Concerning the Name
Aislinn, Ashling, Eislinn, and the Like

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

©2000 by Josh Mittleman. All rights reserved.

Last updated 24 Apr 2000 (b)

The popular modern Irish feminine name Aislinn, also spelled Aislynn, Aisling, Ashlynn, Eislinn, etc., is widely believed to be a medieval Gaelic name. We have found no evidence that this is so.

The earliest evidence we have of the Gaelic feminine Aislinn is from 19th century Derry and Omeath. It is not impossible that it was used earlier, but we have no evidence that it was used as early as the 16th century [1]. The name may in fact be a modern invention, the adoption as a name of the Gaelic word aisling "dream, a vision" [1].

The similar masculine name Aislinge or Aislingthe appears once in early Irish literature, but we have found no evidence that it was also used by women [1, 2]. It isn't clear that the modern Aislinn is related to it.

The development of the modern feminine Irish name may have been influenced by derivatives of the medieval English masculine name, Acelin. This name was popular in Norman England; its varied spellings included Acelin 1273, Asselin 1273, and it spawned a feminine form Ascelina 1207. It gave rise to a number of surnames, e.g. Ashlin, Asling [3]. However, we have found no evidence that any form of this name was adopted into Gaelic before or after 1600; the modern Gaelic feminine name apparently did not appear until long after the English masculine dropped out of use.

In modern use, the feminine Aislinn is often pronounced \ICE-lin\ or \ACE-lin\. These pronunciations both result from reading a Gaelic spelling as if it were English. In Gaelic, the name is pronounced \AHSH-liñ\. The symbol \ñ\ represents the sound of ñ in Spanish words like señor or of gn in French words like montagne.


[1] Ó Corráin, Donnchadh and Fidelma Maguire, Irish Names (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1990), s.n. Aislinn.

[2] O'Brien, M. A., ed., Corpus Genealogiarum Hiberniae (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1976).

[3] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), s.n. Acelin.