Yesterday we turned our attention to Emmett, an earnest name with a link to the blockbuster flick Legally Blonde. Today’s Name of the Day also has ties to the movie.

Thanks to Jess for suggesting Holland.

The actress Holland Taylor played the stern but supportive Professor Stromwell in the fictional version of Harvard Law attended by Elle Woods, but it was hardly her first appearance on the big screen. Ms. Taylor’s career has spanned more than five decades and included time on Broadway and television, too, where she can currently be seen on Two and a Half Men. We’re unable to confirm if it was her given name at birth, but it is the only one by which she’s been known over the course of her long career.

We were about to class Holland as a girls’ name, but that’s not quite accurate. It is, first and foremost, a place name, and those make for famously gender neutral choices. Dakota, for example, ranked in the Top 200 for both boys and girls in recent years.

On the map, Holland is actually a region within the Netherlands. But it’s common – even in the country itself – to use the terms interchangeably. Holland derives from the Old Dutch for wooded land – holt land. You may also stumble across Hollant and Hollandt in the historical record; the spelling did not become standardized until after the 14th century, at least six hundred years after it was first used.

That said, not everyone with the surname Holland is Dutch. Instead, it’s often a corruption of an Anglicized version of a Gaelic surname. There are places called Holland throughout England, and some locals adopted the moniker. And yes, you will find Dutch families among the Hollands, too, but most immigrants to the US came from Ireland and England.

If you’ve driven into New York City from New Jersey, you may have taken the Holland Tunnel, named in honor of engineer Clifford Holland, one notable bearer of the name. There’s also an aristocratic British bunch of Hollands, stretching back to the 13th century, and a handful of musicians, artists, politicians, scientists and athletes.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Holland sometimes appeared in the Top 1000 name rankings for boys, but has not charted since 1912. Our best guess is that most of those boys were wearing their mother’s maiden name. We’ve met a boy Holland born around 1980; his name honored a grandmother’s surname.

And so we come to something of a wall. Holland has been used sparingly throughout history as a given name for children of both genders. Among the general population, it’s more likely that Holland will be a boy than a girl. But given the nickname option of Holly, we’re tempted to call this a more likely choice for a daughter.

Some might even suggest that it’s a clever way of honoring one’s Dutch heritage. But considering the rich options in use in the Netherlands today – Saskia, Sanne and Marit for girls; Bram, Jasper and Thijs for boys – it’s far from the only way to nod to an ancestor from the land of windmills and tulips.

It’s simple, straightforward and exceedingly rare. It’s also genuinely gender neutral. And yet, while we love the sound and feel of this name, we wonder if it is best reserved for the middle spot or for families with a Holland already hanging on their tree. Then again, it certainly trumps the similar Brooklyn and Madison as a given name for a girl, so we’d be pleased to meet a small Holland – of either gender!

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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  1. In 2005, we named our youngest daughter Holland. It was never shortened to Holly. We might call her Holl (pronounced like “Hall”) on occasion. We’ve loved her name and she does, too. It was a great name for a little girl and has transitioned beautifully to her teenage years. We often get compliments on her name and know of three other little Holland’s named in response to her name, It’s also a name, although still rare, that’s leaping up the charts.

    1. We have a baby boy Holland due this September 2020! It was originally on my list for girl options but I decided it felt right for baby boy.

      1. Congrats! I had a (male) co-worker named Holland when I was in college. The only one I’ve ever known! So I have no trouble seeing it on a boy.

  2. Hi, very interesting article. I am a guy, born in the Caribbean and my first name is Holland. It is also extremely rare here as well. In my opinion it is a great name and a great ice breaker for a conversation as well. Most people I have spoken to believe it is a boy’s name, but I guess I am the only person with the name that they ever met, so they are a little bias. Keep up the good work.