baby name ElsaElsa once appeared mostly on lists of seldom-heard Elizabeth names.

Then came Frozen.

Thanks to Natalie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

Elizabeth of Arendelle

First things first: this isn’t a completely unknown form of Elizabeth. The name has appeared in the US Top 1000 every year since 1880, though most years the name has charted at #500 or above.

In 2013, Elsa ranked a modest #526. That December, the world met the princesses of Arendelle and Disney’s re-imagined Snow Queen. The name shot to #286 in 2014, but then tumbled. As of 2018, it fell to #888.

It’s a logical choice for the character. Elizabeth feels quintessentially royal. In much of Europe, the name is spelled Elisabeth, with an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z.’ That makes Elsa as logical a short form as Eliza.

Given Frozen’s semi-Scandinavian setting, the name fits. It’s known throughout Scandinavia and beyond; the movie’s locations were based on several real-life Norwegian settings.

Unlike some princesses, Disney named this character from scratch. While the story is based on The Snow Queen fairytale, she’s not named in the original tellings. In any case, the version we know in Frozen evolved dramatically from the villain of the original story, so a new name was in order.

Here Comes the Bride

Long before we ever belted out the lyrics to “Let It Go,” another musical Elsa gets credit for the name’s popularity.

Richard Wagner’s 1850 opera Lohengrin increased use of this name in the English-speaking world.  She’s Wagner’s unforgettable heroine, the first bride ever to marry to the famous Bridal Chorus, better known as Here Comes the Bride. Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria, chose it when she wed Prince Frederick William of Prussia in 1858. It started a tradition that continues today.

Lohengrin’s story is a tragic romance. Elsa – like her Arendelle counterpart – is set to inherit, in this case as the Duchess of Brabant. But this time, the heroine must marry and is eager to avoid her chief suitor. Lohengrin appears, by magic, on a boat drawn by swans. The only condition of their happy union? She can never ask about his origins.

They live happily ever after, until the love-struck bride caves, haunted by rumors of her husband’s past. She asks. He answers – truthfully – but then leaves forever.

The Swan Knight appeared throughout medieval folk tales, and Lohengrin is first mentioned by name in Arthurian legends around the thirteenth century. But it looks like Wagner either chose the Duchess of Brabant’s name himself, or borrowed it from one of many versions.

The opera debuted in New York in 1871, and the name was established as a familiar, but not too common, choice for a girl by the late nineteenth century.

Wild and Glamorous Life

A handful of others add to the name’s appeal:

  • Ingrid Bergman played Ilsa in silver screen classic Casablanca.  The sound and spelling are slightly different, but close enough to lend some Hollywood luster.
  • Then there’s actor Lanchester, best known for her portrayal of the Bride of Frankenstein in the 1935 film.
  • Fashion innovator Schiaparelli was a transforming force in 1920s and 30s fashion, a rival for Coco Chanel.
  • In the 1950s, actor Aguirre dominated Mexican cinema.
  • It’s the name of Einstein’s second wife.
  • You might recall journalist Klensch, known for covering fashion for CNN.
  • Model-actor Pataky, also known as Chris Hemsworth’s wife, is active today.

In the 1960s, Elsa was best known as the orphaned lion cub whose return to the wild is profiled in Born Free, the book and later movie. The title song even won the Academy Award for Best Song, and the movie also picked up the award for Original Music Score.

And yet, today none of these figures are nearly as instantly familiar as the Disney princess.


In recent years, the name has been popular from Spain to Sweden to France, a nicely pan-European choice. A handful of Mexican notables answer to the name, too.

One more fun fact? Orchid enthusiasts use it as an informal name for the orchid Elearethusa.

Twenty-First Century Name

Heading into 2010, Elsa rose steadily. Connecting to Elizabeth kept it classic. It owed something to the rise of Ella, too. But the sound felt distinctive and different. It carries a sophistication, like Sophia. And it fits with liquid names, the Siennas and Elenas we’ve embraced.

Then along came Disney to sprinkle this name with a heap of pixie dust.

From December 2013 onwards, Frozen was everywhere. There’s a ride and a meet-and-greet at Walt Disney World; the character graduated to ABC’s Once Upon a Time in late 2014; merchandise related to the movie can be found everywhere. And now there’s the sequel, coming in late 2019.

All of this could point to a smash-hit of a girl name, and indeed, it doubled in use from 2013 to 2014, in the first wave of Frozen fever.

It’s worth noting that the Disney Princess effect isn’t so straightforward.  Plenty of parents quickly declared Elsa “ruined” as a real girl’s name thanks to the movie.

With so much history and charm, it’s feels like Elsa could have gone either way. But even in our age of Khaleesi and Leonardo, Elsa remains too deadly-wedded to the blockbuster movie for parents to consider it for a daughter. Maybe that will change in another decade or three?

Would you ever consider Elsa? Or is it just too Snow Queen?

This post was originally published on August 25, 2008.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on September 22, 2014, and again on June 26, 2019.

baby name Elsa

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.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. I don’t really care for it, mainly because I knew an Elsa in my 4th grade class (back in 1996-97. Our class was 4th and 5th mixed and she was a 5th grader) and she wasn’t very nice to me. I don’t like the nicknames Ellie, Elle, Ella, or Elsie either, and I know several Elsa’s who use these nicknames. They just don’t sound like pretty names to me. Other than that, Elsa is ok. I wouldn’t use it for my kid, but I don’t hate it. It is classy and I like that it isn’t common, but not too over the top. I personally like Elise better, although I would only use it as a middle name.

  2. katherine, Valentine was NotD back on Valentine’s day.. if you search for Valentine, you’ll find it!

    Jago’s the Cornish form of Jacob and related to James, so if youve a James or Jacob in the family, Jago’s a likely replacement! I think he’s kind of funky fun. Jazzy hip too. I can see a writer Jago, a musician Jago, an actor Jago but there are limitations to me. I can’t picture a happy CPA Jago or a Librarian Jago.

    And I’ll second Alberta/Albertine/Albertina as a possible NotD! I have an honorary Aunt Alberta (who goes by Ginger, I always thought her name was Virginia!) who was another one of my Mother’s best friends from college. I count her two boys as “cousins (as they do my siblings & I), even though we aren’t really blood related! I keep toying with crystalline Albertine (pardon) ain the middle somewhere for her. I think Albertine is pretty awesome! And with the rush for place names, why not Alberta?

  3. Elsa is one of my very favs. Some think it is too nny, but I find it substantial enough to stand on its own.

  4. Opps posted before I meant to!! Also, I haven’t checked whether any of these have been name of the day before…

    Valentine – I just love this!
    Jago- I keep reading this name on the ‘Telegraph brith annoucements and would love to learn a bit more about it!

    Thanks 🙂

  5. Could I by any chance suggest a few names for ‘Name of the day’ that I’ve had rolling around my head for a while and that I would like to hear more about??

    Noa – a frend recently cited this as a favourite and has got me all intriguedher…

    Alberta/Albertina – an old family name that would like to hear reaction to

  6. I really like Elsa’s simple pan-European style – a much nicer option than the tired and overused Ellie/Ella. She would make a good sibling set with Clara too, although I imagine Elsa would be the more spirited and spunky of the two… The only thing that puts me off is her diminutive status (and only because my personal preference is for full-length names that are shortenable) however, your suggestion of Elsa as a potential nickname for Elisabeth has opened my eyes to a possibility I hadn’t previously considered – and I LOVE it!!

  7. Oh, and I thought Casablanca had an Ilsa, not Elsa? Yep, checked IMDb, ingrid Bergman played Ilsa Lund. (Sorry, one of my very favorite movies (the Mr. bought it for our third Valentine’s day together and we watched it while the kids slept). One of my favorite “us” memories. That, and the movie is chock full of good names:
    Victor (and Laszlo!)
    Anina &
    Sascha (on the proper sex, for me!)

    What’s not to love about ‘Casablanca’? 🙂

  8. I have a Swedish GF (she lived around the corner from me when we were little. A twin, she was Elsa, her sister, Karin. When they moved back to Sweden years later, she flipped her names and became Yvonne Elsa, because there was a children’s cartoon or show with a “little Elsa” and that aggravated her to no end at 14. We still talk several times a year and while I’ve grown accustomed to calling her Yvonne, I still think of her as Elsa (she knows this and thinks it’s rather funny).

    I also had a Great Aunt (My Grandpop’s sister) who was an Elisabeth, nn Elsa/Elsie. Sweetest woman! She died when I was in the 6th grade and I still miss her blueberry scones. But yeah, Elsa’s sweet for me. Mostly thanks to assocation but on her own merits, I like her soft feel but inner core of steel. Elsa’s no pushover (and I love that!). I personally would prefer her as a nickname for the family Elisabeth or even maybe Grandma’s Lilian (which is a stretch, I grant you).

    Warm, friendly and strong… Elsa’s an all-around winner for me!

  9. Before we had settled on Sybil for a girl, Elsa was high on hubby’s and my lists. We both liked this name a lot. Hubby’s only drawback was our Swedish last name. He didn’t want to sound too Swedish. It’s a pretty name, for sure!