classic, the baby name Eleanor makes a great choice for a daughter.
Thanks to Nessa and JNE for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Influential queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, born around 1122, sometimes gets credit as the first bearer of the name.
Her mother answered to Aénor. Legend tells that Aenor named her daughter Aliénor from the Latin phrase alia Aenor – the other Aenor. Whispered into French and English, it took its current form.
William the Conqueror’s aunt answered to the name Eleanor a solid century before these events.
Maybe her mother liked the play on words. Or maybe they came from a long line of bold namers. After all, Aenor’s mother is recorded in history as Dangereuse. (She was born Amauberge, or maybe Amalberge, a saint’s name, but history prefers her nickname.)
She may not be the first, but her legacy makes her unforgettable. The well-born heiress boasted good looks and book smarts. Educated in both traditionally feminine and masculine pursuits, she inherited her father’s holdings as a teenager, becoming one of the most eligible brides in all of Europe.
No wonder, then, that the accomplished aristocrat became Queen of France and later Queen of England. In Paris, they Latinized her name as Helienordis.
Powerful, intelligent, and capable, the Duchess and Queen served as patron to writers, schemed for her children’s political advancement, led an unsuccessful crusade, and determined her own fate to a degree unthinkable for most women in her era.
No surprise her name endured.
MIDDLE AGES TO THE MODERN WORLD
Plenty of other women wore the name, including many a queen and aristocrat. By the 1200s, the baby name Eleanor entered regular and steady use.
You might also think of:
- Jane Austen’s Elinor Dashwood, from 1811’s Sense and Sensibility.
- The Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” While reports vary, it is believed that the name came from a gravestone in a cemetery near Paul McCartney’s childhood home. The original Miss Rigby might have been a scullery maid.
- One of the Chipettes – Alvin & company’s female counterparts – is known by the name.
- Karl Marx gave the name to his youngest.
- Dancer Eleanor Powell tapped her way through 1930s Hollywood hits like Born to Dance.
- JRR Tolkein created an Elvish version of the name – Elanor.
- Rainbow Rowell created a famous character by the name in Eleanor & Park.
- E! original series The Royals gave the name to a partying princess.
But perhaps the most enduring association in the US is former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.
Born into a privileged family and highly educated, Miss Roosevelt – she and her future husband were fifth cousins – made waves as an activist and political campaigner in an era when women did not engage in public life. She proved an unconventional First Lady, too, publishing a newspaper column, holding press conferences, and speaking widely.
In 1940, Mrs. Roosevelt became the first First Lady to speak at a national party convention, and she served as a powerful advocate for the early civil rights movement.
It seems impossible to list all of the ways she changed the role. Controversial at the time, she continued in public life, becoming the first chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Many consider her one of the most admired women of the twentieth century.
With admirable namesakes and nicknames galore, no surprise that the baby Eleanor counts as a classic today. The the name is enjoying new heights of popularity, too. It re-entered the US Top 100 in 2014, for the first time since the 1940s.
Today it makes a rock solid choice for a daughter.
What do you think of the baby name Eleanor? Would you use it in full, or with a nickname?
Originally published on January 18, 2009, this post was revised and reposted on November 14, 2016. Additional updates occurred on July 19, 2020.
My name is Eleanor. I used to really hate my name, but when I started looking up meanings it actually started to grow on me. Now I’m proud to carry it.
I get so many variations of my name, the most common being Nelly, then Nell, one person calls me Ellie, and one calls me “Spaganella”. I really don’t know where that came from!
I love that I share a name with Eleanor Roosevelt, and aspire to be like her one day.
My husband loves Eleanora. I’m happy I married a man with good taste in names but I just don’t like it. I prefer Annora to Eleanor(a). A major reason for that being is it has no known meaning.
Eleanor Barrucand says
My name is Eleanor. I was named after many generations of Eleanors in the family and I have loved my name from the day I could say it. I hated beig called “Nellie” as a child so as soon as I could “put my foot down”, I have used my proper name….Eleanor. I have a young cousin who also has Eleanor for her name. To possess this name is a blessing and I thank God that I have it.
Eleanor Barrucand.. Edmonton, Canada.
I wonder if the name Leonor has any relation to Eleanor. My aunt is named Leonor, those close to her call her Leo. I don’t know the origin, but we are hispanic so it could be that. We call her Tia Nor, tia meaning aunt in spanish.
Nessa, what a great family tree! I’d use Eleanor in a heartbeat if I were you.
JNE, that’s a funny thing about family names. If you use them, there’s pressure to keep going. If you don’t, well … it’s kind of like the Jolie-Pitt kids. How come #5 and #6 suddenly get *family* names? It feels unbalanced.
Paige, I think you’re right about Nellie always being the mean girl.
Charlotte, too bad about your husband’s veto. It often feels like the baby naming dynamic is that mothers generate ideas and fathers shoot them down. I’m jealous of every woman who reports her partner is interested in choosing names.
And Emmy Jo, I think a mini-boom in Eleanors and Noras would be a great thing! 🙂
Yes, Eleanor’s a wonderful name. I’d use it or Eleanora and if I used a nickname it would be Nora. Just shows how tastes change – 20 years ago I wouldn’t have even thought of it. I have an aunt by this name but her family pronounced it ELL-a-ner. Far more elegant when the last syllable is pronounced nor.
Charlotte Vera says
Eleanor was my number one name choice for my soon-to-arrive baby girl, but my husband — foolishly in my opinion — vetoed the suggestion. I’m still hoping that I’ll have a second opportunity to suggest the name and that it will then have a better reception.
Emmy Jo says
Eleanor has made my top 10 recently (well, to be more accurate, probably my top two), so I’m excited to see her as Name of the Day. I was looking for good Katherine substitutes — it’s a name I’ve loved forever, but I fear it’s too common, and my husband doesn’t like it — and Eleanor is the name that comes closest to Katherine’s “feel.” My husband likes Eleanor, and he thinks the nickname Nora is sweet. If I had twin daughters tomorrow, they’d be Clara and Eleanor.
Nessa — you have GOT to use Eleanora, considering the family connection. Good luck talking your husband into this one. I’m behind you 100%!
It’s funny, Verity, this is one that seems to be high up on a lot of your readers’ lists. I think Nora is in photoquilty’s top two as well. Wouldn’t it be funny if three or four of us ended up having little Noras/Eleanors someday?
Oh man, this is so exciting! I had NO idea that Eleanor of Aquitaine was the first bearer of the name, she and Eleanor of Provence are the reason I started considering this name in the first place! I’m directly descenced from both of them, so I thought it would be awesome to name a girl after two incredible women that she’s actually got ties to. Before you posted this, my hubby said the same thing everyone else’s did “no, I don’t like it” (why do men dislike Eleanor so?) But now he seems a lot more interested… we’ll see 🙂 I think I prefer Eleanora, it’s just a bit more girly, which I like. She would certainly be called Nora over any of the other nicknames.
Thank you so much for this one!
Nessa, I’m descended from them too [plus Eleanor of Normandy, the mentioned aunt of William the Conqueror] — we’re cousins! 😉
I’ve never been a fan of the name though. The closest form I do like is Lenore, probably because “The Raven” is my favorite poem [so much that I named my first dog Poe].
Oops, sorry for the double post — I didn’t think it posted then obviously tried to recreate what I’d written, lol.
Hi Panya – I’ll fix this! No worries. 🙂
I like Eleanor; its number 7 on my short list. It’s very regal sounding, and like you all have said, feminine, yet not frilly. It does despair me to see her so high on the charts–and likely to rise–and although I’d never use it if it ever were to make its way into the top 100, I’d love to meet more litle Eleanors. No Ellies or Ellas; that’s been done to death, or at least it will be before long. Nora is probably the one I’d use, but I like Nell/Nellie too. As for the alternative spellings, I like Elinor, but not Elanor, despite being a Tolkein fan. It ust looks all wrong to me. I wouldn’t use Elinor; it doesn’t give off as much of a regal impression as Eleanor does, but I’d love to see it on someone else’s kid.
I really love Eleanor, and even Elinor. Not a fan of Tolkein’s Elanor… Just seems like it’s missing something. I think it helps that I’ve known so many fabulous women bearing the name. It’s even inspired us to use a variation as our next daughter’s middle name. Love it! 🙂
Oh JNE I feel for you, Imogen and Eleanor would make a great sibling set. Really classy, feminine but no frills names. Has your husband given any reasons for his dislike? My OH infuriates me with his lack of explanation at times, he just says ‘nah, don’t like it’ or ‘not happening’ and that’s it, end of discussion! 🙂
I love Eleanor’s time honoured feel and her look, although I actually prefer the cleaner looking Elinor, the ‘nor’ sound is so regal and elegant isn’t it? I’m not keen on the inevitable nickname Ellie though, Ellie’s abound in England – sometimes they are Eleanor’s but more often than not, they’re just Ellie’s. The popularity isn’t really the issue though, it’s more that for me, Ellie has become synonymous with some of the spoilt/naughty little girl’s I’ve known with the name. Although this issue taints Eleanor/Elinor, I think it could be avoided. The nicknames Nora and Nell are much more sassy, engaging and unusual and lend a whole new dimension to the name.
I love Eleanor and Tolkien’s Elanor. The former is so pretty and has so much dignity. I like the nns Nora and Nell (but not Nellie- it will always be Nellie Oleson!). The latter is beautiful (in LOTR, it is a flower, I believe), but my fear is that my prospective child will spend her entire life correcting people’s spelling of her name.
Both are wholeheartedly endorsed by me!
I prefer literary Elinor & Elanor, I knew a nasty E;eanor as a kid & I’m off that spelling forever. I still occasionally have nightmares with her in them. I do admire Eleanor Roosevelt and Eleanor Rigby is one of three Beatles tunes I like. Eleanor gets a :thumbsup: from me! JNE, too bad your Hubby nixed Eleanor, she’d make the perfect sister for Imogen!
I absolutely adore Eleanor! It’s smart, sassy, feminine, but not frilly – an all-around fantastic name… My husband does not like it. Period. No discussion. It makes me sad. My only reservation about using the name, other than the staunch opposition from the other half, is that it was my grandmother’s name. She is gone now, but while I was pregnant with Imogen, she asked me to name her Eleanor. I told her I would not use a family name… and I generally wouldn’t… except that I love the name! My grandmother no longer being around makes using the name a little less awkward, although I’m still not a fan of naming after… but with such a great name, I could make an exception! And Imogen and Eleanor make a good sibset, I believe… Getting the hubby to agree would be the major hurdle… For me, this name is probably my top girl name currently.