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A Brief Discussion of
Spelling Variations

During the Middle Ages, “spelling” as we know it today did not exist. Words were written and spelled purely according to the writer’s whim. The writer often spelled words according to how they themselves pronounced them.

Since there were so many different regional dialects, words and names were written in many different kinds of ways. Adding to the confusion is the fact that many scribes wrote in Latin and routinely “Latinized” names. So few people could read at all that spelling did not really matter.

Thus we can see John, plain ordinary John, spelled as:

Ion, Iohn, Jan, Jehan, Jehn, Jen, Joan, Joen, John, Johne, Johan, Johann, Johanne, Johannes, Jon, Jone, etc.

However, in the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg (1395-1468) invented the printing press, revolutionizing the world of books, sparking an explosion in literacy, and creating the need for a standardized spelling. Soon, most words would have one, agreed-upon spelling.

Along with “standard” spellings for each word, “Standard” forms of names soon appeared as well, from J-o-h-n to creating the Francis/Frances distinction (Francis became male, Frances, female).

As the centuries wore on, more and more English people became literate, and less and less variations of names appeared among educated people. Writing one’s name as “Eller” instead of Ella, “Margret” instead of “Margaret,” “Marthey” instead of “Martha,” or “Sharlot” for “Charlotte” (reflecting how they were pronounced in certain accents) was now a mark of ignorance. When immigrants came to the United States, they often (but not always) altered their names to conform with the standard American spelling. French Juliette’s became American Juliets. Scandinavian Karls became American Carls (or even Charles), for example.

Few names had more than one accepted spelling, including:

Ann and Anne
Stephen and Steven
Catherine, Catharine, Katharine, and Katherine
Jeffrey and Geoffrey
Rowland and Roland
Sara and Sarah

Another exception is “surname-spellings,” reflecting how a common first name was spelled in surname form. This was especially common in the 19th century United States, as we see the “surname-spellings” of Allen/Allan, Bryan, Lewis, and Lawrence overtake the standard spelling of Alan, Brian, Louis, and Laurence.

However, in the 20th century, individuality became fashionable and many spelling variations cropped up in names, and, instead of being frowned upon as ignorant, became popular as names in their own right.

The Curious Fascination with “Y”
Y is an odd letter, being both vowel and consonant. Found near the end of the alphabet, with few words belonging to it, Y is often considered an exotic letter, like Q, X, and Z. When parents wish to alter a name’s spelling, they often add a “y” into the mix.

Beginning the 19th century and culminating in the 20th we see the great “y” for “i” switch (this often altered the pronunciation as well).

Kathryn was coined from Katherine
Carolyn, from Caroline
Jacquelyn from Jacqueline
Lynda from Linda
Lyndsey from Lindsey
Madelyn from Madeline
Robyn from Robin

Toward the end of the 20th century, the curious fascination with the letter y continued, not only with “yn” replacing “ine” and “in” but other vowels like “on,” “en,” “a,” and “ey.”

Some of the more common include:
Caitlyn and Kaitlyn from Caitlín
Ashlyn from Ashley
Austyn from Austin
Brandyn from Brandon
Camryn from Cameron
Chyna from China
Devyn from Devin
Eryn from Erin
Jasmyn from Jasmine
Jordyn from Jordan
Justyn from Justin
Kaylyn from Kayla or Kayley
Lauryn from Lauren
Taryn from Tara

Often, these new, y-inspired names like Camryn or Jordyn are considered feminine, while their original counterparts remain masculine.

Other Swaps, Drops, and Additions
Somewhat ironically, at the same time that many Is were being dropped for Ys, we see many names traditionally ending in “y” being switched for an “i.”

Of course, this “switch-out” is most often found, however, at the end of names ending in “y.” See Vicky/Vicki, Brandy/Brandi, Terry/Terri, Sherry/Sheri, Tracy/Traci, Kerry/Keri, etc.

Often, changing a Y to an I leads to a gender change as well. Most people, seeing the name Dr. Terry Jones, would think of a man; when they see Dr. Terri Jones they assume the doctor is a woman. See, for example, Terry/Terri; Bobby/Bobbi;Nicky/Nikki; Randy/Randi; Jerry/Jerri.

Another technique often found is the dropping or adding a silent leter to the ends of names. For example, the feminine “e” of many French names can be dropped, as when Carole, Lynne, Maude, Joanne, Leanne, and Blanche all lost their French Es and became Carol, Lynn, Maud, Joann, Leann, and Blanch.

Or consider the many parents who drop an “h” from names like Rhonda, Sarah, Leah, John, and Hannah to name their children Ronda, Sara, Lea, Jon, and Hanna. On the other hand, an extra “h” can be added to names that do not normally carry one, as in Tarah from Tara, or Mariah from Maria, Rebeccah from Rebecca, or Kaylah from Kayla.

Or consider the dropped vowels when the names Barbara and Deborah become Barbra and Debra.

Or consider the Cs of names like Caleb, Christopher, Crystal, and Jacob can, for a more Germanic feel, become Kaleb, Kristopher, Krystal and Jakob. Or K names like Kayla or Katie become Cayla and Catie.

As the 20th century progressed, parents often chose more and more fanciful spellings, some from ignorance, some purely to be “creative,” some from a childish disdain for proper spelling.

The following is a list of names with “creative” spellings that can be found on Edgar’s Name Pages:

Aaran - Aaron
Adan - Aidan
Adelia - Adela
Aden - Aidan
Adrianne - Adrian/Adrienne
Afra - Aphra
Alisa - Alicia, Eliza
Allan - Alan
Alphonso - Alfonso
Alyssa - Alicia
Anya - Aña
Barbra - Barbara
Barnard - Bernard
Barrie - Barry
Berenice - Bernice
Brandi - Brandy
Bryan - Brian
Caitlyn - Caitlín
Carole - Carol
Carolyn - Caroline
Catharine - Katherine
Claud - Claude
Collin - Colin
Courtenay - Courtney
Darla - Darlene
Darrin - Darren
Darryl - Darrell
Daryl - Darrell
Deanna - Diana
Delores - Dolores
Derrick - Derek
Dewayne - Duane
Devon - Devin
Dianne - Diane/Diana
Dillian - Dylan
Dillon - Dylan
Dionne - Diane/Diane
Dominick - Dominic
Earnest - Ernest
Elbert - Albert
Elisabeth - Elizabeth
Ellis - Alice
Emanuel - Emmanuel
Fredrick - Frederick
Gisela - Giselle
Iva - Ivy, Eva
Jacquelyn - Jacqueline
Jada - Jade
Janis - Janice
Jermaine - German
Jennet - Jeannette
Jerald - Gerald
Jessie - Jesse
Joann - Joanna
Jodi - Jody
Jordyn - Jordan
Kaety - Katie
Kaleb - Caleb
Kara - Cara
Kari - Kerry
Katelyn - Caitlin
Kathryn - Katherine
Kaylee - Kayley
Kelli - Kelly
Kristopher - Christopher
Krystal - Crystal
Kylie - Kyla, Kayley
Lawrence - Laurence
Leigh - Lee
Lewis - Louis
Lila - Leila, Lily
Lizbeth - Elizabeth
Lora - Laura
Lori - Laurie
Lynda - Linda
Mable - Mabel
Madelyn - Madeline
Makayla - Mikayla
Margery - Marjorie
Mariel - Muriel
Mathew - Matthew
Michele - Michelle
Mya - Mia
Nichole - Nicole
Patti - Patty
Phillip - Philip
Rachael - Rachel
Randal - Randall
Reagan - Regan
Rebekah - Rebecca
Regan - Reagan
Rowland - Roland
Roxane - Roxanne
Ruben - Reuben
Shaina - Shauna
Sharan - Sharon
Shari - Chérie
Shawna - Shauna
Sheena - Shauna
Sheryl - Cheryl
Skylar - Schuyler
Sydney - Sidney
Tabatha - Tabitha
Tami - Tammy
Teri - Terri, Terry
Terrance - Terrence
Traci - Tracy
Unice - Eunice