GriseldaShe’s patient. But how long will we wait for her name to feel stylish once more?

Thanks to Kristin for suggesting Griselda as our Baby Name of the Day.

Griselda: Auntie

Sometime in the middle of the 1980s, I first heard this song on a rerun of The Monkees. They had a quirky song called “Auntie Grizelda.” Not one of their hits, but memorable: No bird of grace ever lit on Auntie Grizelda.

It struck me as an oddity, something like Drizella, the name Disney gave to one of Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters, Surely not meant for any real person, right?

Griselda: In Literature

Detail from The Story of Patient Griselda, pai...

Actually, I was wrong.

Griselda isn’t coined from unattractive words like grisly and gristle. Instead, Griselda comes from the Germanic elements gris – grey – and that familiar hild – battle.

Folklore gives us Patient Griselda. A poor but virtuous maiden, Griselda marries a nobleman. Her new husband puts her to all sorts of heartless and horrific tests, but Griselda is steadfast. She obeys her husband without complaint.

The story was told by Petrarch, then in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s The Decameron. John Phillip called her Meeke Grissill in a 1565 play.

At least four operas were based on the story, including Vivaldi’s 1735 work. There have been late twentieth and early twenty-first century updates of the traditional story, too.

Anthony Trollope used the name, but his Griselda wasn’t based on the patient character.

Griselda: In Real Life

There were probably some Griseldas in the Middle Ages, and a handful beyond then.

Heiress Griselda Steevens inherited a fortune, and used it to build a hospital in Dublin in the 1700s. Despite her wealth and good works, Miss Steevens was something of a recluse, which led to wild rumors that she was born with the face of a pig.

In late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Scotland, Lady Grizel Baillie was known for the songs she composed. Lady Baillie passed down her unusual name to a daughter. A century later, her descendant and namesake, Lady Grissell Baillie, became the first female deaconess in the Church of Scotland.

The name slowly faded into obscurity.

In recent years, Griselda seems to have been far more popular in Spanish than in English.

There’s Mexican poet and politician Griselda Alvarez. In 1979, Alvarez was elected governor of Colima – the first woman to hold the post of governor in Mexico. She spent six years in office, but came to politics after a long career as a writer, beginning in the 1950s.

More recently, there’s Argentine actress Griselda Siciliani, and a handful of other women.

The name also ranked in the US Top 1000 from 1972 through 1996, peaking in 1993, with 307 newborn baby Griseldas.

I suspect that’s the influence of Spanish-speaking Americans.

And while the name is fading once more, there were still 51 girls given the name in 2013.

Griselda: In 2015

I’ve heard it described as a “witch name.” That might be because of Griselda’s sound, but it was also used as a character name in The Worst Witch. And more recently, a very minor Harry Potter character was named Griselda Marchbanks.

Overall, it’s hard to imagine a baby Griselda in 2015. Except that it was once hard to imagine a baby Matilda. From the 1960s through the 90s, the name had almost disappeared. The same is true for many a vintage revival. They’re not back until they’re … back. And then we all wonder why the name wasn’t more popular sooner.

Do you think Griselda has a chance of a comeback in 2015?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Griselda is one of my guilty pleasure names. A name you love but keep that love to yourself because people will think you are crazy for loving it.

  2. I hate to be pedantic, but Boccaccio wrote the original Griselda tale, Petrarch translated it into Latin and then Chaucer wrote his version.

  3. Thank you for doing Griselda! If I’d had my druthers, my youngest would be a Griselda. I first came across it in Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage. It strikes me as unabashedly female, as well as strength personified. It is much the same way I feel about Minerva, Hermione, and the like. I also like the nickname option of Selda/Zelda. In the end, the husband reacted to it just as most do. (And the same way he reacted to Lettice, Hermione, Blanche, Minerva, and Maude. Sigh.)

  4. Griselda is an unsympathetic character in World Without End by Ken Follett (the sequel to the Pillars of the Earth). She tries to trick the main character into marrying her by pretending he is the father of her child, although everyone knows he isn’t.

    That association pretty much ruins the name for me.

  5. I read somewhere that the names Gerda, Gunnilda, and Gunnora were still being used in Sweden. Albeit, it mentioned that those names weren’t common, but familiar. So I can see Griselda being used by families who want to honor their German/Swede descent stateside, without having to choosing the other more clunky variants. I think the off putting bit to me is the z sound and the meaning ‘grey battle’, simply because I interpret the meaning as ‘bleak battle’ something caused out of bitterness with fruitless outcomes. AND/OR ‘grey battle’ could be interpreted as meaning ‘bleak battle’ but by its second definition, which is cold or freezing as in a ‘winter (harsh) battle’ which makes neither possible meaning attractive. The story of Griselda’s patience, virtue, and to honor her husband does paint a better picture than a harsh battle with bleak outcomes. I wouldn’t bat and eye if I had met an adult or child named Griselda, but it isn’t my cup of tea. However, this is coming from someone who likes other German names in sound and meaning that ‘other’ people feel are unattractive like: Leopoldina, Gundeline, Ermentrude, Fressenda, Ottilie, Cynewulf, Cnute and Otto. So I am less likely to judge it harshly, I just have no personal connection to the name in the same way as I do with other names.

  6. I like Griselda, possibly because I’ve known quite a few, mostly in Mexico. I have good associations with the name. Gris is a common nickname. As in German, “gris” is also the word for “gray” in Spanish.