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.
The 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.
- 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