While today’s Name of the Day is hard to imagine on a modern child, she has the most intriguing story.

Thanks to Holey for requesting one from her family tree. Our Name of the Day is Alwilda.

Alwilda dipped into the US top 1000 just once. In 1886 she ranked #995 – then disappeared forever. Census records confirm that Alwilda had been in steady, if infrequent, use in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the US. But even in the year she charted, a mere six girls were given the name. More girls were called Ocie, Pinkie, Hilma or Missouri.

Alwilda sounds cumbersome to our twenty-first century ears, but Mildred, Gertrude, Gladys and Bertha were big in the same era. Pronounced either al VIL dah or al WIL dah, she’s simply one of the Germanic and Norse names once perfectly appropriate for a daughter, and today generally reserved for warrior maidens in role playing games.

Originally, the name would’ve been closer to Alfhild, and comes from the Norse elements alfr – elf – and hildr – battle. Others contend that the name refers to Alfheim, the mythological home of the elves, and means something more like elf princess – but we’re quite wary of those claims.

If the name and its meaning are a bit clunky and outmoded, the tales of Alwilda are fascinating.

Before Anne Bonny and way before Elizabeth Swann, story has it that Alwilda was a daring female pirate.

According to legend, Alwilda was a Scandinavian princess promised in marriage to a Danish prince. Whether she objected to the idea of marriage, the prince himself or simply disliked being used as a political pawn, Alwilda and her ladies dressed as sailors, commandeered a ship and sailed off into the Baltic where they encountered a band of pirates. Against all odds, Alwilda ended up captain of their ship, too, and they went off on their way, looting and pillaging.

Something had to be done about the brigands, and so a prince was dispatched to hunt them down – the very same fellow Alwilda had left at the altar. Impressed by her suitor’s bravery, Alwilda revealed her identity, and they lived happily ever after.

It reads like a Harlequin romance, but we like the idea of the princess as hero of her own life story. Chances are that it’s not true – or certainly not very true – especially as the story can’t be dated.

There’s a second tale placing Princess Alwilda under the watchful eye of two dragons. When a prince finally slays the fire-breathing beasts, she escapes dressed as a soldier. She later meets her suitor on the battlefield, and when he defeats her, she agrees to become his wife.

Either way, Alwilda has a story to match her gutsy, capable name. It is a bit heavy as a first name, but would be intriguing in the middle spot. Or, with the nickname Allie or Willa, it might work just fine as a given name, too.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. My grandmother’s first name was Alwilda. Back in the 70’s no one would let me give that name to my girls. . The name Alwilda and the stories here fit my grandmother to a T. She was feisty and spunky and I loved her dearly.

  2. My mothers’ maternal sister in law, Victoria Alwilda and her husband, adopted my mother in the 1940’s. My maternal grandmother died of TB in 1936, and her Aunt and Uncle( mentioned above) , then became our grandparents. Victoria Alwilda and I wrote many letters , til her Death in 1975. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I cherish the papers and references she used to trace our family history. Miss my grandparents and there memory lives on!!

  3. My grandmother’s middle name was Alwilda and so is mine. It is so interesting to read all these stories!

  4. Alwilda Hardie is in my family tree which is what lead me to your page. She was called Wilda and we do have Scandinavian and Norwegian in our bloodline. I was intrigued by the name but would not use it. Another A name that I would consider from our family tree is Ambrosine and Ambrosina as a second name.

  5. My grandmother’s name was Wilda (apparently named after a neighbor), and I can see that name as being a descendant of Alwilda. Way over on the other side of my family tree there’s an Alluilda as well. I wonder if it’s derived from the same roots, seems plausible to me.

  6. My great grandmother was named Alwilda and the origin of the name has remained a mystery. It was popular in the 1840s and 1850s when she was born, but her parents were conservative religious people from Ohio and I’ve never understood why she should be named after a daring pirate lady, if the legend is true. It seems more likely she was named after a popular literary or religious heroine of the day, but who?

    1. Terry, that’s fascinating. One more thing to consider: her parents may have known someone named Alwilda, and the name could honor a close family friend, or a relative who has yet to appear on your family tree. It is also possible that the name didn’t seem unusual to your parents. The farther back we go, the more likely to see sisters with names like Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Isannah. (Along with Frances, Lucy, and Harriet, they’re daughters of Paul Revere.) Often the younger kids have more adventurous names, but sometimes I think we just misunderstand how a name would be perceived.

      To put it another way: if you named your daughter Cordelia today it wouldn’t seem very strange. We all recognize the name. But she’s pretty rare, and maybe in a few more centuries, she’ll stand out like Alwilda.

  7. Yep, everything about this name is cool (elf battle! female pirate!) except for the actual sound of it, though it might grow on me. I felt the way most people do about the name Bertha until one of L. M. Montgomery’s characters referred to it as a beautiful name, and then I started to see it in a different light. Maybe someday the sounds of Alwilda (or even Aelfhild?) will become fashionable again…

  8. Interesting! Alwilda is intriguing. If it hung in my familt tree, I’d definitely find a place in the middle for it. I really like Willa as a possible nickname but not enough to use Alwilda as a first name. This definitely ranks up there as “wow, that’s a mighty interesting family name you got there!” 😀