When does a diminutive form of a classic appellation gain enough stature to stand on her own?

It’s a tricky question, but we feel confident that this one passes the test. Thanks to Natalie for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Liesel.

The best known bearer of the name is one of The Sound of Music’s singing von Trapp siblings. The eldest of the Bavarian Brady Bunch, she sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” on Broadway beginning in 1959 and then in the enduring classic 1965 movie version. Trivia buffs might recall that the rest of the clan consisted of Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl. In real life, Liesl was known as Agathe and her younger siblings were Rupert, Maria, Werner, Hedwig, Johanna and Martina.

Liesel is as German as strudel. It emerged as a short form of Elisabeth, which enjoyed just as much popularity in German-speaking countries as elsewhere. She shares her source’s meaning – My God is a vow, from the Hebrew Elisheva. Both Liesl and Liesel are used, but we think the “el” version seems more accessible in the US.

As an independent name, neither has topped the charts in Germany – nor has she even peeked into the US Top 1000. The similar Lisa, however, has been a smash on both sides of the ocean. In the US, she held the top spot for girls born between 1962 and 1969. Since those years were also the heyday of The Sound of Music, it’s possible that the character had some influence on the craze, but it’s impossible to link with any certainty. Plus, Lisa had been in the US Top 25 since 1958.

While Libby, Betsy and plenty of other Elizabeth/Elisabeth short forms feel too insubstantial to bestow independently, Liesel’s German origins distance her from her origins as a nickname. And with all the buzz surrounding other mädchen monikers like Lorelei and Anneliese, Leisel might fit in perfectly with emerging trends.

If you’ve been watching the Beijing Olympics, you may have spotted an Australian swimmer wearing this name – gold medalist Leisel Jones. She first competed in the Sydney games at the age of 15. That’s not a typo, either. While the typical German spelling is “ie,” we have stumbled across a few “ei” references, including MIss Jones.

If you caught the 1995 movie version of A Little Princess, that childhood staple, you might remember another notable Liesel. In the movie, she was billed as Liesel Matthews. In real life, she’s a member of the fabulously wealthy Pritzker family, and heiress to the Hyatt Hotels fortune.

We think Liesel’s vibe is feminine but not frilly. And she’s distinct enough from Elizabeth that only the most devoted nameniks will recognize that it’s not a separate name. With Lisa waning in popularity – she came in at an almost obscure #573 last year – there’s less chance of confusion.

As we watch Lorelei/Lorelai and Anneliese/Annalise/Annalisa prepare to supernova, Liesel seems like a better choice for parents hoping for something a smidge Bavarian, but still seldom heard.

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. I was born Liesl Sue Lux. My mom had always wanted a Susan, but my aunt “stole” it, so she named me after a friend from Germany. No one can spell my name, either… neither Liesl nor Lux (they always wanted to make it Lutz). (I recently had a doctor who had studied German, so he at least knew how to pronounce it… second vowel determines sound?) It’s just coincidence I sound so German, although until Ancestry, I did think I was at least 1/4 German. Turns out I have very little German blood, despite the name.

    I also hated my name because it was so unusual (compounded by sibling names of Dan, Mark and Jane) but have come to appreciate it. One byproduct is that almost everyone I meet remembers me by name. I am horrible at remembering names and feel extra bad about it by comparison.

    Apparently, Americans prefer the -el spelling, which annoys me to no end. Germans have told me it is the equivalent of Billie for Bill or Susy for Suzanne?

    Other than the woman I was named after, I have never met a person named Liesl, but I know of one other, and I remember seeing it among editor names in Glamour when I was younger. And of course, there is The Sound of Music. I was told I got a real kick out of that movie when I saw it in the theater just after it premiered. I predate the movie by a several years.

    Although I like having an unusual name, I keep waiting for someone to name a child after me. So far, no luck. I wish the name would surge!

  2. I was born Liesl Oma Finjord. Boy, was that fun in my youth! Not! I’m now 58 and after marrying a Carter, I have at least one name i don’t have to spell for people all the time. As a child, I did not like my name but as I grew older, I came to appreciate it. Like my name, I am unique so it fits me very well. I’ve actually had a friend name their child after me they liked the name so much. It’s taken a long time but I wouldn’t trade it for any other.

  3. We have a daughter, Liesel. We love her name. At the age of 18, she likes it, too. It is feminine and unique, and sometimes folks mistakenly call her by her mom’s name, “Lisa”. Some moments in grade school were challenging…one boy called her “Weasel”. She was always one of the tallest children in the class, and confident; the boy only made that reference once. In pre-K, her teacher rhymed all the kids’ names as a way of expanding the class vocabulary. Liesel was tastefully rhymed with “easel”.

  4. I’m partial to Liesl as a spelling, which definitely came from the movie (mom and dad saw it on their honeymoon), even though it’s a Bavarian/Austrian derivative- the L is tacked on to almost any word imaginable to make a diminutive version. In German, you’ll find the pronunciation of Liesel and Liesl are actually different, though English speakers generally won’t notice it. I hate the swimmer’s spelling, it’s just messed up and you’ll find that spelling only done by English speakers and it just makes my life harder (trying to keep friends from messing it up all the time). Despite the spelling and pronunciation issues, I love having an unusual name, and one that connects me with my second culture (I lived there and speak German).