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Monday, August 27, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: Tilly vs. Tillie

Casey writes:
My husband and I are expecting our second child, a girl, in early December. We have a two year old son named Arlo Harrison. We actually came to a consensus on our daughter's name very quickly due to early concerns that she might have a very serious birth defect (which thankfully was later shown not to exist!) We decided on the name Matilda Kate. We very much like the name's meaning: "mighty in battle," and were drawn to it when it looked like she might have some early battles to overcome.

So why am I writing? We are planning to call her "Tilly," but I have no idea the correct way to spell it, and I am very much one who likes to spell things THE correct way! I've looked around google to see if I could find a consensus on Tilly vs. Tillie, but have yet to find a concrete answer. My initial thinking was that "Tillie" was correct, but then I read somewhere that it had too many parallel lines, and now I wonder if that's not the case. I don't find that I have a strong preference for either one, and I realize that having her name misspelled is not as big of a deal as it would be if Tillie/Tilly were her given name, but I'd still love your and your reader's thoughts on which is most commonly accepted!

Many, many thanks!

It is times like this I wish for a giant shelf of name encyclopedias. Well. I do have The Oxford Dictionary of First Names, and that is a start. It has a listing for Tilly but not for Tillie. Tillie is mentioned within the Tilly listing as a "variant." So according to The Oxford Dictionary of First Names (the book I trust most for name origins and meanings), Tilly is the main spelling.

The Baby Name Bible lists both nicknames in the same entry, with the -ie spelling first: "Tillie, Tilly." (This choice may be alphabetical: Abby/Abbie is also listed "Abbie, Abby.") Then in the description, when one or the other spelling needs to be chosen, it chooses Tillie: "Tillie is cute, frilly, and sassy all at once."

The Baby Name Wizard lists nicknames for Matilda in this order: "Tilda, Tillie, Tilly, Mattie." In the description, when one spelling needs to be chosen, it chooses Tilly: "It's also rising in the U.K., along with the nickname Tilly." Under the listing for Abby, it says this: "In the 19th century, Abbie breezed along happily with names like Tillie and Mattie. Today Abby is the most common spelling..." (I include this because perhaps it indicates that the dominant ending changes with fashions.) Tillie is listed as a sister name for Lottie and Roscoe; Tilly is listed as a sister name for Maisie, Pippa, and Roxie.

Tilly is the one I would have guessed was the main one; in general, I think of the -ie ending as less standard for most names, although of course there are exceptions (Carrie, for example, or Hattie or Maggie or Elsie).

For the specific example of Tilly/Tillie, I prefer the look of Tilly---but that of course would be purely subjective. I think one reason I prefer the Tilly spelling is that -lly/-llie words seem to more often end in Y: Billy, chilly, dilly-dally, filly, frilly, hilly, Holly, Kelly, Milly, Molly, pilly, Polly, Sally, Shelly, silly, Willy. In favor of the Tillie spelling: Billie, Callie, Ellie. (Other -llie/-lly examples to add to the list?)

The Social Security Administration's data base can't tell us how people are spelling it when it's a nickname, but it can tell us that in 2011, there were 51 new baby girls named Tilly and 36 named Tillie.

I think the answer here is that there is no answer: both spellings are valid, neither one is "right." You can choose the spelling you prefer. And she will probably spell it both ways in junior high!

If it would be helpful, we can also have a poll over to the right to see what most people consider the correct spelling. [Poll closed; see results below.]


beyond said...

Neither of them look wrong, but Tillie looks a bit 'better' to me... maybe because of Billy (male) vs Billie (female). And maybe I like parallel lines.

leah p. said...

i love the name TILLY, it's perfect! i prefer the spelling with a Y like the band 'tilly and the wall' ( -- they have a tapdancer instead of a drummer! the children's book of the same name is spelled IE, however. sweet, sweet name. love it!

Anonymous said...

I love Matilda Kate!
I think Tillie & Tilly are both correct, it is just a matter of which one you like better. My personal preference is Tilly as I think it looks better visually.

Anonymous said...

The nickname Tilly/ie from Matilda only uses the "til" in the name so if you want a weird justification for Tilly being right, I would say it adds less letters that aren't in the original name. Sort of like when people call a baby Evelyn, nickname "Evie". I like Tilly for that reason :)

Karen L said...

I answered "Tilly" to the poll because I think that is in the spirit of the question because Tilly feels more standard to me but I also wanted to answer "both" on principle. I'd prefer to think of things as standard/common/expected than "correct" rather than suggest that some people were INCORRECT when they named their children Tillie (or just about anything else.)

And is it just me or are captchas just getting harder and harder? Please tell me it's not my old age.

Daycare Girl said...

From experience I can tell you that your girl will want to spell it sixteen different ways as she grows up. I have an unusual name I've never heard before on anyone- named after my great-grandmother, and the nicknames are Kelly and Kelsey. My mom chose "Kelli" when I was born and I did that awhile. Got to school and changed to Kelly because everyone assumed that and I didn't like when they spelled it wrong. In junior high I was Kellie and Keleigh and Kelle, depending on my mood, and now I'm back to Kelli for good.

All that to say, start with what you like, and prepare that changes may come. :) I like them both!

Anonymous said...

I have a nickname that can also have an "ie" or "y" ending. My mother chose the "ie," and I always thought it looked more feminine that way.

As far as Tilly or Tillie goes, I think it looks fine either way. I recommend going to and trying it out with your last name. Seeing names written out in various ways has changed my opinion on some names.

Anonymous said...

I think that either spelling would be considered correct. I would use Tilly since your name ends in "Y." My grandmother's name ended in IE and she chose to write all of her daughers' names with an IE to match her own. That seems sweet to me.

Anonymous said...

As a Christine/Christy having to spell the nickname has never really bothered me. Official things use the full name anyway, so you are rarely needing to spell the nickname for someone else anyway unless you dislike Matilda strongly enough that you would never, ever use it.

Unlike the poster above, I never fiddled with nickname variants - I did go back and forth on how much I used full vs. Nickname though. aka, I stopped bothering to correct my high school teachers when they used the full version they got on the roster.

As an adult, I find myself a strange hybrid between the two. I will always verbally introduce. Myself with the nickname, but always write the full version on a form.

Umiyyad said...

I love Tilly which just looks right to me. It was my Grandmother's nickname, short for Sylvia, strangely! So it has sentimental value for me written that way.

Abby@AppMtn said...

Matilda Kate is great! I'm partial to Tillie. I'm not sure if I can pin down why. Maybe it strikes me as more vintage? Sallie was the standard spelling for years, eclipsed by Sally only in the 20th century. I tend to think of most "ll" names as taking an -ie: Callie, Hallie, Millie, Sallie - though not Holly and Molly ... Yeah, I can't pin down why!

StephLove said...

I like Tilly better but I don't think Tillie looks incorrect.

phancymama said...

I like Tilly a little better, but I really think they are both perfect. Does the y or ie ending go better with your last name? I had always thought of Debbie as being spelled like that, but then I knew a Debby and now that looks correct to me. So, whichever you choose will be right! :)

Anonymous said...

It's strange because I totally think of Tilly as the right way, yet feel strongly the opposite for a name like Millie.

No wrong choice though!

beccaloo said...

I like both but, there is a store called Tilly's. Not sure if that makes that one any more right, but just a thought.

Lyly said...

I like Tillie....seems more girl.

Erin said...

I prefer the -ie spelling, but that's just a personal preference, likely due to having seen it that way more often. I don't think I'd blink at the -y ending if I encountered it though.

And Karen L., capchas ARE getting harder. I recently told Swistle that they are basically now just taking close-up pictures of carpet and asking you to make up numbers. I think they need a new system.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure either are correct. Since my grandmother was Mathilda who went by Tilly, that looks *more* correct. Mathilda Kate is fantastic! Almost on par with my grandma Mathilda Magdalen!

p.s. I'm on try 3 of getting the d*** capcha - wish me luck!

Anonymous said...

I think that either are perfectly fine. I personally prefer Tillie.

Perhaps you could write both on a piece of paper and let your son choose one?

Patricia said...

It appears that Tilly is the preferred spelling in England/Wales and also in the USA.

Nicknames as given names are very popular right now in the UK. On the official government list of baby name popularity for 2011 in England/Wales, Tilly ranks #103, while Tillie is #424. (Matilda is #48.)

Another current naming practice in the UK is to give girls hyphenated names, and there were several girls given Tilly- combinations, and to a lesser extent, Tillie- with another name. The most popular of these:
Tilly-Mae 19 girls
Tilly-Rose 16 girls
Tilly-May 15 girls
Tillie-May 8 girls

In the USA, Tilly/Tillie as a given name appears in the SSA's beyond the top 1000 list: last year there were 51 American girls named Tilly, while only 36 were named Tillie.

Thus, Tilly appears to be the preferred spelling in both the USA and UK. And because I also think the name looks better when spelled with the 'y', I would recommend spelling Tilly that way.

I love the name you've chosen for your daughter -- Matilda Kate is wonderful!

Casey said...

Thank you, Swistle and commenters!I really appreciate the feedback and think that we are leaning towards "Tilly." I realize that neither is incorrect, I guess that was poorly worded-- just was wondering what was more widely accepted, and it looks like that is Tilly!

Also love the comments about how she might change her spelling in middle school. I have vague recollections of trying to convince my mom to change my name to Kaycee :)Thanks again!

Patricia said...

PS I looked at the poll after posting my comment above. I don't think there is a "correct" spelling between Tilly and Tillie. Both are correct, so you can go either away and your daughter's nn will be spelled correctly. However, it does seem that Tilly is the *preferred* spelling at this time.

One hundred years ago, when girls names ending in 'ie' were so popular, Tillie was the preferred spelling. In 1912, 282 American baby girls were named Tillie, while only 5 were called Tilly.

The SSA 1912 Top 100 girls' names list includes:

So no wonder Tillie was preferred over Tilly at that time.

Anonymous said...

Don't know which is more popular, but you may want to get her the book "I wear my tutu everywhere" - an adorable early reader about a girl named Tilly who loves to dance.

So I'd go with Tilly.

Felicious Capricity said...

My name is Caitlin and one of the few things I like about my name is all the parallel lines! It's fun to write. I wouldn't say that it's a bad thing at all. But Ys are fun to write, too. I think either is fine, write them both out a few times and see which you like.

Erin said...

I voted that they're both equally correct, so I like either one.

But I wanted to chime in that when I was in Junior High School, I was another one of those girls that spelled their name many different ways! And I don't even have a nickname name! My name is Erin and yet I found endless ways to spell it. Once my mom told me she considered spelling it Arin, I was hooked. I tried Arin, Erinn, Eryn.....and my personal favorite, Erinne. Well, who am I kidding, all of them were my favorites on different days. I still like Arin! How fun!

Anonymous said...

My favorite strategy? Write your daughter's full name out in a nice inky pen - IN CURSIVE. Then write both versions Tilly Lastname. Tillie Lastname. Sometimes, looking at it in your own handwriting helps nail down the decision.

For what it's worth, I like to have a nice blend of high letters and low letters in the first and last name, so if you've got an 'f' or 'y' or 'g' in your last name, perhaps Tilly is aesthetically more pleasing.

StephLove said...

Since it's the nickname and not the official name you might let her choose when she's old enough to write her name. That's what we were going to do with my daughter's nickname but then she decided she only wanted to be called by her real name anyway.

Anonymous said...

Another children's book with TILLY as the main character, "Tilly and Tessa":

I loved this book when I was very young and asked my mom to read it to me again and again. The first sentence is "Tilly and Tessa were twins." Cute names together!

Anonymous said...

I go through withdrawals when there is not a new posting. Boo Hoo! It is time for me to get a hobby I suppose.

Oh, and my vote is for Tillie, but you should try it out with your last name on the build a name like a previous poster suggested.

Nedra said...

I feel like the "y" at the end of girls' names is starting to look dated. It gives the name a grandma feel, in my opinion. This may be more personal preference, but I think that the ie spelling is prettier than the y spelling. Neither looks "wrong" but especially on a nickname that is already regarded as kinda old-fashioned and out-of-date, I would use a more modern spelling.