Some names just scream regal. Today’s choice has been worn by queens aplenty and sounds quite lofty – maybe too lofty for a child. But when you consider all the darling diminutives associated with this mouthful of a moniker, the list may make you say, “Hmmm … maybe it could work for a daughter.”
Thanks to Lola for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Wilhelmina.
William is as classic as it gets. And while the name is sometimes feminized as Williamina or Williamette, the most enduring version is a twist on the Germanic Wilhelm. She shares her male counterpart’s etymological origins – wil means desire or will and helma means helmet or protection. If you trace the evolution of the name backwards, we find Willaume in Norman England; Guillaume in France and before that, Willahelm in Old High German.
Wilhelmina remains more common in German and Dutch than in England. Among royal bearers, one was queen regnant of the Netherlands throughout the early 20th century, leading her country through both World Wars and serving as a key figure in the Dutch Resistance to the Nazis. Most accounts paint her as smart and iron-willed – a worthy inspiration for a child’s name.
Toss in a trio of Danish princesses, a pair of Prussian nobles and an Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and this name sounds fit for ermine indeed.
Fortunately, the list of possible nicknames is extensive:
- The boyish Billie would suit a tomboy;
- The simple and flexible Wil;
- The sophisticated Mina – worn most famously by Wilhelmina “Mina” Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula – also spelled Minna;
- The equally feminine but slightly more homespun Willa;
- Spunky Minnie, which actress and mama-to-be Minnie Driver has rescued from animated mouse purgatory;
- French-tinged Mimi and Minette;
- Prehistoric Wilma – the #1 name in Sweden last year!
While Billie Holiday was born Eleanora, Wilhelmina Holladay is a well known philanthropist and co-founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
But the Wilhelmina most visible these days is a fictional character portrayed by Vanessa Williams on Ugly Betty. She’s the scheming editor-in-chief (for the moment) of MODE Magazine. The character shares her name with real-life mononymous supermodel Wilhelmina, founder of Wilhelmina Models. They also share yet another possible nickname – Willy.
Circa 1880, this was a reasonably common choice, but she faded fast in the 20th century, dropping from #309 in 1900 to #459 in 1925 and plummeting to #784 in 1950. Five years later, she was out of the rankings for good.
Wilhelmina presents an opportunity for parents to go a bit farther than the equally classic, but far more common Elizabeth, Margaret, Caroline or Charlotte – and even farther than Josephine, Beatrice, Henrietta, Adelaide or Augusta. It’s daring without being at all invented or forced.
After all, with a host of possible nicknames, Wilhelmina could be anything – from a tomboy to a fashionista, a princess to a rocket scientist. It’s a stylish, interesting choice, and one that your little Billie/Willa/Minnie won’t have to share with others.