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.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. I adore Willa more than air, but Willia doesn’t do a thing for me. Willow doesn’t either, for that matter.

  2. Oh, Emma! I didn;t even click into that! Willy is a common nn for that particular part of the anatomy around here in Australia too! Despite the fact that William rocked in at #2 for my state for 2008, I think a Willia would be teased to no end!

  3. Unfortunately, willy is a widely-known word for, um, penis, in Britain. While William most probably can slip through life here without being teased because the name is so popular, I would imagine a British Willia would, at least once in her life, get “Haha, WILLY!”.

  4. I don’t really feel anything for Willia – don’t love her, don’t hate her – she’s just not for me ! She reminds me of a smush between Lilia, Zillah and Willa, only the foremost of which actually appeals to me.
    I can see her appeal though – her airiness is lovely, and she’s fit in perfectly with all of the Willa/Willows, Will and Liams running around, as Christina noted!

  5. Willa is my preference. There’s something not quite balanced for me about Willia. It’s not awful – it’s fine – but not one I’d choose. I also prefer Willem to William, so maybe that’s part of it? In fact, I probably prefer all of the other feminizations over Willia (although it might just edge out Willow, I’m not sure, it might depend on my mood).

  6. hmm, not so sure about this one. I want to like it since my dad’s name is William and I’m always trying to think of ways to honor him… but, this is just kinda weird. It seems like it would be really weird telling people that your daughter’s name is Willia. It reminds me of how you say Olivia really fast and it just comes out Livia, so that makes it feel really informal to me. I prefer the other William feminizations.

  7. Count me out. Willia gives me the willies, a bit. 🙂 I much prefer Willa (or Willhelmina). It’s interesting looking, definitley but Interesting doesn’t make it for me. I don’t think it would make me blink if I did run into one or more but it wouldn’t be on one of mine. That would have to be Wilhelmina, nn Mina or simply Mina. But yeah, Willia’s different and sometimes just being different is enough to make it go. I’ll be tossing this into the mix for people looking for femininsed boys names, for sure.

  8. I’ve only met one Willia – a neighbor a few years ago and was intrigued by the name. She used the WILL ee ah pronunciation. With all the Williams, Bills, and now Wills and Liams running around, it would be nice to see an occasional Willia in the mix.