Vale is an English word meaning “valley” which comes from Old French val via Latin vallis (valley, vale) which derives from an unknown origin, although it’s been linked to a PIE root word. Vale is chiefly used as a poetic word for valley, which refers to a tract of land lying between two hill ranges sometimes with a river running through it. Vale is also a Latin word meaning “farewell”; it’s found in the Latin phrase ave atque vale meaning “hail and farewell”. Vale also refers to mortal life on earth; the expession this vale of tears refers to the world and the sorrows felt through life.
As a surname, Vale is a topographical name for someone who lived near a valley.
Spelled Vail, it could be tied back to Old French val (valley) which would make it a variant spelling of Vale. However, Vail has several possible meanings:
- it’s an obsolete English word meaning “profit, advantage, proceeds” via Old French valoir (to have value; to be worth) which comes from Latin valere (to be strong) ultimately derived from PIE *h₂welh₁- (to rule; strong, powerful);
- Vail is also an aphetic variant of avail meaning “to be of use, of value” also from Latin valere (to be worth);
- it’s also been used as an archaic word for veil which refers to a piece of material used to hide or protect something from view.
As a surname Vail has several possible origins:
- Vail could be derived from Old French veel meaning “calf”, a surname derived as an occupational name for someone who took care of calves or a nickname for someone who resembled a calf, or possessed characteristics of the animal;
- another possible origin is from Old French veille from de la veille meaning “of the watch, watchman” via Latin vigilia (watch, vigil; wakefulness), an occupational name for a watchman;
- Vail could also have originated as a nickname an older sibling or an older person from Old French viele meaning “old”;
- it could also be a shortened form of Mcvail/MacVail, a variant spelling of MacPhail which is the anglicized form of Gaelic MacPhàil meaning “son of Paul”, Paul a male given name meaning “small” or “humble”.
- Vayle (English)
- Veil (English)