Winifred once languished in style limbo. But could this 1910s favorite be ready for revival?
Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
If you grew up watching Kevin crush on Winnie on The Wonder Years, it might come as a surprise that her given name was Gwendolyn.
Then again, Gwendolyn makes more 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.
Most recently, the name made headlines when Jimmy Fallon and Nancy Juvonen named their first daughter Winnie after Lake Winnipesaukee.
In the age of Sadie, there’s no question that Winnie stands alone.
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. And 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.
Unlike some 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; the second is less certain, but might mean 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.
She 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, so it is little surprise that he started a drama titled St. Winefred’s Well in the 1800s.
Winifred: Recent Years
A few uses in more recent years include:
- It’s the full name of brainy scientist Fred Burkle, played by Amy Acker, on Angel from 2000 – 2004.
- Classic children’s novel Tuck Everlasting includes Winnie Foster. Alexis Bledel played Winnie in a 2002 movie adaptation.
It’s also a character name in 1993’s Hocus Pocus, and 1964’s Mary Poppins, both Disney movies still well-watched today.
Winifred: By the Numbers
Today, the name fits right in with the next wave of revival choices. If you love Alice and Beatrice and Frances, it’s not much of a stretch to get to Winifred.
The numbers bear this out. In 2010, parents gave just 22 girls this name. By 2015, that number had soared to 156 newborns.
Winnie gives us even more to talk about. In 2010, there were 76 newborn Winnies. By 2015, the numbers nearly tripled, to 211 girls.
What do you think of Winifred? Is it likely to make a comeback?