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.)
- 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