Name of the Day: Holland

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!

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13 Comments

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.

I’m from a small town in western NY called Holland, named for the Holland Land Co. that “settled” the area. I don’t think I could use this as a name, even though Holt is a family name.

My 2 year old daughter is Holland Ray. She’s darling and the name fits her so well. I have no intention of calling her Holly. My older daughter nicknamed her ‘Lulu’ when I was pregnant (as she couldn’t say Holland). I think it is beautifully feminine and unique! 🙂

My daughter is also Holland, and I’m annoyed when people try to shorten it to “Holly.” I love the name, and picked it more for it’s surname qualities than a place name. Good choice mama!!!

My first name is actually Holland! I’m not sure if it was to honor family or if they just thought they were being creative and original but I’ve always gone by Holly. I’ve never met another person with Holland as a first name, but a friend of mine has a younger sister named Hollyn. It was always very confusing whenever I was over at their house.

LOL, Another I live about 30 minutes from Annapolis, and my youngest sister acquired her blue tick hound while we were on vacation in Charleston! (And had to fly him back to LA, where he was really quite the unusual breed.) She intended to call him Charleston, but it never did stick.

Hey, I said “etc.” I wasn’t forgetting the rest, just didn’t feel like taking up the entire page with a list of Whedon characters.
By the way, I popularized the name Brooklyn nearly 8 years ago when I bought a cocker spaniel puppy and named her Brooklyn, after my hometown. I was living in Charleston at the time, and had fond feelings about home and thought it was a GREAT name – for a dog. Every time people ask about Brooklyn, or worse: Brooklynn, I tell the tale (tail? haha) of purchasing a puppy and naming her Brooklyn. My other dog is Annapolis. We LOVE place names – FOR PETS.

Another, let’s not forget Cordelia, Harmony, Anya, Malcolm, Inara, River (for a girl) and Shepherd (though that’s a title, not a first name). There’s little doubt that Joss Whedon and company are among the most interesting namers on television. I’d always heard the rule was that one of your characters could have a “stand out” name, but the rest had to blend in.

I have a couple of posts planned about names used on new TV series. Rumor has it there’s a new Joss Whedon show headed our way, and he’s calling the lead character Echo. Interesting! Assuming this actually debuts, you’re right – there’s a rich post there.

Lola, I love Clare for Clarence. Clare is a family name for us, and I’d suggested using it as a middle name if our second child was a boy. My husband wasn’t too keen on that. And I love Maggie for Magnus – wasn’t that a minor character’s nickname in the Will Smith movie Hitch?

DirtyHippy, my fave places names are Georgia and India, so I suppose I’m with you on the feminine sounding choices. Brooklyn’s a fabulous place to live, but I can’t imagine choosing the name for a child. Someone on a forum recently claimed that they were naming their daughter Breukelen, like the Dutch town that inspired the borough’s name. I really, really hope that was more flight of fancy than actual plan.

Holland is not for me. I see HolLAND and think, well, that’s the name of some land not a person. Now, if it were HolGIRL . . . just kidding.

I really do like some place names but usually it’s the ones that are tied to people (Virginia, Helena, Augusta) and have a more feminine feel. But I will wholeheartedly agree with AM that Holland beats the pants off of Brooklyn or Madison any day.

Here’s a masculine usage:
Sam Anderson, otherwise known as Principal DeWitt on Growing Pains, played the evil Holland Manners on Angel in several guest spots. Until then, I had only known of the feminine usage (Holland Taylor) and was surprised to see it as a guy’s name. Of course, Joss Whedon gives people surprising names: On Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel there was Lindsey (boy), Willow, Buffy, Xander, Angel, Drusilla, etc. Plenty of oddities. you might do an article on the names of Joss Whedon’s universe…if you were so inclined.

Holland’s not my cup of tea, personally but I don’t mind it. I know one, actually. Her Chinese parents thought they were being worldly giving her the moniker. She laughs at them, they cannot say her name (she’s Horand to them!) Makes me giggle too. Horry as a nickname. Drives her mad.
But I do like it’s crisp, handsome sound. Based on sound alone, I’d classify this boy. Holly makes me think girl. Either way, it’s an attractive sound, interesting look. I’m just glad my parents didn’t choose it! 😀 unisex names are so not for me. I like folks knowing up front what’s expected. At best, you’ll find a girly nickname on one of my boys. Maggie (for Magnus), Cass (for Casimir, Cassius & Caspar) and Clare (for Clarence) are all on my list for another boy this time around.