Circa 1900, this one was a rarity, worn only as a nickname. Fast forward a few decades, and she topped the US popularity charts.
Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Lisa as Name of the Day.
There were indeed women called Lisa in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Not many, but enough to show up in the 1930 US Census records. She first charts in the most popular names for girls born in 1937, and her climb afterward was steady.
And here’s the mystery – I can’t find anything that explains why.
It is tempting to link Lisa to Leonardo DaVinci’s masterwork, the Mona Lisa. But why would a painting from the early sixteenth century inspire mid-twentieth century parents? There was the headline-grabbing 1911 theft – and equally sensational 1913 recovery – of the portrait. And in 1950, Nat King Cole crooned Mona Lisa in the World War II flick Captain Carey, U.S.A.
It could also simply be the latest in the evolution of the evergreen Elizabeth. Lisa is a long-time diminutive. And plenty of Elizabeth-derived names have charted over the years: Eliza was favored in the nineteenth century; Betty spent the 20s through the 40s in the US Top Ten; Beth was big in the 50s and 60s. Toss in Liza, Libby, Betsy, Ellie and Elle and plenty of women have shared the same name in slightly different forms.
Lisa entered the Top 100 in 1954 and hit #1 in 1962, a spot she’d hold for eight years. (In 1970, she was unseated by Jennifer.)
Her fall was almost as steady as her rise, and today Lisa ranks a mere #605 – that’s not obscurity, of course. But compare Lisa to Jennifer. The name that ruled the 70s remains in the Top 100 more than three decades after her peak.
Besides Lisa del Giocondo – the wife of a successful Florentian merchant now acknowledged as the subject of the Mona Lisa – there have been other notable Lisas through the years:
- In the 1980s, the Apple Lisa was a personal computer – and the given name of Apple guru Steve Jobs’ daughter;
- Little Lisa Simpson, she of the saxophone and smarts;
- Friends alum Lisa Kudrow;
- Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie Presley. You might think this is an example of a starbaby sparking a craze, but Lisa Marie was born in 1968 – when the name was already in the Top Ten;
- As the World Turns’ fictional Lisa Grimaldi;
- Lisa Loeb,the catseye’d singer of 1994’s hit Stay;
- TLC’s Lisa Lopes, better known as Left Eye.
I could go on. And on and on.
It’s worth noting that internationally, Lisa retains her charm. She’s a popular pick in Austria and Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
In the US, Lisa undeniably sounds dated. But she is surfacing as part of the traditional Germanic smoosh Anneliese and variants like Annelise and Annalisa. And Elisabeth seems more fashionable than the -z spelling these days, too. So while Lisa herself is no longer stylish, as part of a longer name, she’s still finding favor – just as it has always been.