Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Elaine

Elaine began as an Old French variant of Helen (now the French use Hélène) which was eventually adopted by the English. The Greek Hēlēnē (‘Ελενη) has debatable etymologies. The name either comes from the Greek “hēlios” which is the word for “sun” to indicate a sunbeam or ray of light specifically. In a similar vein the Greek word “‘ελενη” means “fire torch” referring to the rare appearance of St. Elmo’s Fire (off the mast of a ship). Lastly, the name could simply come from the Greek word for “Greek” (Hellēn, as in Hellenistic culture) but this is not widely held. The first suggested meaning is probably the most accurate especially when you consider the Greek mythological beauty Helen. Helen is a name made most famous by Homer’s “Iliad” (written around the 8th century B.C.); she was the beautiful Spartan queen whose abduction by Paris set in motion the mythological Trojan War. She is known as the woman whose face “launched a thousand ships” and therefore came to symbolize womanly perfection in Western Culture. Incidentally, it wasn’t this classical Greek beauty but rather a 3rd/4th century saint (Helena of Constantinople) who served to popularize the name among early Christians in medieval times. Saint Helena was the beloved mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I (272-337) who had the distinction of being the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity (effectively switching the Roman Empire from a pagan one to a Christian one). According to popular legend, Helena is also credited with finding the “True Cross” (relics of the cross on which Christ was crucified) buried at a dig site she orchestrated in Jerusalem (she is thus the patron saint of “new discoveries”). Today, however, most people prefer Helen’s association with the beautiful Greek Queen whose face launched a thousand ships, but she also had the name that practically launched a thousand variations: Helen, Ellen, Eleanor, Elaine (English), Helena (Portuguese), Elena (Italian), Lena, Ella, Elin (Dutch, Scandinavian), Hélène (French), Elena, Iliana (Spanish), Aileen/Eileen (Scottish); Elaine (Welsh); Aliénor (Provençal) – not to mention a slew of diminutives: Elle, Ella, Ellie, Lena, Nell, Nella, Nellie. Among medieval English speakers, Ellen was most common. Usage of Elaine, specifically, was in part influenced by Celtic/Welsh Mythology as a romantic figure, Elaine of Astolat, in the well-known and much beloved legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable (see literary references below). It wasn’t until after Alfred, Lord Tennyson published “The Lady of Shalott” and “Idylls of the King” in the mid 19th century that English speakers adopted the name Elaine more readily. Although the French heavily influenced names throughout the British Isles after the Norman Conquest, there is some belief that Elaine’s origins may be a mutated for of a Celtic word for “fawn”.

All About the Baby Name – Elaine



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Elaine was lightly used in America at the end of the 19th century but as we entered the 20th century, she started to show impressive upwards momentum. In the early 1920s, Elaine landed a position on the most-popular Top 100 list of female names in the country (and she remained on the Top 100 for almost 40 years). Elaine’s peak popularity was achieved in 1938 at position #42 on the charts. After the 1960s, however, Elaine’s decline from usage became more apparent. We wondered if we’d see some improvement during the 1990s when “Seinfeld” was airing on prime time (1989-1998) in appreciation for the neurotically hysterical Elaine Benes. But no. In fact, Elaine’s fall from fashion became even more pronounced as we’ve entered the 21st century. Of all the “Helen” variants, Eleanor seems to be the only one on the upswing in America (Elaine and Ellen have become out-dated). Still, Elaine’s Celtic/Welsh story is one of unrequited love with Sir Lancelot, and so has become another perfect name choice for the hopeless romantic in all of us.

Quick Facts













Ray of light, sunbeam; possibly “fawn”









Cultural References to the Baby Name – Elaine

Literary Characters


Elaine of Astolat is a character in Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th century Le Morte d’Arthur, a compilation of romantic tales about the legend of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and their ladies fair. Elaine meets the renowned knight, Sir Lancelot, when her father arranges for a jousting tournament. Lancelot stays at her father’s house and the young girl is immediately smitten. She asks him to wear her “favor” in his helmet at the joust, which he does while appearing in disguise. When Lancelot is severely wounded, Elaine persuades her father to allow her to nurse him back to health, at which time she declares her love for him. Lancelot, being smitten himself, only by Queen Guinevere, gently but firmly puts her off. When he is back at court, a barge bearing the dead body of Elaine floats along the river to Camelot. Elaine’s letter, held in her hand, tells the story of her unrequited love for Lancelot and requests burial at Camelot. A chastened Lancelot steps forward to bear the expense.

Elaine is “The Lady of Shalott”, in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1833 poem based upon the ill-fated Elaine of Astolat of Arthurian legend (revised by the author in 1842). The lovely Elaine is living under a curse: she is destined to sit in her chambers, ever weaving, and only viewing the world through a mirror reflecting the outside. One day she is struck by the image of the handsome knight, Sir Lancelot, riding by on his way to Camelot, and, stricken, she rises and gazes out the window after him. She knows now that she has invoked the curse, and her life is no longer her own. Taking herself to a little boat, she gently floats down the river to Camelot, dying before her body arrives there. When the people of the court gather around, Lancelot, little knowing the tragedy he has unwittingly caused, off-handedly muses: “She has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, the Lady of Shalott”. Elaine appears again in Tennyson’s collection of narrative poems, “Idylls of the King”, published between 1856 and 1885, and keeping more in story line with Malory’s version.

Childrens Books


We cannot find any childrens books with the first name Elaine

Popular Songs


Miss Elaine
a song by Run D.M.C.

Elaine on the Brain
a song by Squirtgun

a song by ABBA

Blue Eyed Elaine
a song by Ernest Tubb

Famous People


Elaine Stritch (actress)
Elaine Paige (English actress)
Elaine May (director/screenwriter/actress)
Elaine Chao (former Secretary of Labor)
Elaine Youngs (Olympic beach volleyball player)

Children of Famous People


We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Elaine

Historic Figures


We cannot find any historically significant people with the first name Elaine