The name was first introduced into the English-speaking world via the Marie Corelli novel, Thelma (1887).
The name has been claimed to be derived from the Greek, θελημα (thelema) meaning “will” though the Spanish feminine name, Telma, may be a more likely origin.
Telma is a feminine form of Telmo, a contraction of Santelmo, meaning, “Saint Elmo.” The name was usually bestowed in honour of a 13th-century Spanish priest and saint, Pedro González Telmo, known affectionately as Saint Telmo.
In 1925, Thelma was the 25th most popular female name in the United States. In 2009, she did not even appear in the U.S. top 1000 names.
Telma is used in Spain, Hungary, Portugal and Latvia.
The designated name-day is September 9 (Latvia).