Meaning and Origin of the Girl’s Name Eleanor

The first name Eleanor, possibly originating from the old French or Oîl (a Gallo-Romance) language, was first noted in about 1120 when Aénor de Châtellerault named her daughter, Alia Aénor or “other Aénor,” so that the two would not be confused. Records however show the existence of the name prior to the 12th Century in the form of Alienor, which was probably in reality, Aenor.

History of the Name

This stately, feminine name grew very popular during medieval times, especially amongst nobility, and brings with it notions of royalty, undoubtedly thanks to Eleanor of Aquitaine, perhaps the most powerful woman in Europe during her time.

The true meaning of Eleanor is not clear, however some attribute it the Hebrew Eliora, which signifies light.

Besides being popular among medieval nobles, it has continued to be used by royalty, actresses, writers, politicians, scientists, musicians, athletes and even soldiers. It is a name used by those who lead, organize and achieve status.

The name Eleanor has its place in fiction; several authors have taken to it, as did Shakespeare. One of its most famous roles has been to name the Beatles’ song, Eleanor Rigby.


Eleanor’s popularity peaked in about 1920 when it became the 25th most popular name, and dipped below 600 by the 1970s. In the UK it rose again, however, in the 1980s, reaching 20th where it momentarily reigned, slowing dropping to 60th by 2010 where is continues to slowly descend. In 2012 the name was the 63nd most popular baby girl’s name in England in 2012 (Office of National Statistics).

A Few Famous Eleanors

  • Eleanor Roosevelt – Social activist and US first lady (1884 – 1962)
  • Eleanor Holm – 1932 Olympic Gold medal winner (1913 – 2004)
  • Eleanor Helin – Astronomer (1932 – 2009)

Useful Resources

  • Looking for some more of our English girl’s names here.

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