Back in 1984, no one was named Madison. Allison, Isabella, Jayden – they were all once obscure.
Could this name join those appellations at the height of popularity someday? Thanks to Jess for suggesting Romilly as our Baby Name of the Day.
Romilly sounds like a contraction of a compound name formed by Rose and Millicent, but that’s not the case. Instead, it is originally a surname and place name. You can visit Romilly-sur-Seine, Romilly-sur-Aigre, or even Romilly in Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. All the Romillys on record appear to be modest places, perhaps less likely to inspire a child’s name in the way that a better known place like Savannah or Odessa might.
Some link Romilly to Rome, or to Romulus, the City’s co-founder. There’s also the Old English romen, which we now know as the verb to roam, which might also refer idea of pilgrimages to the holy city. But that doesn’t quite track back to France in the right era. The most likely theory is that a property owner called Romilius inspired the place names.
Romilly traveled to England with the Normans in 1066, and there is an Alice de Romilly in the twelfth century historical record. She’s the daughter of Robert De Rumilly, born at Gernon Castle in Normandy. Along with sisters Cecily and Lucy, Alice was a wealthy heiress. When her son drowned, Alice made a sizable donation to establish Bolton Priory. (Her name is also recorded as de Romille.) William Wordsworth’s poem “The Force of Prayer,” written several centuries later, is about the tragic incident, and refers to “young Romilly.”
Another source of the surname is England is suggested here: an Etienne Romilly fled religious persecution in France in the early 1700s, and settled in England.
Etienne’s grandson, Samuel Romilly, put their surname on the map. A legal reformer known for limiting capital punishment, he was also the father of seven children. His second-born son also entered politics and became the first Baron Romilly in 1866.
Esmond Romilly married one of the famous Mitford socialite sisters; his brother Giles was a journalist imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II. They were cousins by marriage to Winston Churchill – their aunt Clementine was his wife.
Romilly has been in sparing use as a given name over the years. Many aristocratic surnames came into use, and Wordsworth’s poem may have helped, too. Twentieth century artist Augustus John gave the name to a son, who later had a successful career in the Royal Air Force. But John’s kids had quite the collection of names: Amaryllis, Tristan, Poppet, and Gwyneth and he was a bohemian artist, unconventional in all ways.
In 1999, Emma Thompson named her daughter Gaia Romilly, and the name started to attract more attention. But it has always been in very quiet and sparing use. British newscaster Romilly Weeks is another notable bearer.
Girls named Romilly are slightly more common in the UK, but she’s still amazingly rare in the US. Not only is she not in the Top 1000, fewer than five girls were given the name in 2010. Despite her popularity in the baby name ‘verse, there just aren’t many children wearing the name.
But it strikes me that Romilly has all the makings of a stylish choice – the long o, the double l, the three-syllable, ends-in-y form of many a popular pick, from Dorothy to Kimberly to Mackenzie. As Isadora wrote “all it will take is a new Glee character named Romilly …” and bam! This name could take off.