Name of the Day: Wilhelmina

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.

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14 Comments

In researching my family tree, I came across both the names Wilhelmina and Minnie. Wilhelmina went by Mina and she was from the Netherlands and Minnie was my great great grandmother who lived around the Civil War. I love Minnie as a name… it’s so cute! Mina is definitely wearable today, but Minnie is a little more unique.

I quite enjoyed reading these comments and as you can see my name is Wilhelmina. I’m 32 and Australian.

My full name is Wilhelmina Frances, ne

It’s grown on me over the years. My mother always wanted a third daughter named Wilhelmina Gretchen, which I always found really silly sounding with Katherine Elizabeth and Amelia Margaret. As I get older though, Wilhelmina sounds more manageable.

I’m quite happy at her reception myself, since she’s moving up my list swiftly. She’s been a favorite for a long while. Wilhelmina Celeste is quite light and rather lyrical, actually (at least, it is in my book!) Celeste is lovely in the middle. I keep think little & light in the middle, Wilhelmina sounds light but looks very heavy. Celeste works beautifully! I have Esme in the middle (for Great Auntie Esmeralda) and either Lilias or Violet (Grandma Elisabeth/Lily always wanted to be Lilias) So
Wilhelmina Esme Lilias
Wilhelmina Esme Violet

I’m partial to Wilhelmina Esme Lilias because of Grandma but admit the combo is rather ‘L’ heavy overall. And Wilhelmina Esme Violet is just terribly elegant to me. I can’t decide myself. Which would you use?

I’m happily surprised that WIlhelmina got such a warm reception! I was posting from my mother’s house and her reaction was “Wilhelmina? Blech!” But then, my mother has a long, rather unusual given name that doesn’t suit her. Me? I’d love to be a Wilhelmina.

Lola, what do you think of Wilhelmina Celeste? It keeps popping into my head. It is always tough to find middles for a 4-syllable first name, but there are plenty of girls out there called Alexandra and Isabella, so I’m sure the right combo is out there. And Josephine and Wilhelmina make for a great sibset!

Wilhelmina is really warming up to me. And the nicknames are darling (I would use Willa, but Mina and Minnie are sweet as well). For middle names, Lola, all I can say is stick a shorter name up next to it. But I’m sure you already though of that!

Katharine- I have fond memories for Enid Blyton, too. My dad is from South Africa, and he always read the Famous Five to me. Isn’t it funny how there is always a tomboy among her characters? (George, Bill)

Wilhelmina isn’t one of those names that I instantly love but I can see how she would grow on me. I love Mina and Minnie as nicknames and the full name is very regal and uncommon which is very appealing. I’d love to meet a little Wilhelmina but I’m not sure she’d be the one for me.

I like Wilhelmina too. It’s kind of feminine and severe all at the same time. I’d describe it as witchy—in a good way. I also like the plethora of nicknames available because they make the name so versatile.

W names are a no go with our last name, otherwise I’d put this one into serious contention. Nothing like an underused classic to make a really classy name.

Mia, I remember that clip, but I saw it on “Electric Company” when I was about 5 or 6. I can still picture little W-W-W- Wilhelmina! (there was a lot of cartoon crossover bewteen Sesame Street & Electric Company back then). I think that’s what first put Wilhelmina on my radar too, now that I think of it. (Dracula comes in a close second though, I was 7 or 8 when I first read that!)
Wilhelmina’s a real winner for me, based on sound alone! Funny how William gets short shifted by me. He’d never be a first name for me, middle only. Far too popular for me. Wilhelmina’s familiar to many but completely obscure, ranking wise. I LOVE that! 😀

Wilhelmina is on my list these days. It’s only recently that I’ve started thinking of it as really usable. Mina is my favorite nickname for it.

I’ve thought it was a fun name to say since I was a kid. There was a little animated Sesame Street segment about the letter ‘W’ with a little girl enthusiastically repeating her name, “W-W-W-Wilhelmina!”

Well she’s definately my cup of tea Lola! 🙂 I’ve liked her ever since I started reading the Enid Blyton series Malory Towers in which there was a wickedly cool tomboy character called Wilhelmina (shortened to Bill). Plus, she has endless nickname oppurtunities as stated above and would be a great way to honour a William…

I’m going to have a little think about middle names and get back to you…

Thank You! 😀 Willy was also the character name of Kate Capshaw in “Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom” She was Wilhelmina ‘Willie’ Scott. Brought the nme to my attention but simeltaneously nearly ruined it for me too.
Mina remains my nickname of choice for Wilhelmina, BIG Dracula fans are we. (The orginal Nosferatu still gives me the creeps!) I also don’t mind Willa, Mimi & Minnie. Which is a good sign for me. Liking multiple nicknames from a single name is usally a green light from my subconsious to consider a name. But there’s one problem with Wilhelmina that I can’t seem to get past: She’s very hard to pair with middles! We do double middles and she’s so long that other names seem to just blur next to her. They end up unnoticed. *sigh* I adore Wilhelmina (almost named Josephine, Wilhelmina) but if I can’t find decent middles for her, she’s staying off the list. And that’ll make me cry. 🙁 If anyone has suggestions, feel free to throw them at me, I’m really stuck here!

I can’t imagine Wilhelmina’s going to be many people’s cup of tea Thanks to her look but I’m hoping she’s not going to be univerally hated thanks to that nasty “Ugly Betty” Character. (I’ve never watched the show, she can’t ruin it for me!) And even maybe some will like her light and airy sound! 😀