William (given name)

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William the Conqueror
The name William became very popular in the English language after the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror.
Pronunciation /ˈwɪljəm/
Gender Male
Word/name Germanic languages
Meaning Will + helmet (protection)
Region of origin Northern Europe
Other names
Nickname(s) Will, Bill, Billy, Willie, Willy, Bilson, Liam, Willem, Wim
Related names Wilhelm, Guillermo, Guillaume, Guglielmo, Guilherme, Gwilym
Popularity see popular names

William is a popular given name of old Germanic origin.[1] It became very popular in the English language after the Norman conquest of England in 1066,[2] and remained so throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era. It is sometimes abbreviated "Wm." The name's shortened familiar version in English is Bill, Billy, Will, Willy, or Willie. A common Irish form is Liam. Female forms are Willa, Willemina, Willamette, Wilma and Wilhelmina.


William comes ultimately from the given name Wilhelm (cf. Old German Wilhelm > German Wilhelm and Old Norse Vilhjálmr). The Anglo-Saxon form should be *Wilhelm as well (although the Anglo-Saxon chronicle refers to William the Conqueror as Willelm).[3] That is a compound of two distinct elements : wil = "will or desire"; helm; Old English helm "helmet, protection";[1] > English helm "knight's large helmet".

In fact, the form William is from the Old Norman form Williame, because the English language should have retained helm. The development to -iam is the result of the diphthongation [iaʷ] + [m] in Old Norman-French, quite similar in Old Central French [eaʷ] + [m] from an early Gallo-Romance form WILLELMU. This development can be followed in the different versions of the name in the Wace's Roman de Rou.[4]

The spelling and phonetics Wi- [wi] is a characteristic trait of the Northern French dialects, but the pronunciation changed in Norman from [wi] to [vi] in the 12th century (cf. the Norman surnames Villon and Villamaux "little William"), unlike the Central French and Southern Norman that turned the Germanic Wi- into Gui- [gwi] > [gi]. The Modern French spelling is Guillaume.[5] .

The first well-known carrier of the name was Charlemagne's cousin William of Gellone, a.k.a. Guilhelm, William of Orange, Guillaume Fierabrace, or William Short-Nose (755–812). This William is immortalized in the Chanson de Guillaume and his esteem may account for the name's subsequent popularity among European nobility.

English history

The English "William" is taken from the Anglo-Norman language and was transmitted to England after the Norman Conquest in the 11th Century, and soon became the most popular name in England, along with other Norman names such as Robert (the English cognate was Hrēodbeorht[6]), Richard, Roger (the English cognate was Hroðgar[7]), Henry and Hugh (all of Germanic origin, transmitted through the Normans' use of Old French).

During the Middle Ages the word "cock" was used to describe a self-assured young man (taken after the image of a strutting self-assured rooster). As a result, this nickname was applied to a number of names, including William which is where the name Wilcox comes from. The name Wilkin is also of medieval origin taken from the shortened version of William (Will) with the suffix "kin" added.[8]

Name variants

Alternative forms include:

Shortened names
Related names


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hanks, Hardcastle and Hodges, Oxford Dictionary of First Names, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, ISBN 978-0-19-861060-1, p.276.
  2. All Things William, Meaning & Origin of the Name, www.allthingswilliam.com/willynilly/name-origin.html
  3. Peter S. Baker. "William the Conqueror". oldenglishaerobics.net.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. René Lepelley, Guillaume le duc, Guillaume le rois: extraits du Roman de Rou de Wace, Centre de Publications de l'Université de Caen, 1987, pp. 16–17.
  5. Lepelley, pp. 15–17.
  6. "Geocities has shut down". Yahoo Small Business.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Mike Campbell. "Behind the Name: Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Roger". Behind the Name.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names With an Essay on their Derivation and Import; Arthur, William, M.A.; New York, NY: Sheldon, Blake, Bleeker & CO., 1857; pg. 266.
  9. List of Faroese male names
  10. M. Petrossian (ed.). New Dictionary Armenian-English. Librairie de Beyrouth.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>