Ealce: A variant of Alice?

Here’s another question that recently lead someone to this blog:

Is Ealce another spelling for the name Alice?

The answer is “probably not — but we can see why you might think so.”

Alice was a popular name in England from the 12th century onwards, appearing in a variety of spellings in Middle and Early Modern English. Quite a few of the vernacular forms drop the second vowel, resulting in spellings such as Alce, Alls, Als, and Alse. Less common are variants which swap the initial A for E, such as Elyce, Ellisone (both in data awaiting processing), Elis, and Ellis; and all of these may be forms of Elizabeth rather than of Alice.

But to date, we have found only one variant of the name which starts with Eal-, and that not until the early 17th century (the spelling Eales is found in a parish register from Chester-le-Street in 1616). The combination of the dropping of the second vowel along with the extremely rare conversion of the initial vowel make it unlikely that Ealce is a form of Alice (though, knowing what we do about names and variant spellings, we are hesitant to discount the possibility entirely).

It is, however, a legitimate name — just one independent of Alice! Ealca or Ealce is an Old English name, deriving from ealh ‘temple, sanctuary’, and probably a short form of any of the various names beginning with this element, such as Alcwin. We do not have any definite examples of this name being used, but we do have evidence for its use deriving from place names; the place Awkley or Auckley, recorded in 1278 as Alkelaye, in 1316 as Alkeleye, and c1500 as Aulkeley, can be decomposed into this personal name plus Old English leah. [1] Regarding the personal name, SOURCE notes:

it cannot be denied that we find traces of a mythological person of the name Ealce, etc., see Middendorf, s.v. On Low German territory, in the neighborhood of Osnabrück, the geographical names Alke Krug and Alk Pool are found close to an ancient heathen place of worship. The same deity or deities seem to be mentioned by Tacitus in the Germania, c. 43: “Apud Naharvalos antiquae religionis lucus ostenditur. praesidet sacerdos mulierbri ornatu, sed deos interpretatione Romana Castorem Pollucemque memorant. a vis numini, nomen Alcis (var. Alces vel. Alci).”

So, it is a name, albeit not clearly the name of an actual person, as opposed to a mythical god, and likely not a variant of Alice.


[1] J. E. B. Gover, A. Mawer, and F. M. Stenton, The Place-names of Nottinghamshire: Their Origin and Development, English Place-Name Society (Cambridge University Press, 1940), p. 6.


Filed under dictionary entries

2 responses to “Ealce: A variant of Alice?

  1. Alice Crook

    Have you come across/looked into the spelling ‘Eaylse’ at all? I came across this several years ago in a transcription of the Castle Camps (Cambridgeshire) church records: Eaylse, dau of Robert & Ann Boones (born 1605). Unfortunately I couldn’t find any further mention of her in the records so don’t have her marriage or burial. Records for other children in the parish included spellings like Ayls, Aylce, and Aylse (as well as Alice), so the ‘y’ seems to be added quite often in this parish.

    After a quick Google just now, I did find a baptism of an Eaylse Daylton, baptised in 1667 Yorkshire and buried a day or two later, and an Ealse Dallton baptised in 1670 (possibly Eaylse’s sister and therefore potentially named through substitution… Difficult to confirm whether the girls share a father, as his name is quite common). Ealse Dallton may be the Alice Dalton who marries there in 1689, thus potentially confirming an Ealse-Alice link and suggesting an Eaylse-Alice link too?

    Of course I’m relying on other people’s transcriptions of records here, which isn’t ideal, but do you think it’s plausible that Ealse and Eaylse are other variant spellings of Alice?

  2. Philip Young

    Hi there. I came across this biog as I have been researching my family history and came across a record of one of my ancestors in Houghton Conquest in Bedfordshire, England. Their name was recorded as Ealce Young who died 26th September 1653. I can certainly send you the record. All the very best.

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