Nicknames: Waltzing with Tilda and Tilly
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.
Tilda – Tilda 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.
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.
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
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.
Tilly – In 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 Tilly–Mae, Tilly–May, Tilly–Rose, Tilly–Ann, Tilly–Grace, Tilly–Rae, Tilly–Louise 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?
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on January 9th, 2015 at 1:58 am
I love the name Matilda, it’s my favourite girl’s name, but I cannot stand both Tilly and Tilda. No idea why, just really dislike both.
on January 9th, 2015 at 11:19 am
Don’t forget the option of Tildy–used that for a character in my novel!
on January 9th, 2015 at 1:07 pm
My sister is Matilda, she goes by Tilda, Tildi and Tild.
on January 9th, 2015 at 1:35 pm
My Nana, who’ll be 94 next week, has been Mathilde almost her entire life (her parents named her Tekla, but when Nana started school the nuns said it was a heathen name [they must not have been familiar w/St. Tekla] & renamed her Mathilde). She loathes her name. My Pop-Pop called her Tilly, which was only marginally better. About a year after he passed away, Nana went to a singles group meeting & when she was asked her name, what came out of her mouth was “Hi, I’m Tina.” She’s been Tina for the last 30 years now. When we asked her where Tina came from, she said she must have subconsciously been thinking of her sister Christina, who had died at age 11. So when my brother & SIL were deciding on a name for their first, they honored Nana by using Christina as their daughter’s middle name rather than Mathilde, Tilly, or even Tekla.
on January 9th, 2015 at 5:11 pm
I’m British and have met/heard of many Matildas and Tillys. I love Tilly, Matilda is nice too but Tilda is starting to take the top spot for me, probably because it’s uncommon and quite quirky.
on January 10th, 2015 at 6:55 am
I think the name Tilly is cute-but I can’t stand Matilda..just sounds so ugly & old lady-ish.
on April 7th, 2015 at 7:17 pm
I strongly dislike Matilda. I quite like Tilda though, but I’d only use it if my SO has Scandinavian ancestry.
on March 12th, 2016 at 8:27 am
You could always use Mattie, Matty or Mat.
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