English Place-name Society

Survey of English Place-Names

A county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society, founded 1923.


Major Settlement in the Parish of Ely

Historical Forms

  • (in regione quae uocatur) Elge c.750 Bede c.1150 FW 1170 LibEl
  • elgae 8th Bede
  • (æt) Elige 673 ASC c.900
  • in þæm þeodlonde þe is geceged Elige c.1000 OEBede
  • in regione Elig 970 BCS1266
  • on Elig, into Elig 970 ib
  • Elyg 1004 KCD711 18th DB 1086
  • (on) Eligabirig c.1000 Saints
  • (to) Eligbyrig 1036 ASC 11th
  • (to) Elibyrig 1036 ASC c.1050
  • hlige c.1000 OEBede
  • (æt) Helige 673 ASC 12th
  • (æt) Helig 957 BCS999 18th
  • (into) Helig 11th KCD722 12th
  • (to) Hélig 1072 ASC 11th
  • (into) Ælig c.1000 ASWills 11th
  • ǽl ǽg c.1040 OEBede
  • Ylig 11th ASWills
  • (in) Hely c.1050 KCD885 13th LibEl 1108 RG c.1400
  • into Heli, to Heli c.1050 LibEl 12th SD c.1130 Gervase c.1260
  • (æt) Hele p.1066 KCD897 12th
  • (æt) Eli 673 ASC c.1100 P 1155–61 Cur 1203
  • (in) Ely 956 BCS1346 12th 970 18th 1086 ib
  • Ealye 1591 Depositions
  • Elley 1616 Bentham


OE  ǣl - , ēl - , 'eel-district,' as already suggested by Skeat and Ekwall. Ely is called by Bede a regio , rendered in the OE  version by þeod - lond , 'people-land,' a satisfactory translation of the rare which is found also in Surrey (PN Sr xi, 1–2), Vange and Ginges , now Margaretting, Ingatestone, etc. (PN Ess xxi, 174–5, 258–9) and in Eastry, Lyminge and Sturry (KPN 73, 25–6, 6). This archaic element early fell into disuse and was easily confused with OE  ēg , 'island,' which happens to be particularly apt topographically. As early as the 8th century etymological speculation had begun with Bede's “Est autem Elge…regio…in similitudinem insulae uel paludibus, ut diximus, circumdata uel aquis, unde et a copia anguillarum quae in eisdem paludibus capiuntur nomen accepit.” This was repeated by the Ely historian and the chroniclers with more fanciful alternatives. The former, after quoting Bede, continues “quae mutato nomine melio- rando 'Ely' nuncupatur, modo scilicet digna Dei domus, cui nomen convenit ejus; vel sicut quidam ex duobus verbis Ebraicis disserunt, 'Elge:' quoniam dicitur 'el' Deus, 'ge' terra, quod simul dei terra sonat. Digne enim insula tali signatur onomate…” Rents of eels were a fruitful source of income for the abbots and bishops of Ely.

Places in the same Parish