Quick, what’s the feminine version of William?
Wilhelmina, if you’re feeling royal. Willa, if you want something simpler and bit homespun. Willow, maybe, if you’re Hollywood royalty, or just a lover of the great outdoors.
Thanks to Christina for suggesting yet another option for today’s Name of the Day: Willia.
In the Information Age, it is easy to look up the answer to virtually any question. But imagine the year is 1832. Or 1912. Your father was called William, and you want to name your firstborn in his honor. It’s a girl! Where do you go to look up possible variants?
Few parents had a written resource available. Instead, they looked to their own family tree, the Bible, favorite stories and the like. Between 1880 and 1945, some parents simply dropped William’s final “m” and arrived at Willia. She peaked at #730 in 1928.
Census records turn up dozens of Willias. Further investigation suggests that at least some were typos. (Either that, or there were men named Nellie, Velma and Beatrice – all listed as spouses to various Willias.) But when cross-referenced with Willia’s appearance in the Social Security Administration’s database, we can assume that while she was uncommon, she was certainly in use.
Back in 1890, the following names all made the US Top 1000: Alvina, Melvina, Malvina, Edwina and Georgina. With William a perpetual favorite, history has given us girls called Williamette and Williamine, too. (In fact, William has always ranked in the Top 20 in the US; for many years, he was second in popularity only to John.)
There are two possible pronunciations: WILL ee ah and WILL yah. The second risks sounding like a question – Willya clean up your toys? – so I’ll favor the first.
While Willa is Hannah’s little sister, WILL ee ah fits in nicely with Sophia and Olivia.
Just like all the other Will names, Willia’s roots are Germanic. Wil means desire (or will) while the helma part is helmet or possibly protection. I suppose you could argue that, without the -iam or -helm, the name simply means desire.
Some sites list Willia as Scottish; a few try to claim that she’s Dutch. I can’t find anything to support either claim, but it is possible that William’s widespread use obscures her origins.
Overall, Willia is a valid variant – a perfectly reasonable feminization of an enduring classic. She’s quite pretty, and would sound at home on a modern playground. And yet, she remains truly unusual – a distinctive way to honor a William.