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.
Liesl Forbes says
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!
Liesl Oma Carter says
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.
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”.
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).
Tova Linnet says
Don’t forget about Liesel from the Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I love this name so much!
I am a Liesel, as you can see, and as a child, I hated my name. I was ridiculed throughout my entire school career and wished to change it all during that time, as it only brought bad memories. But then my mother and grandmother(both 100% German) explained just how special this name was to them. When I became an adult, I realized just how special a unique name can be…..when I hear my name( either mispronouced or not), I KNOW I am the ONLY one they are talking about around me! Although I have met other Liesel’s, and am very good friends with another that also has the same MARRIED last name as I do :), I still feel that we all share a special kinship that others with “normal” and “common” names do not. I thank my parents for making me just a bit more special than others …no offense to anyone else out there 🙂
I know you posted this a long time ago, but I wanted to thank you for sharing your experience. We named our daughter Leisl (a friend’s spelling) (though it is very meaningful to us for several reasons which I can’t wait to explain to her).
She is three now, and the name is so her. She currently loves her name, though I know that will go back and forth as she gets older. I am Asha, and I had the same experience that you describe, being frustrated about it until I realized the benefits of having an uncommon name.
Any suggestions for a middle name to go with Liesl? At first, I thought about Liesl Elizabeth, but then I realized that Liesl is a short form of Elizabeth. I couldn’t have an Elizabeth Elizabeth Joiner, now could I ? 🙂 I want something that flows with Liesl as a first name.
Ah, but you could, Jessica! I’ve seen Isabella Elizabeth more than once. 🙂
If you’re going for classic: Liesl Katherine, Liesl Mary, Liesl Margaret! If you’re going for simplicity, Liesel Blair, Liesel Neve, Liesel Jane – after you! If you’re going for literary, Liesel Cordelia, Liesel Juliet, Liesel Cassandra. And because I just like them: Liesel Maren, Liesel Vrai, Liesel Avalon.
Best wishes & let us know what you choose – I do love Liesel!
mine is Marie. It’s fairly common, I’ve found, to pair Marie with L first names, both in the US and Germany.
I love the name liesl. Maybe because it is my name, though when I was born and my name was registered they missplelled it and I have been Lisle ever since…i often use diesel/weasel to phonetically say/spell my name to people who have not heared the name before. If I wasnt so attached to Lisle, I would have had it changed to Liesl…just looks better.
So glad I found your site! My family recently found out we were pregnant and Liesel is a definite contender for our baby if it’s a girl. I think it is such a sweet and precious name. We currently have three other girls: Imogen Layla, Helena Alice, and Penelope Jane. We are looking for another name just as sweet and traditional to fit in with the others. Our girls do go by nicknames; Isla, Hallie, and Poppy respectively. Imogen & Helena’s nn’s are used interchangeably with their real names, but I’m afraid Poppy probably doesn’t even know her name is really Penelope! I just wasn’t sure if Poppy was enough to stand alone.
Anyway, I’m rambling – I love your site and will be looking around for more ideas for both boys and girls. I’ll have to read to the girls about their names as well.
Hope you are having a wonderful Sunday 🙂
What great names, Alanna! I’m glad you’re finding the site helpful – and I can’t wait to hear what you choose for baby #4. Congrats! 🙂
I think Liesel is adorable, I have always had a soft spot for her, maybe because it reminds me of the Sound of Music.
We have a Liesel and she is coming up on 2 years old – obviously I love the name. I still adore it as much as the day we picked it.
I have had the odd person make the “weasel” and “diesel” references (more often weasel). Meh, whatever. You can rhyme almost any name if you try hard enough!
When we were considering spellings, we considered both Liesel and Liesl. Liesel is German and Liesl is Austrian. We’re German. Thus – Liesel. (I also considered the way the swimmer spells it – Leisel – but that just seemed too made up for me.)
I love the name Liesel!
All sides of my family descended from Germany, and after visiting Germany in 2006 I have become very fond of my heritage. I always loved the movie “Sound of Music” growing up and always loved doodling names on blank sheets of paper. Now that I’m getting married in 4.5 months and thinking of having children in 2 years I’ve been looking at names. My husband to be, is Greek, German and Swedish. His family though, always emphasizes the Greek, so I like to emphasis my German, so I want to name our girl (hopefully we have one) Liesl. I’ve really grown fond of this name and it would allow me to still keep my German heritage in our new family even though I’m dropping my maiden name of Metzbower or Mutzbauer (as it is in Germany). He however, he keeps saying that it makes him think of Diesel, honestly I really don’t think that a bunch of small children are going to pick up on this of course in a few years maybe, but then after boys get out of that stage of pestering girls, I think the similarity between the two will drop off. I still like this name a lot and threw around the idea of it being spelled Liesel, but went back to Liesl, I just like it better this way. It’s a very rare, feminine name I think, and is probably the most pretty that I’ve ever heard in regards to German names for girls.
Since you are still in the planning phase, I can tell you the pitfalls I experienced (mind you, I do love my name, but it does come with some baggage). My parents wanted a name without nicknames, you know, the normal variations on a name, like Tommy for Thomas, etc. What they forgot was the not so nice nicknames, like weasel and diesel. Or the mispronunciation issues that got me called Lysol all of 5th grade. That said, I do love being unique and gave my own daughter a unique German name as well, so if you still like it, go for it!
Liesel/Liesl … Hrmm… I wouldn’t consider this as a name for my own children, though I wouldn’t think it a bad name for a child. I’ll put it into the same category as Ketil/Ketill. I think it’s a nice name, but not necessarily the name I would bestow onto a child- unless, of course, we’re talking about it as a middle name. In which case, I believe Liesl could mesh very well with a variety of first names.
I think there is some kind of mass cover up of the name Magina! Someone told me on a board that she taught a girl by this name, but the student goes by her mn. I would think it to be after a relative.
Call me a pervy, but Orla reminds me of oral, which is usually mentioned as its main drawback.
I knew a woman in her early 20s by the name of Tamar. It fit her very well.
Arden is actually my ds’s mn. I only ever hear it – not irl – on girls despite it being ranked for males until the 60’s. Not that that means anything today. 😛
I never even thought about the fact that Liesel rhymes with weasel! LOL. I still kinda love her, but I guess that makes for one more problem to overlook.
Rocking Fetal, I was about to say “no way” to Magina – at least knowing how it is pronounced! – but believe it or not, I find it in US census records pretty steadily in the late 19th/early 20th century. There’s got to be a story there.
Katharine, Orla is an interesting one. I’ve heard it come up in conversation on a few boards, so let’s make her NotD on September 10.
Tamar is one of my sister’s closest friends – I’ve almost put her on the NotD list before, Another, so thanks for the excuse. She’s September 12.
Yarden, though – yikes! I could *almost* see Arden, but Yarden? Still, with Jordan being so hot, there’s no reason Yarden couldn’t work. I’ll see what I can dig up on September 14.
Haha! I noticed that misspelled Leisel Jones when my husband and I were watching the Olympics last week. I said something about it to him, “Do you think she pronounces it LYEsel” but he never studied German and didn’t understand my reference.
I like the name Liesl or Liesel, but our last name starts with and L and it just sounds weird. Also, I recently met a Liesel, and would not be able to name my child that – the association is too strong now.
On the other hand, I really like Elisheva. I like it about as much as I like Elizabeth, although we have a Lizzy in the famiy, so the name is out. Elisheva, though…it’s got a nice sound. Strange, right?
By the way, I know a Tamar and she just had a granddaughter named Yarden. I was wondering if you could discuss these names. They are…interesting…or something.
I’m have to agree that the rhymes really trip me up with this name. I hear Leisel as so close to diesel and weasel that it’s hard to imagine it feminine.
Love Marta, Louisa, Johanna and Martina, though . . .
I also have a suggestion for name of the day, following on from Isla – what about looking into Orla? This intriguing Irish moniker is gaining significant ground in the UK and I would be interested to see if people prefer it to Isla or not…
I’m with Lola and Apellation Mountain’s husband on this one, the ‘e’ just looks wrong, to me it’s Liesl. I know a Liesl actually which is bound to have influenced my opinion (her mum got the idea for her name after -you guessed it- watching the Sound of Music!) Whats more, she’s a very willowy, almost fragile looking character and thus fits Lola’s description perfectly. I neither like nor dislike the name but instead find it an interesting choice…
I never cared for this name. I would Dr. Seuss it the diesel and weasel route, which really turned me off. Suddenly, I really like it! I’m not sure what has changed. I think the harsh sounding names as well as -l endings have peaked my curiosity. I think I could totally get away w/ a lil Liesel considering my family’s hardcore German origins. Matilda, Liesel & Greta make me smile. I still have yet to embrace Gretel though.
Speaking of which… I have a suggestion for NoTD if you are up for something silly and perhaps challenging: Magina. Pronounced like the most unfortunate rhyme, yes. It is my grandmother’s name, and I can’t find its origins anywhere! She will proudly tell you how she was named after a woman from a neighboring town. I’ve never found this name in a book, though one site simply lists it as Russian. I would have assumed it to be German considering her lineage. She’s never gone by a nn, and any obvious associations appear to be lost on her. I can’t imagine growing up w/ this name, and no one believes me when I tell them! Personally, I would EXCLUSIVELY go by Maggie.
As it happens, my husband – who believe it or not, used to vacation at the Trapp Family Lodge, operated by the Sound of Music family in Vermont – shares your preference for Liesl, Lola. He agrees that the extra “e” looks wrong.
I honestly thought it was spelled Leisel when I started this, and since I don’t speak a word of German, it took some doing to figure out which was right. (Normally I just badger my German-speaking neighbors, but we’re away.) Anyhow, the potential for misspelling is one of those things that puts me off a name.
But it was one of the names that I wanted for myself back when I first watched the movie and was struggling through elementary school as one of five Amys.
So Liesel is not for me, but I’d far rather meet (or be) a Liesel, Liesl or even Leisel than a Lorelei.
I don’t like it. Flat out. Eww. I still find it rather diminutive and cutesy. I’d never poke fun of her when she’s already on a child but Liesel/Liesl is not for me, despite my half German paternal Grandmother (the other half was Spansh). I dislike Lisa as well. Too crystalline and fragile sounding for me. Not substantial like I prefer.
I do like her more than things like Eden, Haven and ick, Madison (as well as Anneliese, whose multiple mispellings drive me bananas). I’d give her a tiny thumbsup and a 5 on a scale of 1-10. Liesl/Leisel is okay but not fabulous. (and I’d rather Liesl over Liesel.. it just looks better).
I really like Liesel. It’s short, simple and sweet, and it sounds fresh compared to Lisa. It’s a pretty and strong choice for a girl. Liesel gets a thumbs up from me 🙂