September 23, 2012 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Can you tell me anything about the woman's name "Elexener"?

In reading a property case about land claims on Martha's Vineyard that were based on genealogical research, I came on a reference to that given name for a woman born in about the 1860s. I'd never heard it before, and I'm kind of a name buff. The researchers were also unsure of its spelling, or even how the woman used it. Her name (if she was even the same person in all the records, a point of dispute) was variously given as Elekzener, Elexener, Elexem, Zena, and Jennie.

The woman was of Wampanoag descent, I believe, but "Elexener," which shows up as a name result here and there in Google, has no obvious Indian antecedents. My guess is that it is either Biblical, or an archaic dialectical variant from somewhere in the UK, either from Eleanor or from Alexandra. Can you tell me? I quite like it.
posted by Countess Elena to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Looking at UK records, there are a bare handful of people with names such as "Elexender" or "Exelendria", which seem to be variants (but not mistakes). There's nobody named "Elexener", however. So it isn't a traditional British name. I would suggest that it's likely a variant of "Alexina", which is a known name.
posted by Jehan at 10:51 AM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, "Exelendria" should be "Elexendria", of course.
posted by Jehan at 10:53 AM on September 23, 2012

Could maybe also be a variant/mispelling of "Eleanor."

But "Elexener" shows up as a common enough last name, and maybe it was a last name-first name. It could also be a variant spelling of "Alexander," which you can totally understand given dialect/spelling variations and mishearings.

There are some Wampanoags who carried the name Alexander, notably Massosoit's son. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Cultural Center might be a good place to call with this question. They are helpful folks in general though it's an all-volunteer effort and they are not always able to respond rapidly.
posted by Miko at 10:59 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

People in the mid-19th century were fricken weird about names. People were making up names right and left, coming up with crazy ass spellings of already familiar names, turning last names into first names, place names into person names, adapting stuff from the classics and literature, inflecting ordinary nouns with literary spellings and turning them into names, etc etc etc.

Right now I'm reading George R. Stewart's Names On The Land, which is a study of how US place names were established. In the mid 19th century, shit gets weird.

Also, FWIW I apparently had great-great grandparents named Zepherin and Clanda. The 19th century definitely wasn't like now when the important thing was that what you named your baby had provenance as a legitimate name. People named their kids all kinds of strange stuff.

Also, keep in mind that, for less literate people, especially people of non-Anglo ethnicity, court transcribers and census enumerators could get really creative with name spellings and interpretations. I've found census records for 20th century family members where everyone gets a different iteration of their name every ten years.
posted by Sara C. at 11:21 AM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't have an answer but I can tell you that a branch of my family in Virgina has the Tidewater accent, and they all say "Eleksander" and "Elek" (both with a short E) for Alexander and Alex. Yes, Alex, not Alec.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:32 AM on September 23, 2012

There's an Elexnor Shuttleworth born around 1840 in Lancashire in the 1841 census, though I haven't looked at the transcript for the possibility of an error. There's also an Elexdbath Scatergood in the same census, also in Lancashire, born around 1815, and various others like Elexand and Elexith. Presumably they are linked to Alex-names, possibly also to Elizabeth.

If you're thinking Biblical, the closest seems to be the male name(s) Eleasah / Eliezer in 1 Chronicles, but unless Miko's suggestion leads anywhere I suspect you are going to have to chalk this one down to name weirdness, of which there is much these days, let alone the nineteenth century.
posted by paduasoy at 11:43 AM on September 23, 2012

The 18th century was no slouch either when it comes to weird names.
posted by Miko at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2012

Old Testament biblical names very rarely contain "x"es.
posted by vasi at 3:24 PM on September 23, 2012

Thanks, folks. This will probably be in the one-off category. My own forebears at that time had some odd names -- Paralee (f.), Excell (f.) and Otha (m.) come to mind.

(Otha lived into the '70s. I am told he was cranky.)
posted by Countess Elena at 5:53 PM on September 23, 2012

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