Gender: Feminine
Origin: Hungarian/Finnish Илона
Hung (EE-loh-naw); Fin (EE-loh-nah); Germ/Pol (ee-LOH-nah)

The name was initially a Hungarian form of Helen, but its usage has spread throughout Eastern Europe and as even appeared north as Finland.

In Finland and Estonian, its etymology has often been traced to the Finnish ilona, the essive of the word, ilo, meaning, “joy.”

In Hungarian, it is a translation of Helen, via the Slavic, Jelena, in Old Hungarian it was Jelona. However, it has been suggested that it may be derived from an old Magyar source of uncertain etymology. The name appears quite often in Hungarian folklore.

Ilona is one of the few Hungarian names that has made a name for itself in other cultures, (no pun intended). It is a common female name in Albania, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, France, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Ukraine, the former Yugoslavian Republics and it is occasionally used in some Spanish-speaking countries.

As of 2011, Ilona was the 37th most popular female name in Finland. Her rankings in other countries are as follows:

  • # 178 (France, 2009)
  • # 478 (the Netherlands, 2010)

A few notable bearers include Ilona Zrinyi (1643-1703), a national heroine in both Hungary and Croatia, a representative of national freedom for both nations. She is famous for opposing the advances of the Habsburg takeover.

A common Hungarian diminutive is Ilonka.