Elizabeth: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on December 25, 2013

English: Studio publicity portrait of the Amer...She’s among the most classic of girls’ names.

Thanks to TaraRhode for suggesting the saintly, regal Elizabeth as our Baby Name of the Day.

Let’s start with the Old Testament, where Elisheva or Elisheba is the wife of Aaron.  It means “my God is an oath” in Hebrew.  Elisheba could have lingered in obscurity, a Biblical rarity, a sister for Keturah.

But then there was the Greek Elisabet in the New Testament, and her son became John the Baptist.

It made for a name that was guaranteed to garner attention.  Elizabeth had her son late in life, long after anyone thought it possible.  John went on to baptize Jesus himself, and to become a major religious figure.

No wonder that Elisheva/Elisheba/Elisabet found favor over the years.  Though she’s a relative late comer to English.  Isabel was dominant through the Middle Ages, though both were in use, as were a few shared diminutive forms, like Tibby.

The most famous medieval Elizabeth was probably Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.  Born a princess, she dutifully married.  But after she was widowed at the age of twenty, Elizabeth proved herself anything but ordinary.  She negotiated the return of her dowry and used her new wealth to establish a hospital for the poor.  Not content to be just a benefactor, Elizabeth also worked as a nurse.

Then along came Queen Elizabeth I of England, a woman no one expected to inherit.  Both of her grandmothers shared the name, and it can be traced back even farther in their family trees.  Could it be that Elizabeth was gaining in popularity?  Maybe, though it appears that at least one of her ancestors was sometimes called Isabel, too.

Either way, King Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth would prove to be a tremendously capable monarch.  Royals aplenty have worn the name, along with:

  • Literature gives us Pride and Prejudice’s Lizzie Bennett, Little Women’s Beth March, and poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
  • Political figures range from suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton to former presidential hopeful Liddy Dole.
  • Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton comes to mind, the first native born American citizen to be canonized by the Catholic church, but there are lots of Saints Elizabeth.
  • The current queen of England is Elizabeth II, and so many princesses and nobles have answered to the name over the years that it is difficult to count.
  • Hollywood icon Liz Taylor, pictured above, plus Bette Davis, born Ruth Elizabeth.
  • It’s Tina Fey’s first name, along with actresses Elizabeth Banks, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Hurley, and  Olsen, and Perkins.  Elisabeth Shue wears an alternate spelling that feels right at home with French names for girls.
  • So many fictional characters – the youngest of the Walton siblings, one of the Wakefield twins in Sweet Valley High, and the bold Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean and its sequels.

International variants and nicknames are plentiful, as are other notables to answer to Elizabeth in one form or another.  It makes her tremendously versatile, morphing from sweet Betsy to stylish Eliza to preppy Libby to homepsun Ellie to gentle Beth.

Many will see her a rock solid classic, though some might find her too popular.  She’s hovered right around #10 in the US rankings since the 1980s, and has never ranked lower than #26.

I think she’s the best of both worlds – enduring and widely used, but with enough flexibility to make her fit any kind of girl.  There’s are so many reasons we’re still in love with Elizabeth.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Libby December 26, 2013 at 11:52 AM

I’m an Elisabeth (German spelling) who’s gone by Libby all my life. I’m fond of Elisabeth in a distant kind of way… but Libby really SUITS me. (I don’t, and have never, really felt like an Elisabeth. It’s so incredibly common, and the Elizabeth Bennet reference is a nice one, but she’s always seemed sort of superhuman to me — so cool she’s hard to identify with.) Anyway, I think that’s the real miracle of Elisabeth — no matter who you are, what sort of person you are, you’re bound to find at least one nickname that you like. Aside from the usual nicknames, I’ve met a Bess, an EB, a Lily, an Eli, an Ibby, an Ivy (not sure how this is short for Elizabeth, but it is somehow.)

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Bella December 26, 2013 at 6:08 AM

Such a beautiful, classic name! Hard to believe this hasn’t been name of the day already.

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appellationmountain December 26, 2013 at 1:14 PM

I know, Bella! When I first started writing, I tried to avoid the most classic names, thinking that they were already so well known, what could I possibly add? But all these years later, it feels like an oversight to have Pomeline and Astoria, but NOT Elizabeth!

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