The words for "fairy" in Spain and Italy were fada and fata, respectively, and these seem to have been derived from the Latin fatum or "fate", in recognition of the skill fairies had in predicting and even controlling human destiny. In France, however, the similar word fee came from the Latin fatare via the Old French feer, meaning "to enchant". Feer referred to the fairies ability to alter the world that human's saw - to cast a spell over human vision. From feer came not only fee but the English word, "Faerie", which encompassed both the art of enchantment and the whole realm in which fairies had their being. "Fairy" and "fay" - other derivatives of the parent word - referred only to the individual creatures.

The other common English term for an individual fairy was "elf", and this came derived not from Latin but from the Nordic and Teutonic languages, reaching England with invasion from the continent. In Scandinavia, the word for "elves" was alfar, which - appropriately, since fairies were tied to the things of the earth - had to do with mountains and water.