Various modernised spellings exist for Old English words containing the letter Æ and æ for example Ætheling can be modernised as Etheling, Aetheling or Atheling.

Is there a reason to prefer one modern spelling over the others when not using the actual Æ/æ letters?

P.S. A friend of mine intends to give their newborn baby girl an Old English middle name (specifically Æthelflæd) and it would not be possible to put the Æ character in her passport, so they are stuck between the two most common modernised spellings (namely Ethelfled and Aethelflaed) while also knowing sometimes Æthel is modernised as Athel as in Athelstan, and they were just deciding between these.

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    You need to edit your question to explain why, and in what circumstances, this change might be made: Are you teaching Old English to students? Are you translating? Are you writing lightweight historical fiction? (I assume that you have already discounted the convenience of "AE" being on a keyboard, while "Æ" is not.)
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 10:16
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    The Latin spelling of one of the most prestigious encyclopaedias in the world: Encyclopædia Britannica is today often spelled as Encyclopedia. The modern spelling for fœtus is either foetus or fetus depending on which country you were born. Why not use a dictionary?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 11:30
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    The evolution of æ is summarised here. But I'm not sure if that's what you're actually asking. You could look at the most common way æ evolved, or the way ætheling might have evolved, or the most common modern spelling of ætheling, or how other æ words are spelt. However I don't think words like encyclopedia are good guides as they don't come from Old English but came into English much later.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 14:27
  • @Greybeard Thank you for your suggestion I have edited the question to provide more relevant details!
    – asker2011
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 22:59

1 Answer 1


I personally always write "mediaeval" because that's how I learnt it and the spellchecker lets me do it. As long as other people can understand it, why not? Mediaeval and medieval mean the same thing to everyone.

But it hinders search algorithms. If you are writing academic papers or similar, which are going to be accessed by many people and need to be searchable, you need to use the standard spelling within your community. Also, someone less well-versed might think that Ætheling, Etheling, Aetheling and Atheling are four different people.

So you need to set or find the standard and keep to it. Or at least include a footnote or glossary item covering all alternative spellings.

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    medi(a)eval was reportedly coined in 1825 from Latin roots, so it's not necessarily a good guide for Old English spelling.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 14:29
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    I had thought of "mediaeval" as a Britishism, but it's actually only even somewhat common in India, according to Google Trends: trends.google.com/trends/explore?q=mediaeval,medieval
    – alphabet
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 21:05
  • Not only the spelling but also the pronunciation has changed. People (on television) no longer say "medi-eval", they say "medival". Which bothers me, but then I am just a reactionary old codger.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 7:24

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