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What does elope mean?

I bet if you were to ask your parents what the word “elope” means to them, they may mention something about running away in the middle of the night to get married in secret. I know mine would because my mom actually did that. She was almost 18 and she and my father ran away to Winnemucca, Washington (of all places) to tie the knot. They got caught before they could make it to the courthouse and ended up having a wedding at home a few months later. So it goes.

Origin of eloping

Merriam-Webster says that the earliest meaning of elope was “to escape.” By the 17th century the term elope held a very specific definition: to run away with a romantic interest. Apparently there were many women who were leaving their husbands for their lovers at this time in history. This is where that underlying element of shame and secrecy gets planted into the term.

Then there was the infamous Gretna Green marriages of the late 1700s. In 1754, “The Marriage Act” was passed in England. This act kept men from marrying out of their social class so, young men of a certain stature would travel into Scotland to elope with their true love who happened to be of a lower class. The law also kept anyone from under 21 marrying without parental consent. Children as young as 12 were galloping into Gretna to say “I do.”


During the Great Depression elopements increased because there just simply wasn’t money or resources to throw a lavish wedding and reception. Elopements were practical. Around this same time the term shotgun wedding was coined; an emergency wedding occasioned by a premarital pregnancy. If you were having a shotgun wedding, you better believe the town knew your business and was judging you for it!


Eloping Today

Thankfully, the definition of eloping has evolved into something new and it’s making a come-back. It’s almost synonymous with “destination wedding.” Fewer guests, less stress and expenses. People are eloping for a myriad of reasons. The main reason is to save money. Eloping is much more affordable than throwing a $25,576 party. Yes, you read that right. According to the average wedding cost for 2017 was $25,576. That’s a new car or a downpayment on a house. That’s college tuition!

The other big reasons folks are eloping more and more is because they want their big day to be about their love and commitment. It’s difficult to remember the deep meaning of a wedding when you are stressed out, spending thousands, coordinating flowers, music, food, decorations, etc. The meaning gets lost. When you simplify your ceremony you allow space to remember what makes getting married so special; the love between you and your partner. It’s a call to action to get back to the basics but, feel free to leave all that shame and guilt in the past where it belongs! Let’s celebrate your elopement!


Article written by Nicole

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