It’s not a name most people have ever heard of, and that’s not surprising, as there are very few around today, if any at all. Nor has it ever been common. The Middle Ages are its natural home, when it could also be met with as Quenill, Quenild, Quenilla and Quenylda.
It’s origins are a bit disputed. Some have considered it simply a variant of Gunilda, which was a hugely popular name in medieval times — the Emily or Olivia of its day. Gunilda is the Medieval Latin form of the Old Norse name Gunnhildr, from gunn(r) ‘war’ + hild(r) ‘battle’. Its short form was Gunna, which is probably the source of the word gun; it is known there was a canon at Windsor Castle in the 14th C nicknamed Gunilda. Gunilda and variants crop up a few times among Scandinavian royalty in the Middle Ages, the last being Queen Gunilla (d.1597), wife of King John III of Sweden.
However, Quenilda’s origins might be entirely separate from Gunilda’s — Anglo-Saxon in fact. The Domesday Book of 1086 records a Cvenild, who was almost certainly an Anglo-Saxon, and whose name is most likely a combination of hild ‘battle’ with coen/cwen ‘woman’, ‘lady’ and ‘queen’, or cyne ‘royal’.
Whatever the truth of its origins, both Quenilda and Gunilda had died out before the end of the Middle Ages. Quenilda left the surnames Quenell — also spelled Quennell and Quinnell. This is first found bestowed on a boy in the 17th Century. By the 19th, a few girls as well as boys were getting the surname, and the Victorians love of medieval saw a slight revival of both Quenilda and Gunilda. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most Quenilda’s went by the far more widespread Queenie, although Nilda and Nilly present themselves as possible modern pet-forms.
Like the sun at Midwinter, Quenilda’s return to our world was brief. But if you’re a fan of Matilda, but are looking for something more out of the way, why not consider Quenilda?