She’s rare, and yet she’s the real thing.

Thanks to Emma for suggesting Dilys as Name of the Day.

Dilys has never ranked in the US Top 1000. Name a daughter Dilys in 2009, and odds are you’ll be repeating, spelling and explaining her name forevermore.

That’s not such a bad thing, though. Dilys has much to recommend her. First off, she has a lovely meaning – genuine.

Dilys Cadwaladr wore the name in the early 20th century. A celebrated Welsh poet, she was the first woman to snag the Crown of the Bard at the National Eisteddfod – a festival focused on literature and the arts. It gives the name the ring of a true heritage choice.

I can’t pin down the first use of Dilys, but odds are it was no earlier than 1850. Other notable bearers include:

  • After being dispatched to India as a missionary teacher in the nineteenth century, Dilys Edmunds ended up educating not only her charges, but the wider world. She wrote about Indian life for Welsh periodicals and also raised money to build schools;
  • Dilys Laye was an English actress known for her roles in the low-budget 1960s film series Carry On. Depending on your perspective, they’re either classic British comedies or a series of lamentable farces;
  • I don’t know how Dilys Powell felt about Dilys Laye’s work, but she was an English journalist and film critic at about the same time.

On the subject of pronunciation, there’s a divide. Some rhyme it with Phyllis; others put it closer to Denise – de LEES.

Dilys has an appealing literary side. Since 1992, the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association has given out their annual Dilys Awards. It’s a charming honor – rather than rewarding sales or other measures, a Dilys Award means that bookshop owners have just plain enjoyed having your book in stock. The name comes from Dilys Winn, the first speciality mystery bookshop owner in the US.

While we’re on the subject of fiction, there’s also:

  • Dilys Derwant, a former headmistress of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. While she’s gone to her reward many years before Harry’s adventures, her portrait plays a role in one of the installments;
  • In Hester Brown’s Little Lady series, heroine Melissa is sometimes assisted by her glamorous, former lounge singer grandmother, Dilys.

Despite her occasional use, Dilys does seem a bit unthinkable. It conjures up dilly-dallying, frozen treats at Dairy Queen and at least one unfortunate nickname.

Except that the two-syllable, ends-in-s construction has been in hibernation for decades. With Alice and Frances attracting more attention, it seems possible that parents might go searching for similar names.

The 1920s were kind to Phyllis, Doris, Lois, Gladys and Agnes. Eunice peaked a few years earlier; Florence, a bit later. Some seem like they might make a comeback, but even powerhouse Phyllis (she peaked at #24 in 1929 and ranked in the Top 50 from 1923 to 1949) feels a bit tired today.

Circa 2009, there are scarcely any ends-in-s choices. Alexis is the stand out, with Genesis (#189) and Paris (#289) among the few other options in the rankings.

The bottom line? For parents searching for a truly unusual sound, ends-in-s is a good bet and Dilys is an interesting option.

And as Emma pointed out, you’d have the chance to croon the Lavender’s Blue lullaby: I shall be Queen, dilly dilly.

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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