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Bayeux Tapestry William.jpg
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.
Word/nameGermanic languages
Meaning"Vehement protector"
Region of originNorthern Europe
Other names
Nickname(s)Will, Willy, Willie, Bill, Billy
Related namesWilhelm, Guillaume, Willian, Guillermo, Guglielmo, Guilherme, Gwilym
Popularitysee popular names

William is a popular given name of an 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." Shortened familiar versions in English include Will, Willy, Bill, and Billy. A common Irish form is Liam. Scottish diminutives include Wull or Wullie (see Oor Wullie or Douglas for example). Female forms are Willa, Willemina, Willamette, Wilma and Wilhelmina.


William is related to the given name Wilhelm (cf. Proto-Germanic *Wiljahelmaz > German Wilhelm and Old Norse Vilhjálmr). By regular sound changes, the native, inherited English form of the name should be *Wilhelm as well (although the name is not actually attested in the history of English, and 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 clearly identified as typical of the Old Norman form Williame, Willame, because first, the English language should have retained (h)elm (see common words helm, helmet), second, -iaume [iaʷm] (typical of Popular French, see Guillaume) turned to -iame [iam] (typical of some Norman and Picard dialects) > English -iam. Historically, there was first a triphthongation of -elm (early Gallo-Romance form WILLELMU) into [iaʷ] + [m] in Old Norman-French, quite similar in Old Central French [eaʷ] + [m]. Then, the triphthong -iau was submitted to a monophthongation localized on the second part of the triphthong áu > āò > ā. For instance, this development can be followed in the different versions of the name in the Wace's Roman de Rou.[4] or in the Cauchois variant forms of common words such as osias (plural of osè "bird", older oisel) / Regular Norman oisiaus "birds" (French sing. oiseau, pl. oiseaux).

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. Guilhem, 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.

According to Dutch legend, as recorded by Verstegan (1550–1640), William is originally derived from the Germanic name Gildhelm, meaning "golden helmet" and dates to Roman times. The name was later adapted as the more well known forms of "Wilhelm", and "Guillaume". Verstegen states that Gildhelm was a title of bravery awarded to a German for killing Roman soldiers in battle. The honored soldier was lifted on a shield and a golden helmet of a dead Roman soldier was placed upon his head, and the soldier was honored with the title "Gildhelm", or "golden helmet". With the French the title was Guildhaume, and Since Guillaume. Latin Guielmus[6][7] "Helm" could also refer to the golden diadem or crown of a king as was common in the later days of the Roman empire.

English history[edit]

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[8]), Richard, Roger (the English cognate was Hroðgar[9]), Henry and Hugh (all of Germanic origin, transmitted through the Normans' use of Old French).

The name 'Wilkin' is also of medieval origin taken from the shortened version of William (Will) with the suffix "kin" added.[10][better source needed]


Shortened names

People named William[edit]






  • William I, (1797–1888), Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia
  • William II (1859–1941), Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia




Pre-modern era[edit]




Modern era[edit]

Fictional characters[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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"
  3. ^ Peter S. Baker. "William the Conqueror". oldenglishaerobics.net.
  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. ^ English Grammar; the English Language in Its Elements and Forms: With a ... By William Chauncey Fowler, 1868
  7. ^ Words: Their Use and Abuse, By William Mathews, 1896
  8. ^ "Geocities has shut down". Yahoo Small Business.
  9. ^ Mike Campbell. "Behind the Name: Meaning, Origin and History of the Name Roger". Behind the Name.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ List of Faroese male names
  12. ^ M. Petrossian (ed.). New Dictionary Armenian-English. Librairie de Beyrouth.

See also[edit]