Baby Name of the Day: Gillian

latin letter "g"

Image via Wikipedia

She’s a medieval spin on the evergreen Julia, a name that first found favor in the 20th century.

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Gillian as our Baby Name of the Day.

Name enthusiasts often insist on correct spellings, but that’s a slippery prospect.  Standardized spellings are a relatively recent phenomenon, and most names with a long history of use will have more than one valid variant over the centuries.

Julian appears in the historical record as both a feminine and masculine name – the fourteenth-century equivalent of Peyton.  But it appears that the vernacular forms evolved differently for boys and girls.  Boys became Jolyon; girls became Gillian.

Plenty of other versions were in use, too.  There’s Julitta and Juliote, Giliane, Jillian, and Gillie.  Some of those are diminutives; others, just the way the name was written down, based on dozens of variables.

Names related to Julian have an enduring history of use.  Nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill” suggests that Jill would’ve been in use in the 1700s.  But Jill, Gillian, and company were all rediscovered in the twentieth century.

Gillian appeared in the US Top 1000 only in these years:

  • 1968/1969
  • 1972/1973
  • 1977-1992
  • 1995-2008

Spelled with a J, she has a far better record, debuting in 1976 at #620; leaping to #236 a year later; and peaking at #96 in 1982. She’s bounced around in the Top 200 ever since, ranking #157 in 2009.

As for Jill, she debuted in the Top 1000 in 1929, climbing quickly to rank in the Top 100 from 1958 to 1983.  But she fell fast, leaving the rankings after 2000.

There’s no shortage of actresses answering to the name:

  • Jill Balcon is better known for her midcentury work on the stage – and for being the mother of Daniel Day-Lewis;
  • Jill St. John was a Bond girl in Diamonds are Forever;
  • Jill Eikenberry launched another baby name – the surname of her character, Ann Kelsey, on L.A. Law from 1986-1994;
  • There’s also two-time Oscar-nominee Jill Clayburgh;
  • R&B singer-turned-actress Jill Scott;
  • Law & Order alum/Crossing Jordan star Jill Hennessy was born Jillian.

That leads us to famous women named Jillian.  The highest profile figure right now might be The Biggest Loser’s no-nonsense trainer Jillian Michaels.

And then there’s the Emmy-winning Gillian Anderson, better known as Special Agent Dana Scully, the skeptical partner to Fox Mulder on long-running series The X-Files.  There’s also Eastenders alum Gillian Taylforth.

I can’t help think that Jill would be surprising and friendly today, a sister for Kate, Jane or Claire, but far less common than either.  She’d be lone Jill amongst the oceans of boys answering to Jack.  And Gillian seems vaguely brainy – possibly because of the lasting impact of Anderson’s character.  All three of the names feel more wearable than worn out, making them good options for parents who don’t want their daughter to be another Emma, but still want a familiar name.

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I much prefer Gillian as it lends itself the possibility of the nickname Gigi, whereas Jillian has only dull, dated Jill to fall back on.

I actually know 2 Gillians (one in her 30’s, one 3 or 4) and they both pronounce the name with the hard ‘G.’ I thought I read in some baby name book or another that the hard ‘G’ is more common in Britain? No?

I like it spelled Jillian, but with Gillian I have this unprecedented urge to pronounce it like the gills of a fish 🙁 And, like Charmaine mentioned above, it reminds me strongly of Gilligan — thus a boys’ name.

Gillian Foster is the lead female character on FOX’s “Lie to Me.” (Played by Kelli Williams.) She’s a brillant psychologist and an expert in lie-detection, but also very kind and warm-hearted. I love the show and her character, and funnily enough, have also come to love the name. I can’t say it’s in my top 10, but it’s definitely grown on me.

And here’s another thought. She’s Dr. Foster professionally, Gillian to her friends, and Gill is an occasional term of endearment. I’m not a huge fan of Jill/Gill, but it works on the show. Perhaps it’s because it has a lovely lilt when British actor Tim Roth calls her that.

Meh. It’s ok. However, Jill sends it hurtling into Blechville.

I do like the idea of Julian for a girl over a boy. But, like with Ruby, Hazel, Willow and Ivy (once used on boys too), I couldn’t bring myself to do it in this day and age. For a first name that is. Too far gone.

Julian was Julianne Moore’s character in the bleak 2006 scifi flick Children of Men. I haven’t read the original novel, but the movie was just gut-wrenching. And yet, I do like Julian on a girl – and her character (at least in the movie) was admirable.

Hey, I’ve threatened to use Huxley, so maybe dystopian literature isn’t such a strange place to find inspiration for baby names.

No, actually, it is.

But it isn’t any worse than, say, choosing a name from the most recent round of American Idol contestants.

After graduating from drama school in the 90’s, I briefly considered changing my name to Gillian I never really felt like a Gillian, but it seemed like a more grown-up version of my given name and I liked the playfulness of Gillie. Oh well, that was another place and another life… I still like Gillian, but I’m not egotistical enough to name my child a variant of my name.

(Now it seems really random, but I was also considering Bailey, Quinn and Julitta.)

I have a new neighbor from Turkey. Her name is – roughly – Julide. (ju LEH dee, I think.) It is really growing on me, as are all of the Julitta-esque names.
A bit too frilly for me to use, but Medieval frilly, not Victorian frilly. That intrigues me.

How is it that I adore Gillian yet don’t particularly care about Jill? I’m going to spend the rest of the day trying to puzzle that one out.

In 1996 the movie _To Gillian on her 37th Birthday_ came out. It starred Michelle Pfeiffer as the dead Gillian Lewis and might have done a little something to give the name a boost.

D’oh! I completely forgot.

For what it is worth, I liked Amy – the name I discarded – better after I wrote about it.

I think Gillian got a bit of a boost in the US during the X-Files years, but as soon as the show went off the air the name’s popularity began to wane again. The beautiful Jill Hennessy was also on Law & Order around that time. Makes me wonder how many people expecting a baby decide on the name while watching a favourite TV series or movie! We just met a couple who decided to name their baby Quentin after watching Inglourious Basterds.

I think Gillian and Jill have a glamorous vibe to them, though I find Jill sounds a little abrupt.

Gillian is more like a masculine name to me because it makes me think of the TV show, Gilligan’s Island. I realize Gilligan is spelled differently, but still, Gillian is masculine to me.

I have always loved Jill. Beautiful and short name. 😀

Was there ever a difference in pronunciation? Like a glottal G instead of a J? I swear I heard GILL-ee-an on someone in the past. What about Gilliam? I thought I’d heard that one before, too – again, pronounced with that gill- sound, not jill-.

Jillian seems a bit outdated to me, like Jacqueline. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gillian came back.

Also, Jill makes me think of the mom on Home Improvement.

In high school I knew a Gillian who insisted on the “Gil” sound at the beginning… but she also had a tendency to call a lot of other people by names that were not actually their names, so I have no idea what her mother’s original intentions were. She’s the only one I’ve met to pronounce it that way.

I’m not sure, Photoquilty. In German, names like Angela and Gisela have a hard g. I’ve found Gillian on a German baby name site:, but there’s no note on pronunciation. (And I’m not clear if this is a list of names that have been used in Germany, could be used in Germany, or might run afoul of the Vital Statistics office, but no one has asked …)

I’ve heard of Gillians who seem to prefer the hard G, like folk singer Gillian Welch: – even though she must be American.

It might be as simple as parents seeing Gillian in the baby name book and assuming it is a G, and so another pronunciation comes into use.

BUT Gilliam is a surname derived from William, via the French Guillaume, so I suspect there’s more to the story, and we’d find GILL ee ans and JILL ee ans over the centuries among English speakers. Are you thinking of Terry Gilliam? I think the surname is pretty common – and kind of cool.

There was a female contestant of some MTV dating show back in the 1990s named Gilliam. I just didn’t want to announce where I’d first heard it. Because it’s kind of embarassing that I would a) watch that junk, and b) have been collecting names (and remembering them) when I was in my teens. 🙂