This page was written for my old Squidoo pages, it will reside here and the coding will be cleaned up.
Investigating the Name Ilona
Meaning of the Name, Ilona
I'm Hungarian by descent, and my name is Ilona. Those two facts are linked and provide the basic reason to share this story of the investigation of my name with you.
Names have meanings and at times people attach great significance to their names. For some, the name of a child portends their future, or it may designate something special within the child or their family. It just might represent the hope of the parents. There are many reasons a name may be chosen.
In my family there were a number of the girls that were named Ilona: my grandmother, my aunt, a cousin, and myself. Both my cousin and I named one of our girls, Ilona. In the mainstream of America, though, this name is not all that common, but people tend to react positively to it. Perhaps that is one reason I was quite interested, for many years, to investigate the meaning of the name.
Names have interesting stories, and they are not always what you would expect. The name of Ilona turned out to be one of those unusual stories, which seems quite appropriate for a somewhat unusual name.
Source: Old Book Illustrations
Baby Name Book - where I sought the first information - ... so many,many names
Most good baby name books give fairly accurate name meanings and root source of a name. In fact it was a particularly good name book that started me wondering why it listed a different meaning for "Ilona" than many of the more common books I had referenced.
People have long attached more than the mere word to names. For many cultures it called out the destiny of the person, or memorialized a significant event of their lives.
There have even been secret names that only the clan knew, and though we seem far removed from that today, it remains that people still attach special meaning to themselves through their name. This book is meant to give background on a very large number of names for those interested in that information.
What's Helen Got To Do With It?
The case of Helen
The Six Swans by Warwick Goble Poster
Almost every baby name book will say that the name 'Ilona' comes from the name 'Helen'. Helen is a Greek name originally, and the Russian form of Helen is Elena. When you hear it pronounced, it sounds very much like Hungarian pronunciation of Ilona.
That linguistic phenomena is called a cognate. The dictionary tells us: "Linguistics descended from the same language or form: such cognate languages as French and Spanish".
A cognate word: The English word water is a cognate of German wasser. In fact, the two languages have many cognate words with each other.
In the same way the Ugaric family of languages have this type of cognate links between them.
So if you follow that line of thinking, similar sounding names could also be linked in that way. The related meaning of the name Ilona could possibly derive from the name Helen, the Trojan princess whose beauty ignited the famous Trojan wars of ancient time (at least that is how the legend goes...)
The trouble with that idea, for me, was the fact that Hungarian is such a different language group from the Greek. That, along with originations of the name "Ilona" which come from the Eastern hordes (from evidence and Hungary's own stories), and not from later influence from European territories and languages. Besides that, I found that Finns, a language group that is supposed to have some distant relation to Hungarian (see the link on Ugaric languages) also traditionally has the feminine name, Ilona .
That triggered a desire to investigate further this family and cultural infused name of mine.
The old name book that I had read, back in 1967 (far enough back in time that I could not remember the name, or relocate it), had given the name meaning as "Beautiful Spinner". I had latched on to that as an intriguing name meaning. It was very different from the usual "Bright Light" or "torch" of Helen which was given in most name books.
Here is a bit more of the etymology of Helen's original name:
"Helene is a direct transliteration of the ancient Greek name found in English as Helen or Helena. Its etymology is disputed and has been complicated by shaky theories placing, for example, 'helene' as a cognate of 'selene' (moon). It has also been suggested that the name comes from an Indo-European root meaning 'shine'. The strongest theory suggests the name comes from 'helene' (also found 'helane'), meaning 'torch', or 'helene', meaning 'basket'. The torches were made from bound together reeds and the baskets in question were woven wicker and rope. Therefore, 'helene' may mean 'wicker', 'reed' or 'shoot' (it was not uncommon in Greek for a word for a material to come to refer to an object itself made from that material). The modern French form of this name is written Hélène and pronounced 'ey LEN'." 
The question for me was "Where did the spinner part come from?" "Why was the term "Beautiful" connected with "Ilona" in the old fairy myths of Hungary?
I followed a path that led to the "fairy" legends of Tunder Ilona, who was the Hungarian Queen of Fairies. I also took a look, not a scholarly one, but based on my own conjecture of the meaning of root words common to some of the languages related to Hungarian.
It is simply guesswork and nothing else, so I don't know if there is any accidental accuracy or not!
Fairy Ilona - Fae woman originations
Fairy by Warwick Goble
One trivia fact I found was that often fairies were connected with the chore of spinning. This was true in the myths of a number of cultures. More well known is the way fairies are thought to spoil milk if offended.
Thoughts on the link between fairies and spinning
Fate, fairies, and spinning or weaving are all interconnected in the early tales that people used to explain events and influences that impacted their daily lives.
Spinning was a woman's particular duty in many cultures, and a very important one. Fairy tales which still contain elements of the importance of spinning; two tales including the interference of fairies are Rumpelstiltskin and Sleeping Beauty.
In many tales fairies come to help the spinner do their work. Their help often held an unpleasant price to pay, and so the women were forced to find a way to trick the fairy folk to leave. Such stories, I believe, would have been the source for Tunder Ilona- the fairy named Ilona and spinning. Of course, she was beautiful as most fae women were, which is the beginning of another story, one of the power of a beautiful woman and the cautionary tales about such things.
That thread is where the author of an old name book was likely to have derived the meaning for the Hungarian form of Ilona, at least in my telling of the story.
Here is a short excerpt of a Tunder Ilona tale:
THE WATER OF ENDLESS YOUTH
"In the very center of the copper castle is the chamber of wondrous fair Ilona, she is sleeping there now. The couch of fair Ilona is neither on the earth, nor in the sky, but is in the air between the earth and sky, and a stairway goes up to it. ...
In the corner of the chamber gush forth two fountains. In one is the Water of Endless Youth, in the other is the Water of Death. Take water from each fountain. Here is a flask. Fill it for me from the fountain of Youth, for I, too, would like to be young again." - Fairy Tales Of Eastern Europe
Seeking the origin of Ilona - Hungarian and Finnish Girl's Name
This has more names than any other baby name book I've come across.
Name Day August 18th (Hungary)
In Hungary, the name Ilona is celebrated as a Name Day on August 18th.
Ilona Name on the Net
Finnish ilona "as a joy", as in Tämä lapsi on meille ilona : "This child is a joy to us".
Finding what's at the bottom of the name
To make a long story short, (although you can read the long story, here) I found that the most likely meaning of the word Ilona was the combination of the suffix -na and the root word "ilo". From what I could piece together in the related languages.
In Finnish, which is grouped with the Hungarian language:
1. joy, delight, happiness, pleasure.
There is a word, the root "ilo" in the essive case, which is translated "as a delight".
The 'na' ending in these languages had the meaning of "having the qualities of" or back in the Sumerian "to be with".-Ilona
Ãl, Ãla, Ãli = to carry; deliver; carrier; etc. -Sumerian.
If you study fragrance you know that certain parts of the perfume ingredients are carriers of the other essences which comprise the fragrance. It is that idea that I began to see within the roots words for the name Ilona.
Variants, Nicknames, Similar Names
Ilonka, Elena, Ilana, Ilane, Ileana, Iliana, Ila, Iona, Ilon
The Finnish Ilona October 9th (Finland)
Finns celebrate the 9th of October as a Name Day for the name Ilona.
Ilona Zrínyi - and other famous women
... an odd assortment of women named 'Ilona' who I find interesting.
Ilona Zrínyi spent her life fighting for Hungarian freedom, as wife to Ference Rákóczi I and then to Imre Thókóly. She was the mother of Ference Rákóczi II.
Vlad the Impaler married Ilona Szilágyi, a cousin of King Matthias, and in the years before his final release in 1474, lived with her in a house in the Hungarian capital. She bore him two children.
In Modern Times
Ilona Mitrecey - French singer
Ilona Andrews -author
Is Ilona Your Name, Too?
It is not in the top 1000 names in the USA, see if yours is, here. Ilona is used as a first name 77.14% of the time and as a middle name it is used 22.86% of the time. One in every 20,063 Americans is named this.