There’s Zoe and Zara, Zelda and Zahara, even Zenobia and Zuleika. Z names have an undeniable appeal. But if your tastes lean more towards the classic, you can still have your z.
Thanks to Inbal for suggesting Eliza as Name of the Day.
Purists might insist that Eliza is a nickname. And indeed that is her origin. She’s just one-syllable short of Elizabeth, the classic in use since the thirteenth century. All name aficionados know that Elizabeth comes to us from the Hebrew Elishebha or Elisheva. The meaning is usually given as “God is an oath.” The Biblical appellation has been worn by queens and saints, actresses and authors.
Eliza can’t claim quite as much history, but she’s been bestowed as an independent name since the 1500s. And while Elizabeth is among the most evergreen of girls’ names, Eliza’s use is more enduring that many of the current Top 100.
In the late nineteenth century, Elizabeth was a fixture in the Top Ten while Eliza ranked in the Top 100. There’s no way to determine how many Elizabeths might’ve answered to Eliza, but doubtless there were a few among the Bettys, Libbys and Beths.
Between the 1940s and 1970s, Eliza faded from use, falling out of the rankings entirely for a few years. While she may never rival the original, a few factors argue for a strong comeback:
- Elizabeth stands at #10, suggesting that Eliza may leapfrog up from #334 as parents seek alternatives;
- Hollywood names remain all the rage and Audrey Hepburn played the up-from-the-gutter Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, the musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion;
- She fits the current vogue for names in fashion at the close of the nineteenth century;
- Just try it out – Eliza sounds like the perfect sister for Abigail or Olivia.
Besides the class-leaping Eliza Doolittle, other famous bearers of the name include:
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum, actress Eliza Dushku, currently playing Echo on television’s Dollhouse;
- Australian actress Eliza Szonert is best known for her role on Neighbours;
- In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Eliza is one of the slaves escaping to the North;
- Eliza Bryant was the daughter of a freed slave, active in assisting slaves freed following the American Civil War;
- 19th century English writers included Eliza Cook and Eliza Fenwick.
It’s a long list. Eliza is also the title of a patriotic eighteenth century opera, but there’s no character answering to that name – instead, the lead soprano is called Brittania.
The Eliza Effect is the tendency to attribute human-like emotions to computers. The name comes from another famous Eliza of sorts, this time a computer software program designed by MIT’s Joseph Weizenbaum. (Eliza fooled us by simply rephrasing our comments as questions.)
The name has also been worn by a few ill-fated ships from the early 1800s – one that disappeared off the coast of Australia and another that wrecked in Fiji.
Overall, Eliza stands well as an independent given name. The only possible shortcoming to using Eliza is sacrificing some of the lovely Elizabeth’s nicknames. While Ellie and Liz would remain options, Betty, Beth, Betsy and perhaps even Libby would be something of a stretch.
But as a given name, Eliza fits with current trends while remaining just a little bit different.