Elise: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on December 12, 2012


Betty, Libby, Liza, Elle … rafts of names have come from the stately Elizabeth, including today’s quietly stylish option.

Thanks to Mierca for suggesting Elise as our Baby Name of the Day.

Elise has charted in the US Top 1000 every year since 1880, and at #162 in 2011, she’s more popular than ever.

What explains her popularity?  She’s vaguely French – currently ranked in the French Top 100 and the Belgian Top Ten.  This puts her in the company of Vivienne and Genevieve and other French names for girls.

Then there are all of the other Ellie names currently in vogue, from Ella to Ellison to Eliana.  Elise fits right in.

Besides, the name has some great associations.

First, there’s Beethoven’s “Für Elise.”  The score was dated 1810, but was published four decades after the composer’s death.  Was there a real Elise?

  • Many believe that the name of the piece was mis-transcribed.  Back in 1810, Beethoven proposed to a woman named Therese – who turned him down.
  • At the same time, Beethoven had a friend named Elisabeth Röckel, a German soprano sometimes known as Elise.

There are other theories, too, but those seem to be the most often repeated.

There’s also Hans Christian Andersen’s telling of the Wild Swans fairy tale, adapted as a ballet, animated movie, and more.

In the story, a widowed king has a dozen children: eleven boys and one girl.  He remarries, and the kids get a wicked stepmother who curses the boys.  They must spend their days as swans.  The boy-birds carry their only sister to safety in a foreign land, where she works to  lift the curse.  The virtuous Elise learns that harvesting nettles and knitting them into shirts will free her brothers – but she must not utter a word the whole time.  While she’s at her work, she meets the king and they fall in love.

But the locals fear that Elise herself is a witch, and she’s about to burn at the stake when she finally finishes her knitting.  The spell is broken, and Elise is free.  She and the king marry, and everyone lives happily ever after.  (Except, presumably, the wicked stepmother.)

The German pronunciation of Elise is three-syllables, closer to Elisa.  The princess’ name is often given as Elisa or Eliza.

Then there are two Elises from the big screen, both romantic heroines in sci fi romances:

  • In 1980, Jane Seymour played Elise McKenna, an actress in the year 1912 who falls in love with a time-traveling playwright played by Christopher Reeve.
  • Then there’s The Adjustment Bureau, a 2011 Matt Damon/Emily Blunt movie about choice and free will.  Blunt plays Elise, the woman for whom Damon’s David risks all to re-write their destiny.

Then there’s The Cure’s 1992 hit Letters to Elise – the video at the top of this post.  It’s said that the inspiration for the song is from Franz Kafka’s letters to his fiance Felice Bauer.  (Kafka died of tuberculosis before the couple could marry.)  The song is heartbreakingly sad, but it is a favorite of many.

It all adds up to a name that is classic but not overly common, and pretty but not fragile.  She’s gentler that the lively Eliza, but less expected than Elizabeth.  In the first or the middle spot, there are many reasons to like Elise.

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