Probably the most successful of all the Old French names of Germanic origin that were introduced to England by the Normans. It is derived from Germanic wil ‘will, desire’ + helm ‘helmet, protection’. The fact that it was borne by the Conqueror himself does not seem to have inhibited its favour with the ‘conquered’ population: in the first century after the Conquest it was the commonest male name of all, and not only among the Normans. In the later Middle Ages it was overtaken by John, but continued to run second to that name until the 20th century, when the picture became more fragmented.
English, Scottish, and northern Irish: occupational name for a maker of machinery, mostly in wood, of any of a wide range of kinds, from Old English wyrhta, wryhta ‘craftsman’ (a derivative of wyrcan ‘to work or make’). The term is found in various combinations (for example, Cartwright and Wainwright), but when used in isolation it generally referred to a builder of windmills or watermills.