Alan (given name)
|Language(s)||English, Old Breton, Celtic, Norman French|
|Variant form(s)||Allan, Allen, Alen|
Alan is a masculine given name in the English language. There are numerous differing etymologies attributed to the name. The name was first introduced into England by Bretons who took part in the Norman Invasion in the 11th century. Today there are numerous variations of Alan, a short form, and there are also numerous feminine forms of the name as well. Alan has many forms in other languages. Alan is also an Old Breton personal name (from which the modern English Alan is ultimately derived), as well as being a Norman French name.
Etymology and early history
Alan is a masculine given name in the English language. The name is believed by scholars to have been brought to England by people from Brittany, in the 11th century; later the name spread north into Scotland and west into Ireland. In Ireland and Scotland there are Gaelic forms of the name which may, or may not, be etymologically related to the name introduced by the Bretons.
In Breton, alan is a colloquial term for a fox and may originally have meant "deer", making it cognate with Old Welsh alan (cf. Canu Aneirin, B2.28, line 1125: "gnaut i-lluru alan buan bithei", "it was usual for him to be fleet like a deer"), Modern Welsh elain (plural alanedd) "young deer" (and the plant name alan "coltsfoot, elecampane"), coming from a Brittonic root *alan- or *elan (also attested in Celtiberian in personal names such as Elanus, Elaesus, and Ela), ultimately derived from Proto-Indo-European *(H1)el-Hn- "deer, hind" (perhaps denoting an animal - generally cervids - with red or brown fur).
Another explanation of the name is that the modern English Alan, and French Alain, are derived from the name of the Alans. The Alans were an Iranian people who lived north of the Caucasus Mountains in what is today Russia, and who were known to Classical writers in the 1st century BC. According to historian Bernard Bachrach, the Alans settled in parts of what is today France, including Brittany, in the Early Middle Ages. Bachrach stated that the use of forms of the name in given names, surnames, and place names, are evidence of the continued influence of the Alans on the Gaulish, Breton and Frankish peoples.
The Breton name Alan can not be a direct loan from the ethnic name of the Alans (rendered as Alānī or Halānī in Latin, from Scytho-Sarmatian *Al[l]ān-, derived from Old Iranian *aryāna, "noble people") because the long vowel in the second syllable would produce Old Breton -o-, Middle Breton -eu- and Modern Breton -e- and not the attested spelling with an -a-.
In Ireland and Gaelic-speaking Scotland, Alan may also be an Anglicization of an Irish word (with diminutive suffix) meaning "rock". For example, the modern Irish ailín means "little rock". Similarly, according to Patrick Woulfe, the Irish name Ailín is derived from diminutive ail, which means "noble", "rock". Woulfe stated that this name is a pet form of some other name beginning with the first element Ail-. Forms of the Gaelic name appear in early records British records; the Latin form Ailenus was recorded by Adomnán (died 704).[note 1] Another similar-looking word in Irish is álainn and Scottish Gaelic àlainn, which means "beautiful".
Variations of the name
There are numerous variations of the name in English. The variants Allan and Allen are generally considered to be derived from the surnames Allan and Allen. The form Allan is used mainly in Scotland and North America. In England, the given names Allan and Allen are considerably less popular than Alan. However, in America all three are generally about the same in popularity.
Alun is an old masculine given name in the Welsh language; although it is not directly related to Alan (it is derived from Proto-Celtic *alouno- meaning either "nourishing" or "wandering"), today it is generally used as a variant form of the English name. An earlier bearer of this name is Alun of Dyfed, a character in the Mabinogion. The name became popular in modern times when it was adopted as a bardic name by John Blackwell, a 19th-century Welsh poet.
There are numerous feminine forms of Alan. The form Alana is a Latinate feminisation of the name. Variant of Alana include: Alanah, Alanna, Alannah, and Allana. Another feminine form is Alaina, derived from the French Alain; a variant of this feminine name is Alayna. A variant form of Alaina is Alaine, although it can also be a variant form of the etymologically unrelated Elaine.
In other languages
- Croatian: Alan, Alen, masculine. Alina, feminine.
- Czech: Alena
- Danish: Allan, masculine.
- English: Alaina, Alaine, Alayna, Alana, Alanah, Alanna, Alannah, Allana, feminine.
- Estonian: Allan, masculine.
- Faroese: Allan, masculine.
- French: Alain, masculine.
- Irish: Ailín, masculine.
- Irish: Ailéne, masculine.
- Kurdish: Alan, masculine. The flag bearer.
- Latin: Alanus, masculine.
- Latin: Ailenus, masculine, the Latin form of Ailín.
- Old Breton: Alan, masculine.
- Old French: Alain/Alein, masculine.
- Ossetian: Alan, masculine.
- Norman French: Alan, masculine.
- Romanian: Alin, masculine. Alina, feminine.
- Scottish Gaelic: Ailean, masculine.
- Spanish: Alano, Alán, masculine.
- Welsh: Alun, masculine.
- Indonesian: Alan, masculine.
Popularity and use
The name was brought to England by Bretons who took part in the Norman Invasion in the mid-11th century. Forms of the name were in use much earlier in what is today Brittany, France. An early figure who bore the name was St Alan, a 5th-century bishop of Quimper. This saint became a cult figure in the Brittany during the Middle Ages. Another early bearer of the name was St Alan, a 6th-century Cornish saint, who has a church dedicated to his memory in Cornwall (for example see St Allen, a civil parish in Cornwall named after this saint).
Today the use of the given name (and its variants) is due to its popularity among the Bretons who imported the name to England, to Cornwall, and later to Ireland. The Bretons formed a significant part of William, Duke of Normandy's army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Later many Bretons were granted lands throughout William's freshly conquered kingdom. The most notable Breton Alan, Earl of Richmond, a cadet of the ducal house of Brittany, who was awarded with a large swath of lands in England - specifically lands in what is today Lincolnshire and East Anglia. The Breton character in many English counties can be traced through Breton personal names still in use in the 12th centuries. The name ranked 8th in popularity in Lincolnshire in the 12th century, where it was about even with Simon and more numerous than Henry. Early occurrences of the name in British records include: Alanus in 1066 (in the Domesday Book); and Alain in 1183. The name became popular in Scotland in part through the Stewarts. This family descends from Alan fitz Flaad, an Anglo-Breton knight, who possessed lands in what is modern day Shropshire, England.
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