Across the whole Anglo-Saxon period, Æthelræd was one of the commoner masculine OE names, formed from the elements æðel (‘noble, famous’) and ræd (‘counsel, wisdom’). As many as sixty-seven Æthelræds are currently recorded in PASE (Æthelred 1–68 (with gaps), Æthelred Mucel 1). What had once been a popular name, however, fell sharply in usage from the time of the notoriously ill-advised (unræd) Æthelræd II (978–1016) (Æthelred 32). No more than a handful of Æthelræds are recorded after c. 1000 (Æthelred 35–37, 49–50), only two of whom were likely born during or after the disasters of Æthelræd II’s reign. DB adds only seven more Æthelræds as landowners in 1066 or 1086.
The last two pre-Conquest Æthelræds before DB were both based in east Kent: a thegn of Edward the Confessor to whom the king gave a small estate on the coast near Dover in the early 1040s (Æthelred 38), and one of two brothers who received a lease of land from the abbot of St Augustine’s in the 1060s (Æthelred 39). A slightly earlier namesake was also a man of Kent, the port-reeve of Canterbury c. 1000 (Æthelred 36), presumably identical with the thegn of Æthelræd II to whom the king leased land in and near Canterbury around the same time (Æthelred 35). Four more of the handful of Æthelræds named in DB were also landowners in Kent.
The declining fortunes of the name were reversed in Scotland when it was introduced there by Æthelræd II’s great-granddaughter Margaret after her marriage to Malcolm III in 1069 or 1070. The couple, intent in the 1070s on staking a claim to the English kingdom against William I, named their first four sons by working backwards through Margaret’s paternal family, giving them the names of her father Edward the ætheling, grandfather Edmund Ironside, great-grandfather Æthelræd II, and great-great-grandfather King Edgar (Duncan 2002: 346–7). The name thus came to have some currency among the Scottish nobility (PoMS: Ethelred), and more famously was used in a prominent northern English family, the hereditary priests of Hexham (Northumb.), in the naming of Ailred (= Æthelræd), later abbot of Rievaulx, born in 1100 when Edgar was king of Scots (ODNB). A handful of twelfth-century (Northumbian?) Æthelræds were commemorate at Durham (LVD: II, 87). Elsewhere in England, the name seems barely to have been used in the twelfth century (e.g. only one example in Pleas, 1198–1212: III, no. 1919).
In DB the name Æthelræd was rarely if ever confused with Alfred (Ælfræd), Eadræd, or Ealdræd. Alfred, a name used in Normandy and Brittany, always appears in DB in its Continental spelling as Alured (pronounced /Alvred/). Eadræd seems always to be rendered Edred, while the commoner name Ealdræd retains the diagnostic –ld– in all the variant spellings (Ald–, Æld–, and Eld–; –red and –ret), Eldred being much the commonest.
Æthelræd, however, appears in DB in a bewildering variety of spellings, partly because the way the first element was spoken was clearly changing in the mid eleventh century. The two references to the old king both employ a traditional Latinized spelling, Adelredus, where the first –d– stands for –ð– (Glos. 12:1; Salop. 4.1:12), but that spelling was not used for any other bearer of the name. Spellings in Agelred (Kent) and Ailred (Warws.) most closely reflect the pronunciation /Ailred/.
DLV: The Durham Liber Vitae. London, British Library, MS Cotton Domitian A.VII: Edition and Digital Facsimile with Introduction, Codicological, Prosopographical and Linguistic Commentary, and Indexes, ed. D. W. Rollason and L. Rollason, 3 vols. (London: British Library, 2007)
Duncan 2002: A. A. M. Duncan, The Kingship of the Scots, 842–1292: Succession and Independence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002)
ODNB: On-line Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Pleas, 1198–1212: Pleas before the King or his Justices, 1198–1212, ed. Doris Mary Stenton, 4 vols, Selden Society 67–8 and 83–4 (for 1948, 1949, 1966, and 1967)
PoMS: Paradox of Medieval Scotland, 1093–1286, currently at http://www.poms.ac.uk
S: P. H. Sawyer, Anglo-Saxon Charters: An Annotated List and Bibliography, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks 8 (London, 1968), revised by S. Kelly, R. Rushforth et al., The Electronic Sawyer: Online Catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Charters, published online through Kemble: The Anglo-Saxon Charters Website, currently at http://www.esawyer.org.uk/about/index.html
Spellings in Domesday Book: Adelredus, Adret, Agelred, Ailred, Aldret, Alret, Aret, Edred(us), Eldred
Spellings in Exon: Adredus, Adretus
Spellings in IG: Aderet
Spellings in IA: Elred
Forms in modern scholarship:
von Feilitzen head forms: Æðelræd; Al-ræd, Altet
Phillimore edition: Aelred (Kent 5:121, 170; Warws.), Aethelred (Kent 5:51, 11:1), Aldred (Devon), Alfred (Kent D:25, M:8, 11:2), Altet (Kent 5:190), Edred (Som.)
Alecto edition: Æthelræd (mostly), Ætherlæd (once in Devon, a typographical error), Alfred (Kent M:8), Alræd (Kent 5:121, 170), Altet (Kent 5:190)