I wrote about Eleanor just a few months ago – and yet the requests keep coming for this one.
Thanks to Jillian for suggesting the slightly different Elinor as Name of the Day.
Jillian dropped me a line after Elinor Ostrom nabbed the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics, along with her colleague Oliver E. Williamson. (Technically, it is the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2009.) Ostrom is a member of the faculty at Indiana University, and the first woman to win the award.
It’s no surprise when Elinor triumphs in academics. The name sounds smart. Other notable bearers include Elinor Brent-Dyer, the author of the beloved Chalet School series poet Elinor Wylie, who wrote in the 1920s, and aviatrix Elinor Smith, one of the earliest female pilots – who was still serving as a test pilot in her 80s, just a few years ago.
But is it really a different name than Eleanor? Actress Elinor Fair graduated from vaudeville to silent movies, shedding the name Eleanor Crowe along the way. So did Father Knows Best alum Elinor Donahue, who was born Mary Eleanor Donahue.
It was also the spelling Jane Austen used for heroine Elinor Dashwood, the eldest sister in Sense and Sensibility. She’s both sensible and selfless, even in the face of heartache and worse – a sharp contrast to her fanciful, emotional younger sister Marianne.
While Eleanor is a legendary French queen with a romantic edge, Elinor is the practical, capable type. So maybe it’s no surprise that Eleanor is more popular – a Top 100 pick for decades, from the 1890s into the 1940s. Elinor peaked at #252 in 1916, and left the rankings entirely after 1953.
But are they different names?
While it’s true that Noor, meaning light, is an Arabic name, I’m not clear why some sites indicate that Elinor is of Arabic origin. The Scandinavian Elin is a variant of Helen, but linking Elinor to Elin also feels like a stretch.
Instead, it seems as if Elinor was an alternate spelling for Eleanor. As early as the 13th century, a few fleeting references to Elinora, Elinaor and Alianore suggest that while others emulated the queen’s name, a standard spelling was elusive. That’s no surprise.
It’s complicated by the modern assumption that Eleanor is the correct version. For example, a 13th century manuscript listed a wealthy Elinor, but over the years her name was standardized to Eleanor. As late as the 1700s, entrepreneur Eleanor Coade was occasionally listed as Elinor Coade.
Sometime in the late 1500s, we start to see Elinor in more regular use, right alongside Eleanor. While she’s yet to reappear in the US Top 1000, Katie Couric bestowed the name on her daughter. El- names continue to be all the rage – in 2008, Ella was #19; Ellie #167; Eliana #203; Elise #218 and Elle #494. It’s easy to imagine parents adopting Elinor – a trim, perfectly legitimate alternative spelling that would fit right in with Katharine and Isobel.
And yet the same warnings apply – sophisticated or not, Elinor will do a lot of spelling.
I’m an Elinor & love my name & that spelling. Perhaps (!) I’m prejudiced but Elinor seems so much more elegant & streamlined than Eleanor (which almost doesn’t seem like the same name). Yes, I do have spell it & still get variants – Elinore, Elanor, & more. I love that my friends come up with many different nicknames & individual versions of my name – El, Ellie, Nor, The Inor, Elmo, ~ it’s a fun name for people to fool around with.
I personally am named Elinor and i find it chic, different and creative. Plus theres so many nicknames like El . No one i knew growing up spelled it my way so it makes it very original but sometimes it gets annoying when everyone tells me, oh thats my grandmothers name.
Eleanor is my least favorite spelling. It’s still nice even with that spelling. I love Elinor so much more – probably for the poet Elinor Wylie. I like various spellings of the name though – Elenore is nice. Alienore is my favorite, but I’m worried folks wouldn’t know how to say it or that it was Eleanor (same concern with Jehanne).
I guess we have very different ideas about things. You described Elinor as practical and no nonsense and Eleanor more fantasy/princessy, etc but for me it’s the opposite. Eleanor reminds me of Eleanor Roosevelt or Queen Eleanor, who was pretty no nonsense about achieving her ends. Elinor or Elenore feel more gentle to me, like someone with their head in the clouds. I find it interesting that so many people who love the name do not like the nicknames. I personally like pretty much all of the nicknames. Also Elenora/Elinora/Eleanora or Lenore/Leonora, etc.
This is how my grandmother’s name was spelled and when I have a daughter, she will be called Elinor! Plus, I’ve always loved Austen’s character!!
I really don’t like Elinor, as I had an associate from grade school with the name (I don’t dare call her my friend) and she was so, so, so annoying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She told us to call her Liny (lie-knee) but behind her back she was “Whiny” because Whiny rhymes with Liny and, coincidentally, she was very whiny. The teachers called Neasa (meaning not gentle because she was very not gentle) but that isn’t even a nickname for Elinor. It’s not English, it’s Irish! 🙂 At least she didn’t know the whole time she was being called Neasa they were saying she was “not gentle”.
However, I do like “Eleanor” or “Eleanora”. Just not the spelling “Elinor”.
Okay. I’m done.
Linny Bee says
Ooh, Aviatrix would be a super fun name! You could call her Avi/Ava/Trixie. I think this is my new guilty pleasure.
Eleanor is on my middle name list as well. I considered it briefly for a first name, mostly to get to Nell. I cringe at the possibility of Ellie and especially Nora though. I favored Eleanor since it is more common, but lately I have been thinking there is a chicness to Elinor. I also like that it seems very balanced as a sister name to Isobel, which is one of the middle names I might use if I’m having a daughter. I don’t have a huge preference between Eleanor and Elinor, which makes the decision difficult for me. The spelling issues seem a non-issue when used as a middle name at least.
RF, I agree about the Nell nickname – it would be my pick. Trouble is, our last name rhymes – Nell Sandel. Is that edgy and fun or horribly irritating? I can never decide.
And Elinor is growing on me, too – especially in the middle spot.
It’s pleasant. It’s preferable to Eleanor but I prefer the Tolkien Elanor.
I really hope some kooky celebrity names a girl child Aviatrix! (secretly I think this is quite cool).
Charlotte Vera says
I love Eleanor and prefer the more common spelling (although Elinor’s great too!), but sadly my husband’s not a fan. It’s a beautiful name, no matter how it’s spelt.
To me, it doesn’t look sophisticated – it looks phonetic, much in the same way that people decided Makayla was easier to spell than Michaela. Either way you spell the name, I preferthe nickname Nora. 🙂
This spelling is common in Sweden. I knew a few elder ladies with this name when I lived there. I have never been a fan of Elinor/Eleanor, but I appreciate it its history and sturdiness.
Elinor is my preferred spelling, Eleanor’s too fussy looking for me and has several unpleasant personal assocations as well.
But you’ve pointed out exactly my misgiving: spelling issues! Because of that, Elinor would be a middle only for me if I ever had another (not trying but not preventing either, we’re both getting up in age…).
Still, it was lovely to see Elinor today, Thanks!
I love the name Eleanor and, really, even if you spell it Elinor, it’s the same name in the ear and just as lovely! My personal preference is for the more common spelling of Eleanor (it’s how my grandmother spelled her name), but Elinor seems just fine, too. Agreed, it would mean correcting misspellings a lot, but it is a more simplified look.