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:
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.