Æthelthryth, Etheldreda, and Audrey

You may have noticed that multiple names are often used for the saint of Ely — Æthelthryth, Etheldreda, and Audrey, and that I tend to favor the last.

I can see calling her Æthelthryth as that was the Old English name she was actually known by. The problem with this name for a saint that is still actively known at Ely and elsewhere is that few know who to pronounce it and most can’t spell it. It would be helpful if an Anglo-Saxonist would comment here on the how it should be pronounced.

Etheldreda is derived from the Latin version of the name Æthelthryth. The Life of Wilfrid spells her name Aethiltrythae* and Bede spells it Aedilthrydam*! The Liber Eliensis gives her name as Æđeldređe*. We seem to have a process of the đs being converted to ‘d’s and converting the ‘try’ of the Life of Wilfrid to ‘dry’. This is probably wrong but perhaps some nice Latinist will correct me (please do!). Anyway, Etheldreda evolved from these Latin forms. As Latin was the language of the church for nearly a thousand years, this is the form of her name used in liturgy. Unfortunately, even though the Anglican liturgies are all now in English (or the vernacular language of the area), Ely Cathedral still uses Etheldreda as the form of her name. When it comes to modern pronunciation and spelling, Etheldreda isn’t much better than Æthelthryth. It also forms a distinct disconnect between St. Æthelthryth and the modern form of her name, Audrey.

The name Audrey first appears, as far as I know, in Marie’s Vie Seinte Audree. It is unclear though if this is necessarily a French adaption. The South English Legendary (14th century) spells her name Aeldri*! The hardest part for me to see naturally occurring is the Æ/Ethel to Aud but such things did seem to happen, perhaps from Edri? Anyway, Audrey is the form of the name that evolved from Æthelthryth. I prefer it because it is pronounceable, easy to spell and the version given to girls today. Not many Americans know that a St. Audrey exists, much less that she is the source of the name.

* Spellings come from quotes in Blanton’s Signs of Devotion previously reviewed.

9 thoughts on “Æthelthryth, Etheldreda, and Audrey

  1. I don’t know if I’m worthy of the title “Anglo-Saxonist” (as I’m only a first year MA), but my main focus is on Old English language and literature, and I’ve taken a few courses in it (one in the language). On the name “Æthelthryth,” it’s form in OE manuscripts is most often Æðelðryð (while the ð may be replaced for þ), and it should be pronounced as follows:
    IPA: [æðɛlðryθ]
    Phonetically in English, these sounds are: a (as in “cat”), th (voiced, as in “the”), e (as in “bed”), l (as in “lie”), th (again, as in “the”), r (as in “red”), ü (a rounded u, as in German “über”), and th (unvoiced, as in “think”).

    Interestingly, in a lot of Old English words with the eth (ð), with the shift in language (esp. in vowels) after the Norman invasion, the “th” sound turned to a “d”–as can be seen in the change from Æðelðryð to Etheldreda (where the initial ash [Æ] is also simplified to E), as well as manifested in the spelling as Æđeldređe. It’s curious to see that the OE vernacular mixed with the Latin in names like this, even in the liturgical setting. It’s not too much of a stretch to see how the shift moved further into a sort of shortened, simplified pet form as Audrey.

    I hope this helps with the multiple names and the pronunciation.

  2. the dipthong- the combined ae- is pronounced like a british english a in “that,” that is, like ahh. phonetically, ahhthulthrith

  3. Following the first suggestions then it would be: Athelthri, pronounced Ah -th-el-three. So am I right then that thryth would be pronounced like -three or would it be th-rI (sort of like the name Guthrie). So Athelrie? How do you know when the -th is unvoiced?

    Would Audrey be considered a pet name? By the time it appears it seems to have replaced Æthelthryth completely.

  4. I think the thryth would be more like “thrith” (although in OE, the y does get rounded). The OE sound “th” is voiced or unvoiced mainly according to its setting: between vowels or voiced consonants it also becomes voiced, but otherwise it’s unvoiced. So, in Æthelthryth, the first “th” is voiced (between vowels), the second also voiced (between voiced liquid consonants), and the last is unvoiced (since it’s an end sound and not between anything).

    I may have used the phrase “pet name” a little recklessly above. Not necessarily that, but it seems to have morphed that way, like pet names often do, into a simplified version that then totally replaced the original.

  5. It’s my understanding that ‘voiced’ means the vocal cords actually vibrate, and ‘unvoiced’ is just the air sound in the mouth and teeth. So an unvoiced ‘th’ would sound like the ‘th’ from ‘thin’ and a voiced ‘th’ like ‘then’. You hear it, but if you put your finger against your larynx, you can’t feel it. So it would be Ahh-thul-thri-th, with everything sounded/vibrating but the last syllable, which is just the airover tongue and teeth. Hope that makes sense (hope I’m right 🙂 ).

  6. Yes, Nicola got it. Basically, the difference between voiced/unvoiced “th” sound is the vocal cords, so a voiced sounds more smooth and an unvoiced sounds harder. So the last “th” makes more of a definite, emphatic, stopping sound to the word.

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