Nicknames: Waltzing with Tilda and Tilly

Nicknames: Waltzing with Tilda and Tilly

By Brooke Cussans, at baby name pondering

Tilda and Tilly. Many would see these names and think they are only nicknames for Matilda, but both make for adorable names in their own right. Whether you are debating which nickname to use for your little Matilda, or simply which to give your daughter, it could be helpful to look at them side by side.

Origin, Meaning, Associations & Impressions

These are so intertwined that it’s helpful to consider them together. Both Tilda and Tilly are considered to have originated as nicknames for Matilda. Matilda is an Old German name meaning ‘mighty in battle’, and hence this is also the accepted meaning for both Tilda and Tilly.

TildaTilda is also possibly Nordic, thought to mean ‘heroine’. She’s said to be the slightly eccentric nickname for Matilda, sleek and stylish. I’ve also seen her described as warm, dignified and ladylike.

There is also a British food manufacturer with the brand name Tilda, best known for their rice; and a Norwegian craft brand with this name that specialise in whimsical and romantic dolls, animals, fabrics and books.

Tilly – This name may seem cute and girlish, but she can be seen as so much more. I’ve seen her pop up on lists of names that are friendly, relaxed, hipster, vintage, girly, British and Jazz Age style. Both Tilly and Tillie are thought to be the bold option of the common nicknames for Matilda.

Tilly is also a place name, most prevalent in France but also found in Scotland, Belgium and New York State.  It is also the name of a poem by James Joyce, a novel by Frank E. Peretti, and a number of WW2 British Utility vehicles.

Famous Namesakes

Tilda – Worldwide, actress Tilda Swinton is the example that most readily springs to mind. She has quite an imposing yet respectable on-screen persona, best known to younger audiences as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia movies. She was born Katherine Matilda, adopting the middle name nickname as her stage name. Another famous Matilda cum Tilda – this time fictional – is Tilda Price in Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickelby.

There’s also a young character named Tilda in the movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. And in Australia, young Adelaide actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey recently became the face of the “find wonderful” advertising campaign for department store Myer. Reportedly, her parents were inspired in part by Ms Swinton when they chose her name.

Tilly – To a more infamous Australian figure this time – Tilly Devine. She was a prominent Sydney gangster in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, and 2011 true crime drama TV series Underbelly:Razor focused on the gangland wars she played a prominent role in during the 1930’s.

Tilly however is better known as a surname – actress sisters Meg Tilly and Jennifer Tilly are examples, or maybe you prefer the example of sociologist Charles Tilly, just to name a few.

And although mothers may think of Catherine Cookson’s Tilly Trotter, young children are more likely to think of the main character from Tilly and Friends, about a five year old girl who lives in a yellow house with her five best friends.

Pronunciation & Nicknames

Tilda – Pronounced TILL-dah, it doesn’t need a nickname, although you could always use Tilly and this way you get to use both.

Tilly – Also has a straightforward pronunciation – TIL-lee. Another popular re-spelling is Tillie. If you must use a nickname you could go with Till or Lee, but you don’t really need one.


Both Tilda and Tilly are much less popular than Matilda. In 2013, Matilda was #18 in Australia, #36 in the U.K, #95 in New Zealand and #645 in the U.S. In recent years it has also been a top 50 name in Finland, Sweden and Chile. But how do these two fare?

Tilda – As many of the countries listed above don’t release names past the Top 100, it’s hard to get a direct comparison in those countries. But it does seem to be the most popular in Sweden, where Tilde was #51 and Tilda #61 in 2012. Conversely, Tilde has never charted in the U.S, while Tilda remains a rarity. She was steadily used from the 1880’s to the 1970’s but then dropped into obscurity. It’s only been since 2006 that small numbers of parents have rediscovered her – in 2013 only six girls were named Tilda, placing her at #16,245.

TillyIn a time when Lily is a top 100 name in many countries, Tilly feels like she should be on the verge of big things. Yet the only place where she seems to be doing big things is the U.K. There, Tilly was #86 in 2013 and Tillie was #383. You’ll also find plenty of double-barrelled options, such as TillyMae, TillyMay, TillyRose, TillyAnn, TillyGrace, TillyRae, TillyLouise and more. This has not yet caught on in the U.S., where Tilly was #2713 in 2013 and Tillie #3808, with not a double barrel in sight.What do you think? Both are nicknames meaning ‘mighty in battle’ and both have a Jazz Age feeling. Tilda is much rarer, and has a Scandinavian-chic flair. But Tilly feels more friendly and approachable, and while not as rare as Tilda it’s still unlikely your daughter would meet many other Tilly‘s at school. She’s just different enough, in a good way. Which (if either) would you be more likely to choose?

About the Author


Brooke Cussans – better known on the Nameberry forums as bluejuniper – is based in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of name blog Baby Name Pondering. She especially loves rare and unusual names.