I’ve just returned from a fascinating weekend course devoted to Old English language and literature, which has given me plenty of material to keep this blog going for a while. One thing I learnt was why so many Anglo-Saxon kings, queens and nobles’ names began Alf or Ælf (such as King Alfred, or Ælfred, ‘the Great’, Ælfwald, an 8th-century king of East Anglia, Ælfric, the name of various bishops and abbots, and Ælfgifu, the English name given to Emma of Normandy (985-1052), who was the wife both of King Æthelred the Unready and of King Cnut, king of Denmark, England and Norway).
Ælf was the Old English word for ‘elf’ and the fact that the prefix began monarchs’ and leaders’ names suggests that these people were seen as supernatural (but without the mischievous connotations of fairy-tale elves – more like divine beings).
Æ, lower case æ, was a letter in the Old English alphabet. It was called ash, and pronounced like the northern English short ‘a’ sound in words such as bath and grass.
Wikipedia has an Old English version – see here.