The baby name Elsie fits right in with sparky, sweet baby girl names we’ve loved in recent years, from Sadie to Stevie.
Thanks to Zooey Deschanel for inspiring our Baby Name of the Day.
To find the meaning of the name Elsie, we have to go back to the evergreen Elizabeth.
Elizabeth appears in both the Old and New Testaments. It comes from the Hebrew Elisheba or Elisheva – “my God is an oath.” That’s sometimes interpreted as promise or vow, too; it’s an appealing meaning.
It becomes the Greek Elizabeth by the New Testament.
Even if you’re not a regular church-goer, that might ring a bell. She’s the mother of John the Baptist, and cousin to Mary.
The Biblical figure explains why the name has remained widely known across the centuries.
Queens and saints have answered to the name, including the twelfth century Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, and the legendary Queen Elizabeth I of England. (To say nothing of the recently departed Queen Elizabeth II.)
Plenty of related names have developed. The name’s most notable relation is Isabel, more common in England pretty much until the first queen by the name reigned.
The name’s popularity inspired dozens of nicknames, and that’s where the baby name Elsie comes in.
GETTING TO ELSIE
In plenty of languages, Elizabeth is Elisabeth, spelled with an S, including French, German, Dutch, and most of the Scandinavian languages.
Elsie could’ve come from any of those languages, and it is used in Sweden and Denmark by the nineteenth century.
But we often consider Elsie Scottish. Elspeth is a Scottish form of Elizabeth, contracted and smooshed down to just two syllables.
Elsie is the obvious short form of Elspeth, and both often appear on lists of Scottish baby names.
1900s ERA CHART-TOPPER
Of course, Elspeth has never appeared in the US Top 1000.
The baby name Elsie, on the other hand, ranked in the US Top 100 into the 1930s, including many years in the Top 50.
Why? During the nineteenth and early twentieth century favorites, Elsie reigned as a pop culture phenomenon.
Women by the name from around the turn of the twentieth century are plentiful, including:
- English actress and singer Lily Elsie – born Elsie Cotton – became one of the most famous Edwardian era stars.
- American actress Elsie Baker and fellow American – and Broadway legend – Elsie Ferguson. Baker’s career spanned eight decades, and Ferguson was known as the “Aristocrat of the Silent Screen.”
- Singer Elsie Carlisle and Elsie Janis.
- A groundbreaking Scottish doctor. Dr. Inglis was decorated for her service in the first World War.
- Fictional Elsie Dinsmore, a good-as-gold little girl whose mother is dead and father is elsewhere at the beginning of the long book series first published in 1867 by author Martha Finley.
ELSIE ON THE FARM
Now we have to talk about a cow.
Borden, Inc. was a huge food company with an emphasis on dairy. In the 1930s, they chose this name for their bovine mascot.
Elsie was a star of the World’s Fair in 1939, and made her movie debut in 1940’s big screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men. For a few years, the famous cow and family made their home at Freedomland USA, a theme park in the Bronx.
The barnyard association may have cratered the name. By 1975, it had left the US Top 1000 entirely.
BY the NUMBERS
It’s tough to say precisely how many women have answered to Elsie over the centuries. Plenty of them would’ve been Elizabeth on their birth certificates.
From the 1970s into 1990s, the number of girls named Elsie reached an all-time low in the US, hovering at or just above the 100 births/year mark. It was in old lady territory, and not in grandma chic way.
It fell out of favor in the UK, too. Though the pop culture associations would’ve been different. Long-running British soap opera Coronation Street included original cast member and central figure Elsie Tanner. She’s feisty and strong, a major figure on the show from the 1960s into the 1980s. And while the actress who played her, Patricia Phoenix, passed away in 1986, Elsie Tanner’s children have appeared in story lines in more recent years.
It’s also true that the baby name Elsie returned to favor in the UK more quickly. It’s been a Top 25 choice in England & Wales since 2018.
American parents have been slower to warm to Elsie, but by 2005, it had returned to the US Top 1000.
In 2020, actress Zooey Deschanel announced that she and husband Jacob Pechenik had welcomed daughter Elsie Otter. That year, the baby name Elsie ranked #233. It rose to #221 as of 2021.
What explains the name’s comeback?
It probably helps that, by the 1990s, the Borden company had receded from the public eye. While both the brand and the spokescow remain visible, they’re far less familiar today.
Much of Elsie’s renewed appeal is about the rediscovery of sparky nickname names, like Sadie.
There’s one more reason that the baby name Elsie sounds surprisingly current now: the initials L.C.
In 2003, there were 181 newborn Elsies. By 2005? 270.
What happened in 2004? Lauren Conrad first appeared on MTV reality show Laguna Beach. By 2006, she was a major reality star on The Hills. Her nickname is L.C. Her initials also became the name of her fashion line for Kohl’s.
While Conrad can’t get all the credit for the name’s resurgence, it seems like L.C. helped give Elsie a new, fresh image – and shake off the barnyard for good.
We love El names, and vintage nicknames like Goldie and Birdie continue to catch on. Elsie sounds like an obvious member of the family, a vintage darling with charm to spare.
It could be short for Eloise, as well as Elizabeth/Elisabeth, and Elspeth, of course.
But it’s often not. And a new group of Elsies continue to keep the name in the spotlight. It’st he name of the housekeeper in Downton Abbey, though Elsie Hughes is usually just Mrs. Hughes – at least in early seasons of the tv series.
Young American actress Elsie Fisher is a rising star, known for roles in 8th Grade and The Addams Family and for voicing the character Agnes in the Despicable Me films.
It’s all contributing to the rise of Elsie, a sparky favorite that feels ready for a return to the spotlight.
What do you think of the baby name Elsie?
This post was originally published on November 29, 2010. It was substantially revised and re-posted on November 30, 2015 and again on December 14, 2022.
Frances Rae says
I still have my Elsie the Borden Cow mug from the late 1940’s. I just can’t get over the association.
I would not use it.
I prefer Elise over Elsie. For me, Elsie is more of a nickname than a standalone name. I do wonder if any parents of twin girls have chosen Elsie and Elise. The names are cute together, but it seems like the similarity would make for more than a bit of confusion.
I know a little Elsie, born this year. It was a surprising choice, but I loved hearing it!
This is a really lovely name, and I know a little girl with the name. However, for me it’s definitely nickname territory. The child needs a full proper grown up name on their certificate!
I agree. In May of last year, I gave birth to my daughter Elsie, named for my great aunt and my husband’s grandmother. We named her Elisheva, the original Hebrew name from which the name Elizabeth and many others have since been derived, and call her Elsie as a shortened form.
I don’t think it is too fluffy or nickname territory only, by the way, for anyone who uses it as a legal name. Just only that I agree that it allows the child the most flexibility to use a full unabridged name from which many others are derived so that they have the history and gravitas, as well as many options of what they can potentially be called. But we have yet to call our daughter anything but Elsie despite the option!
English Kate says
A friend of mine recently named her daughter Elsie to honour her grandmother and I had a similar reaction to you guys but Elsie has really grown on me – she has such a sweet sound.
Appellation Mountain: Has Tessa been a name of the day before? If not, could you pencil her in? Many thanks.
I love Elsa and find it substanial enough to stand on its own. Elsie is too fluffy for me but makes a sweet nickname.
I adore Elsie! My Great Aunt was Elsie, nickname for Elspeth (I like her sibset too: Leslie, Elspeth, Henrietta & James).
My Grandpop Leslie married a girl named Elisabeth, nn Lily.
I almost settled on Lily Elspeth ___ for Josephine, but changed at the 12th hour. If there’s a second girl ever, I am seriously considering Elspeth, nn Elsie (or at least Elspeth in the middle). Elsie is sweet, spunky and fresh. Some may say ‘farm fresh’ but cows are on my kitchen curtains and my cookie jar ‘moooos’at me, so that just seems wholesome to me.
I love Elspeth – great name!
A family friend has granddaughters named Emily and Elsie. I’ve always thought that it was a pleasant sounding sib-set.
Elsie may becoming more popular, but when I hear the name I think of cows.
Friends of ours considered Elsie for a daughter about five years ago. I had the same initial reaction, but it grew on me, and it was a family name so they really thought it might work. (They ultimately named their daughter Piper.)
Emmy Jo says
I do like Elsie a lot. If I were the sort that didn’t mind Sadie or Minnie as stand-alones, I’d have no problem with Elsie. I think I’d tend to opt for a longer form, though. Elsa or Elisa or Eliza or Elizabeth would all work for me.
Lady Gwyn says
My cousin and her husband had Elsie on their short list for their last girl (she ended up being Tessa!), and I was like ummmm….but it had started to grow on me by the time they decided on Tessa. I convinced my cousin that she would have been named after me. My middle name is Elizabeth, so I thought that Elsie was a play on that.
I don’t know if I would use Elsie as a stand alone, but it is a cute nickname for Elizabeth. I also like Elzie (Ell-ZEE) as a variant. I don’t know if it’s a legit variation or not, but I like it!
I love Tessa – actually, I love Tess.
Elzie could be cute – emphasis on the ZEE, right? For Eliza, too …
If Sadie can lead to Zadie, why not Elsie and Elzie?
Charlotte Vera says
I didn’t comment on the Thanksgiving Day contest because I feel that my knowledge of American Thanksgiving is a little too limited (my favourite suggestions were those related to “golden” and the clever word-play done with Merci). However, I did think that if I had to give my child a Thanksgiving Day-related name, I would choose to name him/her after my maternal grandparents. Why? Because they were both farmers; Canadian Thanksgiving takes place in October in honour of the harvest. That would make my naming options Henry and Elsie, so I was pleasantly surprised to see Elsie listed as today’s BNotD! Actually, should this baby be a girl, I do plan on using Elsie somewhere in her name, not only because of my maternal grandmother, but also in honour of my Oma, whose name was Elisabeth.
What a happy coincidence, Charlotte!
I know a little girl named Elsie – She’s 5 years old, blonde hair, the most endearing personality. It was the first time I’d heard the name, so I have nothing but positive associations with this one.
I can definitely see this catching on. I do think its cute, but I much prefer Elsa as a stand alone name.
…i just love elsie, and would definitely use it as a nn for elisabeth, but what do you think about elsie as a nn for anneliese?
Awkward Turtle says
For Anneliese, I would expect Elise to be to El- nickname. Elsie and Anneliese are both lovely, but to unrelated for me.
Emmy Jo says
I think it works. Anneliese is a combination of Anne and Elisabeth. Since Elsie comes from Elisabeth, the names are historically related.
I agree with Emmy Jo. It isn’t an obvious nickname, but since Anneliese’s roots point to Elizabeth, it seems reasonable. And if think about the simplified American spelling Annelise, then you have Elise right there – even closer to Elsie.
Love the vintage style of this name. Its short, sweet and feminine. I see the little girl that wears this name to be in Mary Janes and have cute curls and a few freckles. I also think it will age well and look very nice on a grown woman.