Zita: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on January 15, 2013

Wedding of Archduke Charles of Austria and Pri...

Wedding of Archduke Charles of Austria and Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma in Schwarzau Palace. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s been worn by a saint and an empress, but you’ve probably never heard this name.

Thanks to Shannon for suggesting Zita as our Baby Name of the Day.

A thirteenth century Tuscan servant girl was destined for greatness.  Despite harsh working conditions and her young age, Zita was a diligent servant in the Fatinelli household in Lucca.  She went from low man on the totem pole to head housekeeper, performing chores as if they were a privilege, proclaiming  her faith the whole time.  She’s now the patron saint of servants.

She’s known as St. Zita.  Was it her given name?  Maybe.  Her last name has been lost to history.  As for the origins of her first name, I’ve heard it comes from:

  • The Tuscan word for little girl – zita.  The Italian word for girl is ragazza; bambina is used for a little girl.  But Zita would’ve spoken a dialect.
  • There is an Italian word – zitella - for maid, but I can’t tell if it refers to an unmarried woman, or a housekeeper.
  • Medieval Italian names regularly used the letter z, but the closest name I could find to Zita was Citha - which feels like a stretch, though she was recorded as St. Sitha in England.
  • Zita feels like a diminutive for established names – think of Rita or Nina.
  • This tracks with another suggested origin for the name – a short form of Sidonia or Felicitas, though these seem tied to Eastern Europe.  Zyta is another spelling found in Slavic countries.

Zita is not a well-known saint in the US today, but she once had quite a following.

The name remained in use, too:

  • Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma married Emperor Charles of Austria in 1911.  Her full name was Zita Maria delle Grazie Adelgonda Micaela Raffaela Gabriella Giuseppina Antonia Luisa Agnese. (And you though Uma went overboard!)  Zita was the seventeenth child, give or take, of Robert I, Duke of Parma.  Dad lost his duchy to the unification of Italy, but the family remained wealthy and most of the kids made impressive marriages.  Zita was born at the Villa Borbone della Pianore, in the saint’s hometown.
  • Zita Johann was an actress, Boris Karloff’s co-star in The MummyShe was born Elisabeth in Germany, and I can’t confirm when – or why – she changed her name.
  • Then there was Ellen O’Keefe, born in Ireland and trained as a nurse.  O’Keefe came to New York and opened a home for women in dire straits.  It eventually became a religious order, and O’Keefe was known as Mother Zita, the founder of St. Zita’s Home for Friendless Women.  Given O’Keefe’s vision, the patron saint of servants seems like a good fit.
  • Zita Jungman was one of the Bright Young Things in the 1920s, a group of well-born, affluent young people indulging in extravagant nightlife in 1920s London.
  • Two Belgian princesses currently have Zita in their name: Princess Maria Laura Zita Beatrix Gerhard and Princess Laetitia Maria Nora Anna Joachim Zita.

Zita was used in the US, too, but has never been popular.  Just eleven girls received the name in 2011.  Still, if you’re looking for an unexpected and zippy Z-name, or a different Catholic saint to consider, Zita might be the one for you.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristin January 15, 2013 at 3:34 PM

Zita strikes me as very much a nickname. It could be a fun twist on traditional Elizabeth nicknames.

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appellationmountain January 16, 2013 at 7:33 AM

I think so, too – in fact, my first guess was that Zita was derived from an elaboration, like Teresita. If that’s the case with the original bearer, it is lost to history … But it does sound like a short form, doesn’t it?

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Diana January 15, 2013 at 2:16 PM

I had an aunt Zita (who I htink was actually a grandmother’s cousin), but she was an Elizabeth (or possibly Elizabetta?)

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Julie January 15, 2013 at 5:04 PM

I know an elderly Zeta, whose full name is Elizabeta.

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estella January 15, 2013 at 12:58 PM

The two Belgian princesses are named after their great-grandmother, the Empress Zita you mentioned above. The process of beatification for Empress Zita opened in 2009. Her husband, Karl, the last emperor of Austria, was beatified in 2004.

I quite like the name – exotic and fun to say, but with a humble, religious history.

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C in DC January 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM

I think Waltzing may have hit the nail on the head: Zita from Teresa by way of Teresita. In Portuguese, it would be Teresinha and a lot of other names take the nn -zinha (like Soniazinha for Little Sonia), so Zita may just mean “little one”.

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Waltzing More Than Matilda January 15, 2013 at 2:42 AM

I had an Italian friend at school called Teresa, and her aunt was named Zita (the family was originally from Tuscany, so I’m guessing the local saint was the inspiration for her name).

I think to Teresa, Zita was a dowdy old-fashioned aunt-type name (poor auntie was probably only about the age I am now!), but I thought it was really cool and unusual – and I’ve never met another one.

Although it sounds very Italian to me, according to the records, it was common amongst Irish Catholics, and there are lots of Zita Kellys and Zita O’Rourkes to be found.

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