Thanks to Lemon and Inbal for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
THE EVERGREEN ELIZABETH
Few girl names remain in style as effortlessly as Elizabeth. Never out of the US Top 30, and rarely out of the Top 20, it is the rare name that appears in every decade. The nicknames change, but Elizabeth remains near the top.
Some of those Elizabeths have been Elizas.
Including the most famous Eliza of our moment …
Even if you’ve never seen the hit Broadway musical or the live version filmed for Disney+, chances are you’ve heard some of the songs from Hamilton: An American Musical.
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton – known as Eliza – grew up privileged and determined. She married Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, and played a pivotal role in his career and ensuring his legacy.
Oh, and she’s got a serious singing voice, too.
Erm, maybe. Whether the historical figure could sing or not is lost to history.
But we all know the famous trio thanks to their introduction song.
It’s easy to imagine the Hamilton character inspiring parents.
The baby name Eliza featured in a celebrated musical decades earlier, beginning in 1956.
When My Fair Lady opens, Professor Henry Higgins is bragging that he can teach any person to speak the most elegant English. His friend calls him on his boast, and soon Higgins is charged with transforming the churchmouse-poor, Cockney-accented flower seller Eliza Doolittle into a lady.
Not just a born aristocrat, either, but one who can fool Professor Higgins’ rival linguistics expert into believing she’s the real deal.
The Hollywood version, starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, ends in triumph, with Eliza and the professor finding true love.
It’s based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 Pygmalion, though Shaw preferred a less happily-ever-after ending.
We know that Eliza was in use by the 1700s, at least.
But when does the baby name Eliza first surface?
The Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources lists it in England during the 1500s.
It’s tempting to place it even earlier, thanks to the legend of the Biddenden Maids. Said to be born in the village of Biddenden, Kent in the year 1100, the maids were conjoined twins named Mary and Eliza Chalkhurst. They inherited land from their wealthy parents, and on their deaths, the land was sold to provide for the poor.
It’s an appealing tale, but it’s almost certainly fiction.
In any case, the names Mary and Eliza weren’t associated with the twins until much later – into the early 1800s.
A patriotic opera about Queen Elizabeth I of England bears the name Eliza. Written by Thomas Arne, it dates to the 1750s. In the 1790s, an unrelated French opera set in the Swiss Alps also used the name as its title.
Another Eliza from American history was former First Lady Eliza McCardle Johnson, wife of 17th president Andrew Johnson.
Jane Austen used the nickname for one of the Bennet sisters in her 1813 masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, though she’s also known as Lizzie.
Harriet Beecher Stowe gives the name to a character in her 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She flees rather than see her young son sold to another owner.
No surprise, then, that this name ranked in the US Top 100 in the 1880s.
It all tracks with Mrs. Hamilton’s story. She was born in 1757.
BY THE NUMBERS
By the 1950s, the baby name Eliza teetered on the edge of obscurity, even leaving the Top 1000 briefly in the 1960s.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the name’s revival began.
Pop culture gave us a bunch of reasons to notice the baby name Eliza:
- The daughter on animated series The Wild Thornberrys, which ran from 1998 through 2004, is named Eliza. She can talk to the animals, which brings to mind another Rex Harrison role: Doctor Dolittle.
- A handful of actors, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Dushku, Scrubs’ Coupe, and The 100’s Taylor boosted the name. Plus there’s pop singer Eliza Doolittle -born Caird.
- In 2004, a young Lindsay Lohan starred in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. She played Lola, who is cast as Eliza in an updated version of My Fair Lady.
The numbers follow. By 1995, Eliza had returned to the US Top 500. It reached the Top 300 in 2009.
That means the baby name Eliza was already powering up the charts when Hamilton debuted off-Broadway in 2015, and became a Tony Award-winning sensation the following year. In 2016, the name ranked #174. It leapt to #140 the following year, and #119 as of 2019.
That, of course, was before Hamilton arrived on Disney+ in July 2020. It’s reasonable to guess that the baby name Eliza will rank in the Top 100 when the new data is released.
Classic and vivacious, the baby name Eliza hits the sweet spot. The z sound feels modern, and the sound fits right in with established favorites like Olivia and Sophia. With history to spare, Eliza has staying power. And while it requires no nickname, it retains many of the options associated with Elizabeth, like Ellie and Liz.
There’s every reason to expect this name will continue to climb.
What do you think of the baby name Eliza?
Originally published on May 10, 2010, this post was revised and republished on January 11, 2017 and again on February 27, 2021.