Am looking at the online Beowulf site, and wonder about "aelfheres" that is translated as a name.

plain text transcription next to manuscript photo

WIGlaf wæs haten, Weoxstanes sunu,
leoflic lindwiga, leod Scylfinga,
mæg Ælfheres.

But it looks like the "ae" is lower case in the manuscript? Are there any other proposed translations than "friend of Aelfhere"?

Clarification: I am wondering if anybody has proposed any other translation than "friend/relative of [unknown person not mentioned anywhere else]."

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    I’m voting to close this question because it belongs to literature.stackexchange.com
    – user 66974
    Commented Jul 8 at 16:45
  • 7
    @user66974 Nah it belongs here.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 8 at 16:56
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    Does this document ever have upper case Æ or is it just written the same as æ ?
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jul 8 at 17:29
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    This is no answer but it looks like the only thing capitalized in the manuscript are the beginning of sentences. words that have been identified as proper names are capitalized in the print version. 'Ælfhere' is only mentioned once in Beowulf but may actually refer to an actual person (so at least the word is a known name of the time). The parallelism highly suggests that it is 'a kinsman of [someone]'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 8 at 18:45
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    Why are you expecting names to be in uppercase? That's a modern convention. Names in the manuscript are in lowercase when the name isn't in a position that gets "decorated" with a capital. It's a genitive there, BTW.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 8 at 19:08

3 Answers 3


Names in Old English manuscripts are typically spelled without leading capital. Nothing unusual in that. It's a man's name in genitive case. mæg higelaces "kinsman of Hygelac" occurs a half-dozen times in the poem (though the spelling of Hygelac isn't always exactly the same).

Compare hroþgar here:

cropped image showing the name 'hroþgar' from the Beowulf MS

Cropped image taken from


at https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/02/beowulf-online.html

[P.S. I haven't read through the British Library's Terms and Conditions and would prefer not to copy the page in its entirety here.]

  • Bingo-bang! ... I think. :) Commented Jul 9 at 22:18

From an MIT anonymous translation in 2003

WIGLAF his name was, Weohstan's son, - Wiglaf wæs haten Weoxstanes sunu,

linden-thane loved, the lord of Scylfings - leoflic lindwiga, leod Scylfinga,

Aelfhere's kinsman………………………………. – mæg Ælfheres

As far as I can see, this is accurate.

See also BEOWULF: diacritically-marked text and facing translation

Edit to add aelf is a variant of ielf/ylf = Mod. Eng. "elf"; here = "army".

However, at the time that Beowulf was written, all such meaning had been removed and it is pointless to translate the name.

The capitalisation is irrelevant - in the day it was more a matter of style than significance.

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    It's on Wikipedia: Ælfhere (died in 983) was Ealdorman of Mercia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86lfhere,_Ealdorman_of_Mercia But no final s.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 8 at 21:19
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    Ælfhere is not an uncommon Anglo-Saxon name. See the ONOMASTICON ANGLO SAXONICUM by W.G. Searle (Cambridge, 1897).
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 9 at 13:09
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    @Lambie The "s" is the Saxon genitive.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jul 9 at 15:03
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    I know that. Thanks though.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 9 at 15:08
  • I don’t think we can really say that “all such meaning had been removed”. Certainly, the meaning would have been disassociated from the name and in normal life it would just be that guy Ælfhere, but the meaning would still be as transparently available as when someone is called Rock or April or Rowan nowadays. It’s not like someone called Elmer, where the original meaning ‘noble fame’ is now completely lost and only available through an etymological lookup. Commented Jul 10 at 7:31

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose translation of Beowulf, those lines he translated this way:

In one alone of them the heart was moved with grief. Kinship may nothing set aside in virtuous mind. Wiglaf was he called, Wihstan’s son, that fair warrior beneath his shield, a lord of Scylfing race of Ælfhere’s line. He saw his liege-lord beneath his vizored helm of war in torment of heat. He remembered then those favours which Beowulf had granted to him, the rich dwelling-place of the Wægmundings, and all the landed rights which his father before had held.

As you see, the original mæg ælfheres became Ælfhere’s line. At no point did Tolkien ever translate ælfhere into anything that was not clearly that same personal name.

For the curious, that particular text can be found on page 89 of the 2014 edition of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien (posthumous), which was edited and published by his son Christopher. The original translation work was done a century ago sometime over the years 1920–1926.


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