About Names: Winifred, rooted in a resurrection story, has often come back to life

Winifred Atwell, famous boogie woogie and ragtime piano player.

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 7th column, he looks at the history of the name Winifred.

Winifred is the English version of Gwenfrewi, a Welsh name combining “gwen” (“white” or “holy”) with “frewi” (“reconciliation” or “peace”). The English form came from confusion with the Old English male name Winfred, from “win” (“friend” or “joy”) and “fred” (“peace”). The original Gwenfrewi lived around 650 in northern Wales. Though she was venerated as a saint by 750, nothing was written about her until around 1130, when Robert, prior of the Benedictine monastery at Shrewsbury, England, began promoting her.

Babies named Winifred began turning up all over England after 1400. Though never very common, Winifred never disappeared. The 1851 British census found 2,272 Winifreds in England and Wales. Winifred wasn’t as popular in America, partly because the Puritans avoided saints’ names. The 1850 United States census found 934 Winifreds. A quarter were born in Ireland — the Irish adopted Winifred as an English equivalent of Irish “Una” when their British rulers banned Gaelic names.

Since 2011, avant-garde parents looking for retro names have rediscovered Winifred. There were 21 Winifreds born in 2010 — 168 arrived in 2017. If it keeps increasing at that rate, Winifred will be back in the top thousand names in 2021.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Winifreds in history!