The baby name Winifred once languished in style limbo. But this 1910s favorite is ready for revival.

Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

IT STARTS WITH WINNIE

Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, television audiences watch Kevin crush on Winnie in The Wonder Years. Her given name? Gwendolyn.

That might’ve come as a surprise, but Gwendolyn makes sense. It hovered just outside of the US Top 100 in the 1940s and 50s, and the show took place during the 1960s.

Other famous Winnies include AA Milne’s lovable, huggable, stuffed-with-fluff bear; a twentieth century comic strip character; and a witch from children’s books.

Talk show host Jimmy Fallon and wife Nancy Juvonen named their first daughter Winnie after Lake Winnipesaukee.

In the age of Sadie, there’s no question that Winnie stands alone.

SAINT WINIFRED

Winnie has ranked in the US Top 1000 since 2019.

But head back farther in time, and Winnie gives way to Winifred.

In the 600s, legend gives us a beautiful maiden by the name. She chose to devote her life to God, except she caught the eye of a local nobleman. He sent flowers and sang beneath her window, but she still refused his advances.

So he lopped off her head.

As her blood spilled, a spring formed. Her uncle – a future saint himself – restored her to life and she became a nun as planned. The nobleman died shortly afterwards.

Or so the story goes.

For centuries, the mighty and the downtrodden alike have visited Saint Winifred’s Well in Holywell, claiming that the waters possess healing properties.

GWENFREWI

Unlike many tales of virtuous maidens, historical evidence suggests that a woman matching Winifred’s description actually lived.

Her name might have been Gwenfrewi in seventh century Wales. The first element means fair or blessed; the second is less certain, but might mean peace.

It’s similar to the Old English masculine name Winfred, meaning “friend of peace.”

Whisper Gwenfrewi down the alley, and it becomes the Latin Winefrida, and eventually takes the form we know now.

The name fell out of use, but the saint kept it alive. Her bones were transferred to Shrewsberry Abbey in 1138; Henry VIII destroyed the shrine in 1540.

Saint Winifred also appears in:

  • Her well is mentioned in the fourteenth century Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
  • Weaver-turned-novelist Thomas Deloney included a version of her story in 1584’s The Gentle Craft.
  • Forty years later, playwright William Rowely adopted Deloney’s work for the stage.
  • Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins studied at St. Beuno’s College in Wales, and wrote St. Winefred’s Well in the 1800s. The Gwenfrewi/Winifred connection is supported here, as the character is referred to as Gwen in his writing.
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MORE RECENT WINIFREDS

A few uses in more recent years include:

  • In 1964 movie Mary Poppins, the parents are George and Winifred Banks, parents to Jane and Michael. (Though from the PL Travers stories to other adaptations, the parents are most often called just Mr. and Mrs. Banks, and occasionally their names are Neville and Dorcas.)
  • Classic 1975 children’s novel Tuck Everlasting includes Winnie Foster. Alexis Bledel played Winnie in a 2002 movie adaptation.
  • It’s the full name of brainy scientist Fred Burkle, played by Amy Acker, on Angel from 2000 – 2004.
  • In 1993, Disney gave the world the Sanderson sisters in Hocus Pocus – Sarah, Mary, and eldest sister Winifred, played by Bette Midler. The movie wasn’t a hit at the time, but it’s caught on since. The fan favorite inspired a 2022 sequel, and word is that a third installment is in the works.

It’s enough to make the name feel vintage and storied, but not quite enough to put it back on parents’ radar over the years.

If you love Alice and Beatrice and Frances, it’s not much of a stretch to get to Winifred. The Winifred/Winnie combination fits with favorites like Abigail/Abby, Lillian/Lily, and Josephine/Josie, too.

The numbers show a clear trend. In 2010, parents gave just 22 girls this name. By 2015, that number had soared to 156 newborns named Winifred.

Winnie gives us even more to talk about. In 2010, there were 76 newborn Winnies. By 2015, the numbers nearly tripled, to 211 girls.

Winnie beat Winifred back to the US Top 1000, but as of 2023, both names rank. Winifred stands at #967; Winnie, at #612.

What do you think of the baby name Winifred?

Winifred

antique revival

Delightfully vintage, Winifred is following nickname Winnie into wider use. It fits nicely with Abigail and Eleanor.

Popularity

#967 as of 2023

Trend

increasing in use

Origin

Either Old English, meaning “friend of peace” or Welsh, meaning “fair, blessed”

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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What do you think?

26 Comments

  1. My middle name is Winifred after my grandmother who was Gertrude Winifred. She also had a daughter, who I had always been told was named Christina but in researching my family I discovered her actual name was Winifred Ann. She passed away before my dad, her brother, was born. I love the fact that inadvertently my parents reversed my aunts initials of W.A. for me, Arika Winifred.

    When I was young I hated my name, both Arika and Winifred. In fact my older cousin used to tease me by calling me Winnie. Now I love the name Winifred and would not hesitate to pass it on to a daughter. I would not even let the the fact I am not a huge fan of Winnie or Freddie as nicknames, because I know sometimes nicknames have nothing to do with names. After all I have people in my life that pretty much call me Mowse(mouse) and not much else.

  2. I am 18 weeks pregnant right now, and we’ve chosen Winifred if the baby is a girl. But this article is suddenly making me second guess myself! A few years ago, we named our daughter Emmeline, which at the time was not in the top 1000. Only it made the list the next year and has been rising quickly. By the time she’s an adult there will be Emmelines all over – just a few years younger than her. Kind of defeats the purpose of choosing a rare name. I had hoped Winifred was safely obscure.

    I’ll probably still use it (for a girl) and hope it doesn’t rise too quickly, because I love love love the name.

  3. I adore the name Winifred. I think it would be a great way to honor both of my grandfather’s Alfred & Wilfred.

    Abby, if you ever do a re-run of this name, you may want to note that one of my favorite writers (and presumably fellow name nerd), Joss Whedon, named one of his characters Winifred called “Fred.”

  4. I can’t believe that I ran across this discussion about my name” Winifred”. My father was named Willie and my mother wanted something similar. When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate it as much. My mother tried convincing me that my name was of royalty, which helped me to accept it. After reading all theses replies, I’m sure that my parents made the proper decision by selecting such a strong and beautiful name. Thanks to all of you for the reassurance!

  5. Oh, Winifred! Such a fabulous name. I also love the potential nickname Freddie — spunky, young, on-trend, and no association with certain honey-loving bears. In fact, this name is high on my list not only because of its lovely sound and fabulous history, but because it has the potential to be an honor name for my grandfather — yep, Fred. 🙂

  6. It was fun to stumble on this discussion! I’ve been living with this name for some time and have come to really like it–especially for its meaning. When I was little, our dictionary simply said that it was Teutonic, and meant “friend of peace” and I loved that. I dropped the Winnie nickname as soon as I left high school and found a whole new crowd of people who didn’t already have that implanted in their brains, and I’ve been using Winifred ever since. But I love the story of St Winifred, and the Welsh meanings…fair/blessed reconciliation or peace–which is much the same thing even though the names came around from entirely different places and only met in the middle, so to speak. (For the record I love Winnie the Pooh, but his name was Edward Bear, and I feel there is no true name association there.)
    St Winifred also shows up in the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters–the first book in the series, A Morbid Taste for Bones.

  7. I too wanted to add to the discussion since my 11 month old is Winifred Charlotte. Winnie is her paternal paternal great grandmother and Charlotte is her maternal maternal great grandmother. 😉 We love family names and I especially love whimsical older names (If my husband was on board she would have been Fern(ie)!) Thank you for sharing the origin of the names. It is going to be a fabulous bedtime story (although we’ll have to change some details). We always get such wonderful comments about her name since she is truly and joyful baby with a happy name. I think it was meant to be!

  8. Winnifred can be young… Winnie is good for a child and as a young adult she can go by Winn… a truly winn winn situation lol

  9. I just had to add to the discussion because I have a 14-month-old daughter named Winifred and she goes by Winnie (although her dad likes to call her “Freddie”). We were —> <— this close to naming her Iris, but two nights before she was born, we mistakenly ran across Winifred in a baby name book and we looked up at each other knowing we both loved that name! There's no real family tie; we just love the name. I do, however, also LOVE the name Gwendolyn ("Winnie"). My little girl gets a lot of flack for her name at only 14-months, though. The teachers at her daycare call her "Pooh-Pooh" and I don't really care for that. =( Of course, it doesn't help that she's super juicy (read: big) and her little cheeks stick out to forever… so, she does kind of look like a little "Pooh Bear!"

    1. LOL! My 18 m.o. is a chunk, too. But so was her big brother, and now he’s a bean pole.

      Winifred is a great name, and I love the nn Winnie – and Freddie, too!

    2. LOL, my dad also called me Freddie when I was little. My name was a no-brainer for my parents–it’s kind of a tradition (with a middle name as well) on my mother’s side of the family, ever since Ireland. So I was Freddie for a while, but then I grew into Wini, which no one has ever spelled right–not that I can blame them. Phonetically, it doesn’t reallly make sense… but I have no interest in being Winnie the Pooh. ><

      I think my favorite thing is how unique it is.