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User comments for Elvis (Meaning / History Only)
I have read that it means "wise" or "friend to elves"! lol.
I've just done some research that convinces me that the third alternative among your possibilities is the origin of this name, especially as used in the USA in the 19th and 20th centuries. Although Elvis is not really "derived from" Elwes -- they are both modern surnames which have the same origin in the medieval female given name Helwise. Figures from George Redmonds' "Christian Names in Local and Family History" show Helwise to have been used mostly in eastern England during the 1300s.
The Lieutenant of the Tower of London in King James I's reign was Gervase Helwys. Spelling was not set at this time, and his surname is spelled 12 different ways in the records -- including Elvis and Elwes. He is almost surely related to another Gervase Elwes, who was a member of Parliament in the UK in the late 1600s from Suffolk. (The actor Cary Elwes is a descendant of the second Gervase.)
In the first census of England in 1841, there are 81 people with the surname Elvis. The two oldest are William and Samuel Elvis, who lived in Woodbridge and Melton in Suffolk, towns which are only a mile apart. Suffolk is the same county Gervase Elwes represented.
Meanwhile some other Elvises had migrated to the Carolinas. There is a deed from 1784 in Horry County, SC mentioning a John Elvis. There are still people with the surname Elvis living in Horry County today.
The earliest sure example of someone with the first name Elvis I have found so far is Elvis Grisham, living in Granville County, NC in 1830 according to the US census. In the 1840 census, there are 8 heads of families with the first name Elvis, all living in or descended from parents who had lived in the Carolinas or Tennessee. The 98 Elvises in the index for the 1850 census, the first to list all Americans by name, include 3 men living in counties in northeastern Mississippi, near Tupelo where Elvis Presley was born.
So to me it's clear the derivation of Elvis is almost surely from a rare English surname that ultimately derives from Helwise. (Helwise died out in England but has since been replaced among English speakers by its modern French equivalents Heloise and Eloise.)
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