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.