It’s a classic name worn by saints and kings, a US president and countless men of accomplishment.
Top Fifteen Week continues with William as our Baby Name of the Day.
William: Odd Man Out
Look at the most popular names for boys over the centuries, and they have one thing in common: they’re Biblical boys.
William is not.
But he is a member of the second-most powerful group: Germanic names imported to England by the Normans. The names evolved as the language did, though William’s earlier form – Willahelm – doesn’t sound so very different from his current one.
The name means desire and protection – one of the many Germanic compound names that doesn’t quite form a single thought.
William: Charlemagne’s Cousin
The first notable bearer was a cousin to Charlemagne, the hero of a popular medieval romance, and eventually, a saint.
Also known as Guilhem or Guillaume, he was born in the mid-700s and raised at court. He grew up to be a successful military leader, defending his cousin’s kingdom against invasion, and later took Barcelona from the Moors.
Later in life, he donated land to found an abbey at Gellone, and then retired there as a monk. He died around 812, and Gellone would eventually become an important pilgrimage site.
Thanks to the Chanson de Guillaume and a bunch of spin-offs and sequels, William’s heroics were well-known in the Middle Ages. He’s loyal, brave, and pious. It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction in his life, but he remains the subject of much interest.
William: Born to Rule
There were oodles of Williams in France, but it was William the Conqueror who brought the name triumphantly to England in 1066.
Other English kings have worn the name, as well as kings of Scotland, Sicily, Prussia, and the Netherlands have also been William, as well as:
- Scottish leader William Wallace. His twelfth century crusade against the English is the subject of Academy Award-winning movie Braveheart.
- Rossini’s opera William Tell includes the famous overture, and tells the story of the expert marksman.
- Writers, like Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Yeats, Faulkner, and many more.
- Actors, including Shatner and Holden.
William: The Boy Who Would Be King
Back in 1982, the world was awaiting another royal birth. Diana, Princess of Wales was expecting her first child – the heir to the throne after his father, Charles.
The world was watching on June 21, 1982 when prince William Arthur Philip Louis arrived. He’s grown up in the spotlight.
As a given name, William had slipped slightly around the time of the prince’s birth. Despite being a steady member of the US Top Ten through 1975, reaching as high as #2, the name would fall by the mid-1990s, dropping as low as #20.
William: Enduring Classic
Even at #20, William remains one of the boys’ names never out of style.
The name has surged in popularity in recent years, currently ranking #5. Though short form Liam has surpassed William, reaching #2.
The prince deserves some credit for keeping the name in the spotlight, but also young actor Wil Wheaton, a member of the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast from 1987 through 1991, 1998’s Good Will Hunting, 1998 sitcom Will & Grace, and generally the discovery that Will felt like a fresh take on the classic name, even as a generation of men who preferred Bill became grandpas.
Today, William is an easy to wear choice, and an undeniable classic.
Do you think William will remain in the US Top Ten in the coming years? And what’s your favorite William nickname?