Where Does Wilbrod Come From?

A reader named Sam sent me a great question several days ago:

I remember my late great-grandfather very fondly and have been thinking about passing on his name as a middle name for a son. However, there’s one catch: his name was Wilbrod, and I don’t know a thing about the name. I’ve never met any other Wilbrods, and what little I’ve been able to dig up is that it’s the name of a street* in Ottawa and a rare but not entirely unheard of first and last name in certain francophone groups (historically) and in East Africa (currently). My great-grandfather was himself Canadian, of predominantly Ojibwe and partly either French or Belgian heritage. I’d love to know a little about the name’s history and meaning, if you have any information about it.

I can see why this one would be hard to research. Not only is it rare, but the historical figure who popularized it goes by a different spelling.

St. Willibrord StatueThe name Wilbrod can be traced back to St. Willibrord, an Anglo-Saxon (specifically Northumbrian) missionary who became the first Bishop of Utrecht in 695.

According to one source, Wilbrod is a specifically French form of the name. Other forms include Wilbrord, Wilebrode, Wilibrord, Willbrord, Willebrode and Willibrode.

What does it mean?

Well, like many Germanic names, it contains two elements.

The first element comes from the Anglo-Saxon word willa, meaning “will,” “wish,” “desire,” or “pleasure.” We see this element in many Anglo-Saxon words:

  • wilboda, “welcome messenger”
  • wildæg, “wished-for day”
  • wilfægen or wiltygþe, “having ones desire, satisfied, glad”
  • wilgæst, “welcome guest”
  • wilgehléþa, “pleasant comrade”
  • wilgesteald, “desirable possession”
  • wilsíþ, “desired journey”
  • wilspell, “welcome news, glad tidings”
  • wilwang, “pleasant land”

We also see it in many Anglo-Saxon names: Wilbeald, Wilbeorht, Wilhere, Wilmund, Wilric, Wilsige, Wilburh, Wilcume, Wilswið, Wilþrýð, and so forth.

The second element is the Anglo-Saxon word brord, meaning “point,” “prick,” “spear,” or “spire of grass.” Because Germanic names are often war-related, I think “spear” would be the most appropriate interpretation.

It’s tempting to put the meanings together and get something like “desired spear,” but the elements in compound Germanic names are often unrelated (i.e. not meant to form a phrase) so it might be more accurate to leave it at “will” and “spear,” or “welcome” and spear.”

*Wilbrod Street in the Sandy Hill district of Ottawa was named for the eldest son of former landowner Louis-Théodore Besserer.

Sources:

  • Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary
  • Ferguson, Robert. The Teutonic Name-System Applied to the Family Names of France, England, & Germany. London: Williams & Norgate, 1864.
  • Latham, Edward. A Dictionary of Names, Nicknames and Surnames of Persons, Places and Things. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1904.
  • Orel, Vladimir. A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
  • Smith, William and Henry Wace. A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines. London: John Murray, 1887.
  • Source: Stevenson, W. H. “The Christian Name William.” Notes and Queries 3 Apr. 1886: 272.

Image: St Willibrord by Stijn van W


6 thoughts on “Where Does Wilbrod Come From?

  1. My father’s first name was Wilbrod.
    I have never heard anyone else named as such. I wonder where my grandparents got the name. My father was French Canadian.

  2. I have been looking for the meaning of this name for over 22 years but i have never found the meaning of it so i would like so very much to part of the search grope any time any where and to make the world know the meaning of the name if i any help thank you. WILBROD

  3. My 1938 classmate at Fremont High School in Los Angeles, CA, named Wilbrod Wilson, went on to serve in the 160th Infantry of the California National Guard,where I heard that he survived the Bataan Death March and 4 years in a Japanese labor camp.

  4. My great grandfather was named Louis John with Wilbrod in parenthesis (Wilbrod). He was born in French speaking Canada, near Tres Rivers. Other than seeing it on a Heritage site, I had never heard him called that.

  5. My grandfather was Wilbrod Goulet, a wonderful man and one of the early aviation pioneers in the U.S. My son’s middle name is after him.

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