The baby name Eliza started out as an Elizabeth nickname. Today it stands on its own, a sparky, spirited choice that still feels plenty traditional.
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.
SWEET SPOT NAME
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.
I can’t understand the popularity of Eliza. I can’t stand the LIE part, which in Victorian England led to the spoken (not baptismal, as far as I’m aware) Eliza nickname Lylie (pronounced Ly-lee) – apparently no longer used. Elise is to me a far more appealing variant of Elizabeth. But the full name Elizabeth is closer to the Hebrew original Elisheva, and therefore retains all the components of the name’s meaning, which to me is important. There are so many lovely nicknames to derive from the full name – Libby is a favourite of mine, and Bethan another – that I can’t see the point of not bestowing the full name in all its historic glory.
I love the name Eliza. It is the name of my second daughter (my other daughters are Evelyn and Edyth). I know when I first brought her home, there was so much confusion as to pronunciation if a stranger saw it written and confusion on spelling if I was saying it to them. I pronounced it “ah-Lye-za” at the beginning but got so sick of people spelling it with an A that I now pronounce it “ee-Lye-za.” I first read the name in Pride and Prejudice when Caroline Bingley calls Elizabeth “Miss Eliza Bennett.” Miss Eliza sounded so sweet to me! My daughter fits this name perfectly. She is sweet but also spunky. She is outgoing and social but is also sensitive. I think those qualities are perfectly summed up in the name Eliza. It is sweet with a little zing!
I saw on a new website http://www.parenting-checkpoint/baby-names/Eliza that Eliza is the “smartest female name”. Eliza is 6.5 times more likely to study at Yale and 3.5 times more likely to study at Harvard than an average female student.
I like Eliza. It sounds sweet and down-to-earth to me.
I LOVE the name Eliza. Its dropped a bit on my list of favorite names but I still adore it. I’ve always liked it as a way to honor my sister whose middle name is Elizabeth.
I think one of the reasons I like the name so much is the LYE sound. (Obviously I prefer the pron. eh LYE sah). It is an interesting sound that gives the name a little something extra over the more popular Elizabeth. I’ve also played around with the name (LYE ah) but everyone always tells me it sounds too similar to lier. :\
Lady Gwyn says
Well, my middle name is Elizabeth, but as for Elizabeth’s nicknames, I prefer Libby, Elsie or even Elzie. I wish I could like Eliza, but I really don’t. I don’t know why. I wouldn’t mind meeting a little Eliza over another Ella or Ellie, though.
Charlotte Vera says
I have tried to love Eliza — I really have! My Fair Lady has been a favourite movie ever since I was a child, so I’ve always wished I liked its heroine’s name more. Sadly, it is not to be. I’m in the camp that finds its sound harsh.
It’s a perfectly fine name, but I much prefer just Elizabeth and other diminutives before Eliza. I know quite a few of all ages, so it actually seems a bit tired to me and not all that distinctive. Boring, even.
I love Eliza, I agree that the “beth” and “liz” sounds of Elizabeth don’t appeal to me, though many of her nicknames do. I think I grew up with too many girls who went by Liz and Beth.
Really though I love her because of My Fair Lady, I’ve performed the musical and it’s one of my absolute favourites. 🙂
English Kate says
As a nickname for Elizabeth – yes, as a stand-alone name – no. I quite like jaunty Eliza and I’m not usually a fan of the harsh ‘zz’ noise but I can’t see her as anything other than a lively nickname for the enduring classic Elizabeth. I think her ascension to popularity might well be quicker in the UK as I’ve heard of two babies named Eliza recently (not that this anything much to go on I know, but but it’s just how it usually goes).
I’ve always loved names with the long I sound: Jemima, Keziah, Irina, etc. It’s an unusual sound in girls names, so that’s probably why I love it.
My best friend “claimed” Eliza ten years ago and even though I think she’s done after 3 boys, I can’t use Eliza without feeling like I poached “her” name.
I really like Eliza and agree with Lemon that the ‘lie’ pronunciation is very attractive to my ears. I also dislike the ‘beth’ portion of Elizabeth, as well as the ‘liz’ sound, so Eliza is much preferable to the full version, IMO. Personally, I also like Liza as an even more streamlined option.
I do, however, also think that Eliza could gain the Top 100 shortly.
Well, obviously I adore Eliza. I don’t find it harsh – I find it strong. And, the lack of “Beth” on the end doesn’t make it feel more nickname-y or less-feminine in my personal opinion, though I totally see the similarity with Elijah. To me, Eliza is clean and classic, charming and cheerful. It’s got all the sophistication I’d want in a name, yet it feels just slightly whimsical to me.
I’ve met girls named Aliza and Alisa, pronounced more with that “ee” sound, but very rarely do I hear of an Eliza. Why? Not sure. As you mention, Abby, what’s stopping her from hitting the top of the charts? Could be that some people find her harsh. Oh, well. Maybe she won’t be insanely popular whenever I get around to using it…
C in DC says
I’ve always loved Eliza (long i), even if she was Alonzo’s uptight sister in the Little House books.
I like it pronounced El-ee-za. Pronounced ee-ly-za just seems a bit too masculine sounding, especially with Elijah and Elisha so popular for boys.
Eliza is a name that was under consideration for a granddaughter, and I recalled printing out an earlier “Name of the Day” you did for Eliza: https://appellationmountain.net/2009/04/30/name-of-the-day-eliza/
The mom who had Eliza on her list, still has it there for a possible second daughter. She likes the sound of the name and that it’s a form of her own middle name Elizabeth. Her concern has been that the name would be shortened to Liza, which reminds her of Liza Minnelli, not a particularly appealing connection for her.
I think it’s a beautiful name! Maybe not in English, though- but in Spanish it is pretty(we pronounce it “Ay-LEE-sah” rather than “Eh-LYE-zuh”)!
Huh. Mercy, do you think that explains the popularity of Elisa and Alisa a few decades back? I always assumed that had more to do with Lisa/Alyssa, but maybe it is just a more phonetic spelling of Eliza? I’m intrigued …
I second that! Eliza’s got an unattractive sound, feels incomplete & nicknamey and just baffles me as to why she’s so popular. Blah!
I’ve never understood the popularity of Eliza. The sound is harsh and unappealing to me.