Where did the name Wilbrod come from?

Statue of St. Willibrord in Luxembourg
St. Willibrord

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 (658-739), an Anglo-Saxon missionary who became the first Bishop of Utrecht in 695. Today he’s considered the patron saint of the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

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 word willa, meaning “will, wish, desire.” We can see this element in various Anglo-Saxon words, such as:

  • wilboda, meaning “welcome messenger”
  • wildæg, meaning “wished-for day”
  • wilgæst, meaning “welcome guest”
  • wils?ð, meaning “desired journey”
  • willspell, meaning “good tidings”
  • wilðegu, meaning “agreeable food”

We can also identify it in several modern names/surnames, including:

  • William/Wilhelm, a combination of “will, desire” and “helmet, protection”
  • Wilbert, “will, desire” and “bright”
  • Wilfred/Wilfried, “will, desire” and “peace”
  • Willard, “will, desire” and “brave, hardy”
  • Wilmer, “will, desire” and “fame”

The second element in Willibrord is the word brord, meaning “a prick or point, a lance, javelin, the first blade or spire of grass or corn.”

Though it’s tempting to merge the definitions of the two elements into a phrase like “desired lance,” it may be more accurate not to, as compound Germanic names were not always constructed with meaning in mind. Name elements were sometimes simply passed down from one generation to the next, for instance. (The first part of St. Willibrord’s name likely came from the name of his father, Wilgils.)

P.S. Wilbrod Street in the Sandy Hill district of Ottawa was named for one of the sons 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.
  • Stevenson, W. H. “The Christian Name William.” Notes and Queries 3 Apr. 1886: 272.
  • Willibrord – Wikipedia

Image: Adapted from Echternach Statue Willibrord by Palauenc05 under CC BY-SA 4.0.

7 thoughts on “Where did the name 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.

  6. My father’s name was Wilbrod Roger Tellier and my middle son’s middle is named after him. My dad was French Canadian from Woonsocket, Rhode Island USA.

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