American Names · Classic, Old, and Traditional Names · Modern names

The ‘Noble’ Names

Around this time last year I was studying the new name data and reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  Yesterday, I realized that exactly a year later, I’m reading another Alice-related book, Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars.  Then I remembered how popular the name Alice is becoming, and decided I should write something about it or a related subject.

What do the names Alison, Adelaide, Albert, and Alfonso all have in common?  And yes, while they all share a first initial letter, that’s not the answer I’m expecting.  The answer is that they all share a root word which means “noble.”  The Ancient Germanic is “adal,” but there is also a related Anglo-Saxon variant (æđel) that today is usually rendered in the name Ethel.  Modern German actually still uses the root as an adjective in its own right, rendered as “edel.”

Lately, the feminine names deriving from this ‘noble’ root have become wildly popular.  Let’s take a look:

  • Alice reentered the top 100 a few years back, now ranking #86.  The name started rising again 8 or 9 years ago, but it wouldn’t be surprising if 2010’s Alice in Wonderland movie has ultimately helped the name’s popularity. 

    Alice in Wonderland
  • Allison, alternate of Alison, ranks #39. 
  • Audrey ranks #37.  Although this doesn’t appear to have a ‘noble’ root at first glance, Audrey derives from Etheldreda, which in turn derives from ÆđelÞryđ
  • Adeline was resurrected as a top 1000 in 1999 and now ranks #135. 
  • Adelaide reentered the top 1000 in 2005 and now ranks #273.
  • Adaline entered the top 1000 in 2015 for the first time since 1924, ranking #364 and giving similar names (including more-conventional Adeline) a boost.  Adaline‘s newly-found popularity derives from a movie, Age of Adaline, that was released last year.
  • Adalyn and Adalynn – Modern names inspired by Adeline and Adaline that are more popular than either of them.  Adalyn currently ranks #132, and Adalynn #123. 
  • Adele is one of the more ancient ‘noble’ names, along with Alice and Adelaide.  Reentered the top 1000 in 2010, and currently ranks #638.  Recent popularity has almost certainly been influenced by the singer. 
  • Adelyn – modern variant of Adeline, ranks #193
  • Adelina – This is a Spanish and Italian cognate of AdelineAdeline‘s popularity caused Adelina to reenter the top 1000 a few years ago; Adelina now ranks #545.
  • Alison is one of the few ‘noble’ names to be getting less popular right now.  Mid-century names aren’t doing very well right now, though Alison should be more popular considering the huge resurgence of medieval names.  Perhaps Alice has retaken the place that Alison once took.  Rank: #338
  • Alicia is one of the other such names that is falling in usage.  This is a Latinized form of Alice.  Rank: #364.

The ‘noble’ masculine names are less frequently within the top 1000, and those that remain are mostly becoming less popular.  Here they are:

  • Albert used to be a top 20 name, but now it’s steadily declining.  He ranked #440 in 2015.

    Alfonso VI of Castile
  • Alfonso did actually become more popular in 2015, but usage isn’t very stable and may decline again in 2016.  This is a very old Spanish name that derives its Germanic ‘noble’ root through the Visigoths, who invaded and settled Iberia towards the end of the Western Roman Empire and held a kingdom there until the Muslim armies arrived in the early 700s.  Rank: #792
  • Alonso – variant of Alfonso with somewhat erratic usage.  Rank: #731
  • Alvin can derive from any number of Old English names, including Æđelwine.  Rank: #602
  • Alonzo – like Alonso, Alonzo has erratic popularity.  Rank: #526
  • Alberto became fairly popular in the 1990s, but is falling again.  Current rank: #546

These are just the ‘noble’ names within the top 1000.  As it happens, there are some gems towards the bottom, including:

  • Edelweiss – This name was used for the first time ever in 2015, registering 8 uses!   Edelweiss is a beautiful German and Austrian flower that means “noble white.”  It’s also a lovely folk song that the von Trapp family famously sings in the Sound of Music right before they escape the Nazis.

  • Adelais is an ancient form of Adelaide which appears to have entered the American data for the first time in 2015!  There were 6 registered uses.
  • Adelheid is the German form of Adelaide, which gives us the nickname Heidi!  There were 10 girls named Adelheid last year.
  • Adalind – wow, this was used 89 times in 2015!  Adalind is another ancient name.  Variant Adelind was used 10 times. 
  • Adela was used 225 times last year.  I suspect she has a chance to eventually reenter the top 1000. 
  • Adelaida – There were 46 of these last year!
  • Adelise (34 uses) is a less ancient form of Adelais or Adeliza.  Unfortunately there were no Adelizas in the data.
  • Edeline (13 uses) – I’ve seen that there are a few historical Edelines, but according to Wikipedia there’s actually a fashion-designer with this name.  I wonder if she’s influencing usage at all?
  • Ethel used to be a very popular name, but last year she only registered 12 uses.  This name is a modern cognate for the Old English root. 

All in all, there are too many variants among the girls’ names for me to count them all.  Most are alternate spellings of Adeline, though I’ve seen a few for Adelaide too.  There are probably also quite a few names that are influenced by the ‘noble’ names but do not actually derive from them.  Adalia might be a good example; it’s a Biblical name. 

I also looked for some male names below the top 1000.  One should note that unfortunately Adolph and Adolf have that ‘noble’ root…thankfully nobody uses them, though. 

  • Adalberto – Spanish form of Adalbert, which is an older form of Albert.  I’d love to see Adalbert within the data, but I guess this is the closest one.  There were 29 Adalbertos in 2015.
  • Elbert – This looks more like Albert when derived from the Anglo-Saxon root rather than the standard Germanic.  15 uses last year.
  • Almir is a variant of Almiro, which is in turn a Portuguese derivation of Adelmar.  14 uses. 
  • Edel – as previously explained, this is the German word for “noble.”  I would call this the masculine equivalent of Ethel since it’s so true to the root.  10 uses. 
  • Eldrick is a variant of Eldric, which can be taken as deriving from ÆđelricEldrick was used 7 times last year, and Eldric 6.  The closely-related surname Eldridge was used as a first name 5 times in 2015.
  • Adolphus – 6 uses..  I just hope that the association of this Latinized form is with Gustavus Adolphus, and not…you know…Hitler.
  • Adolfo – I’ve never been able to understand why there are still so many of these…155 last year alone.



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