Concerning the Names
Aidan, Aédán, Aodh, and the Like

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

Last updated 15 Apr 1999

Aidan is a modern English spelling of the early medieval Gaelic name Áedán. It was relatively common in early medieval Ireland, and was the name of at least two 6th and 7th century saints. In the late Middle Ages, the saint's name was spelled Aodhán, but the name appears to have dropped out of common use after the 10th century or so. Its modern popularity dates to a revival in the 19th or 20th century. (Withycombe; OCM; Woulfe; CE; Annals)

The modern spelling derives from a Latin form of the name, Aidanus. In particular, the Aid- spelling is found in Latin and English contexts, but is incorrect for Gaelic. Latin authors also rendered the name as Ægdanus. (Searle)

The name was only very occasionally used outside Ireland. We have found only one very early example in Scotland, a king of Argyll who lived around 600 AD (Black). The name also appears in 8-10th century Welsh records as Aidan or Aedan, in Cornwall in an Anglo-Saxon context as Aeðan, and in other Anglo-Saxon records as Æthan (Withycombe; Jones; Foerster). Anglicized Welsh records as late as the 14th century have it as Aythan. [Morgan]

The Gaelic feminine form of the name is Áednat in early medieval spelling, Aodhnait in later spelling. There was an early saint of this name, but we aren't sure if the name remained in use past the early Middle Ages (OCM). It was apparently in use in 19th century Ireland, though, where it was anglicized variously as Enat, Ena, and Eny and latinized Aidnata (Woulfe). Aidan has occasionally been used as a feminine name in modern times, possibly due to confusion with Etain, an unrelated Irish medieval name pronounced \AY-deen\. [*] (OCM)

The pronunciation of the Gaelic Áedán changed over the centuries [**]. Before the 10th century, it was pronounced something like \AIDH-ahn\, where \AI\ represents the vowel in sigh and \DH\ represents the th sound in this. We don't have examples of the name after this point in history, but we can deduce how it would have been pronounced by looking at similar names and words. Around the year 1000, it would have been \ADH-ahn\, with the initial vowel pronounced as in cat, and in the 12th century \EHDH-ahn\, with the vowel in let. After 1200, when the name was spelled Aodhán, the \DH\ sound softened to produce the pronunciation \EHGH-ahn\. \GH\ is the voiced version of the rasping ch sound in the Scottish word loch or the German Bach. By the 15th or 16th century, the dh might have been silent and the initial vowel sound changed yet again, so that the name would be \AY-ahn\ in Ireland and or \#-ahn\ in Scotland. \#\ represents a vowel that doesn't exist in English; you can produce it by trying to say \oo\ (as in woo) with your lips positioned as if you were saying \ee\.

The related name Áed (early medieval spelling) or Aodh (post-1200 spelling) was widely used in both Ireland and Scotland through the Middle Ages and well after 1600 (Black; OCM; Krossa). The pronunciation of this name followed the same shifts as the first syllable of Áedán. Early in the Middle Ages it rhymed with writhe. It changed to \ADH\ around 1000 and \EHDH\ by the 12th century. Around 1200, about when the spelling changed, the pronunciation of dh shifted to \GH\. From that point, the Irish pronunciation of the name shifted from \EHGH\ to \AYGH\ to \AY\. In Scotland, it was \EHGH\, then \#GH\, and in some dialects became \#\ by the 16th century.

In summary, Aédán and Aédnat are primarily Irish names that dropped out of use around the 10th century, and were were re-introduced in the English spellings Aidan and Enat during the 19th or 20th century Celtic revivals. The masculine form was occasionally adapted into other early medieval languages of the British Isles, but was rare outside Ireland until modern times.


* Pronunciation guides appear between backslash brackets, \ \, and are intended to be read as if they were modern standard American English (except where noted) with the emphasis placed on the capitalized syllables.
** Early Gaelic (aka Old Irish) is the form of Gaelic used in Ireland and parts of Scotland from roughly 600 - 900 AD. Middle Gaelic (aka Middle Irish) was used from roughly 900 - 1200 AD, while Common Classical Gaelic (aka Early Modern Irish, Common Literary Gaelic, etc.) was used from roughly 1200 - 1700 AD. Pronunciation of Early Gaelic was pretty much the same in Ireland and Scotland, but in the Common Classical Gaelic period differences in pronunciation had become more marked. Very generally, both Early Gaelic and Common Classical Gaelic spellings were used in the Middle Gaelic period, with Early Gaelic spellings being more common in the earlier parts of the Middle Gaelic period, and Common Classical Gaelic spellings being more common in the later parts. Early Gaelic spellings are occasionally found in the Common Classical Gaelic period. Please note that although they shared a common language, the Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic name bases and naming traditions were slightly different.


Annals The Annals of the Four Masters, ed. Donnchadh O/ Corráin and Mavis Cournane. WWW: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork, Ireland, 1997. The name appears as Aodhan (M761.3), Aedhan (M763.3), Aodhán (M666.2).
Black Black, George F. The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History. New York: New York Public Library, 1986. Original edition, 1946.
s.nn. Aidan, Aed, Aodh.
CE "St. Aidan of Lindisfarne" and "St. Aedan of Ferns", The Catholic Encyclopedia (WWW: New Advent, Inc., 1996).
Foerster Foerster, Max, Die Freilassungsurkunden des Bodminevangeliars: A Grammatical Miscellany Offered to Otto Jespersen. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1930.
Jones Jones, Heather Rose (aka Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn), The First Thousand Years of British Names. WWW: J. Mittleman, 1998.
Krossa Krossa, Sharon L. (Effric neyn Kenyeoch vc Ralte), A Simple Guide to Constructing 12th Century Scottish Gaelic Names. WWW: Privately published, 18 June 1997.
Morgan Morgan, T.J. and Prys Morgan, Welsh Surnames. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1985, s.n. Aeddan.
OCM Ó Corráin, Donnchadh and Fidelma Maguire, Irish Names. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1990, s.nn. Aéd, Aédán, Áednat, Etain.
Searle Searle, William George, Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1897, s.nn. Aidan, Ægdanus.
Withycombe Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, s.n. Aidan.
Woulfe Woulfe, Patrick, Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish Names and Surnames. Kansas City: Irish Genealogical Foundation.