About the thorn

About the thorn

I love linguistics, history, culture, and science – these things make up so much of who we are and why we do what we do, that I find it fascinating that some people don’t care about these things. This page is mostly about linguistics, history, and culture (and not science), in that there is a historical reason for the thorn character peppered throughout this site and, especially in my name.

You will have noticed that, on this website, my name is spelled “Aþling” instead of “Ayling” – its more common spelling.

Old English

Long ago, “the” was often written “ye” as in the infamous, but wrongly pronounced, Ye Olde Shoppe. “Ye” was pronounced the same as “the” and was not pronounced with the modern sound for the letter ‘y’. This is because of the influence of the Norse and Danes.

Old English used the letter thorn (þ) in place of “th”, which let’s be honest, is pretty cool. As the language evolved, people used the letter ‘Y’ in place of the þorn, as it was closest one þat þey had in the twenty-six character alphabet wiþ which we are now familiar.

There are two origin stories of the “Ayling” last name. One is that “Ayling” is really quite old and comes from Norse / ancient Danish. It would originally have been written “Aethling or “Aeþling” and at the same time as the “y” was replacing the thorn in:

  • Þe (the)
  • Þat (that)
  • Þer (there)
  • Þes (these)

and other words, it was also replaced in my ancestor’s last name.

The other origin of Ayling is that it came from “Hayling Island” in Hampshire by people who called themselves, “Aylyng” and who migrated from what is now northern Germany around 900 AD. More information about these well-researched origins are available at aylinghistory.net.

History, ancestry, and missing letters

Since I discovered that my ancestors were mostly Norse, Angles, and Saxons, I þought it would be interesting to use þe thorn on my personal website. I am not brave enough – and I have insufficient knowledge of copyright law – to use it in the copyright statement at the foot of the pages, but everywhere else, I have replaced þe traditional, and phonetically incorrect, spelling wiþ the more appropriate one. I could just have reasonably done this, though: Athling.

Final point: If the Norse origin is correct, my name should be pronounced “Athling” regardless of the spelling (but I’ll answer to “Ayling”)!