There are few names that have been borne by as many important figures in history as William. Kings, presidents, writers, scientists, athletes, actors, tech wizards....without Williams, the world as we know it would be a very different place! While some of them, like William Shakespeare, are known by the full name, others, such as Bill Gates, are mostly known by their nicknames. Bill is used so commonly that it makes you wonder...are there any other less common nicknames for William out there?
History of the name
A name with a past as rich as William is bound to have an interesting history, and if you are as fascinated by the origins of names and the way they evolve in to their present day usage as I am, you will not be disappointed.
William is derived from two words in the Germanic language, “gild” (meaning gold) and “helm” (meaning helmet). As the story I’ve heard goes, Gildhelm was a title of bravery given to Germans for killing Roman soldiers in battle.
Yup, the Romans – that’s how far back this name’s history goes! After killing a Roman, the honored soldier would be lifted on a shield and given one of the Romans’ golden helmets along with the title Gildhelm.
Some other sources point to slightly different origins, “wil” (desire, or will) and “helm”, from which we get the German name Wilhelm.
The name’s use spread throughout Europe and soon other variants came to be in different languages, including the Dutch Willem and the French Guillaume. It was a French Guillaume who brought the popular name to England, where he became known as William the Conqueror, who became the first Norman king of England.
Popularity Of the Name
Since the days of William the Conqueror, the name’s popularity exploded. It has been the name of numerous kings throughout Europe (including the future king of England, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge), as well as the name of four Presidents of the United States (the most recent, of course, is William Jefferson Clinton, who goes by the casual Bill).
Today, William is enjoying a slight surge of popularity on the Social Security Administration’s baby name rankings. It held steady as the second most popular name for baby boys in the US for many years up until the 1920s, when it began a very slow and very slight decline.
Between 1920 and 1995, William slid very slowly down to a low point of number 20 on the charts. It bounced back quickly, though. Ten years later it was back in the top ten names, and in 2017 it was once again in the top three names.
Most Popular Throughout History
William has been such a popular name for such a long time that naturally, people had to find ways to distinguish one William from another.
In the Middle Ages, it was a very common trend to simply swap the first letter of a name for another letter. Somewhat amazingly, this nickname practice is still around hundreds of years later.
Although Will is also commonly used, Bill is probably the most popular nickname for William, although it has fallen somewhat out of style in recent times.
Most Bills around today (and there are definitely a lot of them!) were born before the 1980s. As hard as it might be to picture a baby named Bill, in their youth most of those Bills probably went by Billy.
I still think Billy is an adorable nickname, and fits right in with many of the vintage nicknames that are in style in the UK right now, such as Freddie and Alfie.
If you’re looking for a less popular name, the fact that Billy/Bill are more commonly seen in our grandparents’ generation could actually work out in your favor.
Most Popular Today
Traditionally an Irish short form of the name, in recent years Liam has shot up the popularity charts in the US as a separate entry. It barely registered on the popularity charts at all until the 1980s, when it began its gradual ascent. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s its popularity continued to increase until it finally hit number one on the SSA chart in 2017.
So yes- Liam is popular, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
If Liam appeals to you, using it as a nickname for William can be a good way to keep your options open.
If it turns out there are multiple Liams in your child’s class and he wants to stand out a bit more, he can explore some of the lesser used nicknames for William.
Lesser Known Nicknames for William
Lesser known nicknames for William can include Wylie, Wilkin (a medieval English nickname), Wim (a popular nickname for the Dutch Willem), and Guy (from the French Guillaume).
I’ve also heard of Wally and Whit being used, or you can take inspiration from Prince William and use Wills.
William is a name with a proud and noble history. Although its nickname options are not as plentiful as female names with similar histories, such as Margaret and Elizabeth, there are still some great options to explore.