This is a true rarity – a name worn by an early medieval ruler and then all but forgotten.

Thanks to Allison for bringing this one up during an earlier discussion. Today’s Name of the Day is Icel.

I was intrigued when Allison mentioned Icel for two reasons. First, my son has a classmate called Iceline, pronounced EYE sah lin. Her (Jamaican) mom told me that it is a Jamaican name.

At the same time, I have a colleague named Izell. He’s about the same age as Izell Reese, the former NFL player.

I’ve been assuming they were random, unrelated coincidences. But what if that’s not the case? What if a thread connected the two?

Alas, I can’t prove it, even if there is one. But Icel of Mercia was almost certainly a historical ruler from the sixth century – the ruling dynasty he founded became known as the Iclings. Tradition has it that Icel led followers across the North Sea to establish the kingdom. But it would take a generation or two before the record confirms names and details with any accuracy. Icel is also spelled Icil. He’s recorded a few places, notably the Flores Historiarum, a chronicle of English history from the earliest days into the fourteenth century, compiled in monasteries over time.

He might’ve given his name to the dynasty, but I can’t find another Icel in the historical record.

And yet there is one more Icel reference that keeps me curious. In Turkey, the province of Mersin was known as Içel until recently. It’s an ancient place, home to Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul. Unfortunately, I could not unearth the origins of the place name.

Icel, Icil and Izell are all true rarities – the trio has never placed in the US Top 1000. But all three appear in the census records, worn by men and women alike. Back in the nineteenth century, a handful of Ice-names did break into the rankings, including Icey (#975 for girls back in 1883) and Icie (ranked for girls most years from 1880 until 1913.) Icy charted, too. And Icel, Icil and Izell occasionally appear as surnames, leading to the possibility that some bearers of the name are wearing something borrowed from the family tree.

Today, Icel leans feminine, and fits with Gabrielle, Isabel and company. Icel also shares sounds with the fashion-forward Isla. Izell does seem a bit more masculine, sharing sounds with Ezra and Isaac.

And yet, I’m conflicted – Icel seems somehow incomplete, and Izell – related or not – feels more like a nouveau coinage than an undiscovered gem. I’m not sure how any of the Icel-names would wear today, on a son or 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 just took a look at a 1784 census for the Grandy Duchy of Lithuania. After 1800, the common Lithuanian Yiddish form of Isaac was Itsyk. In the 1784 census, the form of Isaac used is Icel.

  2. My name is Icel. I’m not sure where it came from, but I know how I got it. My great grandmother born in about 1918 was named icel, as was her mother and many after. Thank you for this info, I’ve never heard it!

  3. When I my daughter’s little friend Icel introduced herself to me, I heard “Isolde,” and you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. My initial surprise and delight quickly gave way to confusion when I realized it was “Icel.” Honestly, I still dont quite know what to make of it, but it sure piqued my curiosity! If I ever get the chance– and if I can do it without accosting her– I’ll ask her mother what the inspiration behind the name is.

  4. Sebastiane, thank you! I love Isolde – isn’t that interesting! And Isalina is lovely.

  5. Icel might have a similar relation to the old French Isoline which is a form of Isolde. In Norway and France both names are currently popular. In Norway, its often found in the form of Iselin (EE-seh-LEEN) and in France it is also spelled Isaline. There is the Italian Isalina and I recently ran into an Isaltina in a birth announcement from Geneva Switzerland. Further research indicated that it was an old Italian diminutive form of Isolde. The name also reminds me of the Aztec feminine name Itzel (ee-SHEL).