This article is reprinted from a series on names originally published in the year 1921. This one appeared in The Hartford Republican in Hartford, Kentucky, on December 30, 1921. For more stories from the past, check out our ArchiveAmericana.com site.
Facts about your name: Its history, meaning, whence it was derived, significance, your lucky day and lucky jewel.
A southern favorite is Elaine, that most poetical and harmonious of feminine names. Before the Civil war, every proud family of southern blood had an Elaine among its daughters, the Elaine Fitzhughs and Elaine Dulanys were legion, each a “belle of three counties” and the despair of many a lovelorn southern gallant.
But Elaine was not born in the South by any matter of means. Her origin dates back to the days of beautiful Helen of Troy, when the name Helen, coming from the Greek hellos, meaning light, was permitted to drop its initial “h” and become Ellen. In Cambria, however, this was too lacking in poetry to be popular, and it was called Elayne. It occurred under that spelling in the registers of early times and thus explains the gentle Lady Elayne, mother of Sir Galahad, whom Tennyson makes his Lady of Shalott.
The name came to prominence again as Lady Elayne of the Round Table, Elaine the fair, Elaine the lovable, Elaine the lily maid of Astolot, whose tragic fate is the source of song and story in the “Idylls of the King.” Her Irish prototype was Elayne or Eileen O’Brien, who likewise met with a tragic end, taking her own life after being carried away to Castle Knock by Roger Tyrrel, one of the fierce Anglo-Normans.
Tennyson’s description of Elaine is exquisite:
Where could be found face daintier? Than her shape,
From forehead down to foot — perfect again
From foot to forehead exquisitely turned. Fair she was, my king.
Pure, as you ever wish your knights to be,
To doubt her fairness were to want an eye.
To doubt her pureness were to want a heart.
Elaine’s talismanic gem is the pearl, giver of charm and love and purity — a fitting jewel for so lovely a name. The lily is her flower, a fact which Tennyson uses with such touching pathos in describing the funeral bier of the dead Elaine. Monday is her lucky day, and 2 her lucky number.
Illustration: “Elaine” from Tales from Tennyson, by Frances Brundage