She’s George Bailey’s darling daughter in Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.
Thanks to X for suggesting Zuzu as our Christmas Eve Baby Name of the Day.
Zuzu: Susan’s Sister
It’s hard to say how many girls have answered to Zuzu over the years.
That’s because Zuzu is traditionally a nickname for Susan. In Eastern Europe, Susan often trades her ‘S’s for ‘Z’s – Zuzana. Instead of Susie, the logical nickname is Z-rich.
In English, Zuzu is more of a surprise, but could still serve as a short form of Susan, Suzanne, Susannah, or any of the related names.
In the enduring holiday film, George and Mary Bailey of fictional Bedford Falls have four children: sons Pete and Tommy, daughter Janie, and their youngest, Zuzu.
The Baileys weren’t unconventional namers, so how did they end up with such an outlier?
Odds are her name was Susan.
In 1946, the year It’s a Wonderful Life first debuted, Susan ranked #8. Assuming little Miss Bailey was just a few years old, that’s a perfectly reasonable name for their daughter, a stylish choice on the upswing, as believable as Penelope-called-Nell today.
Zuzu: Ginger Snap
In the movie, George calls his youngest child, “my little ginger snap!”
That’s not just an affectionate nickname. From 1901 into the early 1980s, Nabisco made a cookie called Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. The cookie’s mascot was a clown called Zu Zu.
Legend has it that Adolphus Green, one of the company’s founders and first president, was inspired by a name from a Dion Boucicault play with a female character named Zulu.
I couldn’t find much detail about Zulu, but leading lady Lottie Venne played the role around 1893, so it seems like the right time period. Green swapped the ‘l’ for a ‘z’ and his cookie had a memorable name.
Zuzu: 21st Century Potential
Even though some girls were probably answering to Zuzu through the years, the name was rare on birth certificates until the 21st century. You might have met a Lulu in the 1900s, but Zuzu was a rarer bird.
Speaking of birds, Zazu was a court official – and a red-billed hornbill – in Disney’s The Lion King.
ZaSu Pitts was a Hollywood star from the 1910s into the 1960s. Her unusual appellation came from her given names: Eliza Susan.
But it’s only in recent decades that Zuzu has become less of a curiosity, and more of a viable possibility.
In the early 1990s, writer Laurie Lindeen was part of Zuzu’s Petals, a rock band named for a famous part of It’s a Wonderful Life – when George rediscovers rose petals from his daughter in his pocket, after he’s come back to his life from Clarence’s what-might-have-been.
A character in 1990 Andrew Dice Clay comedy, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, was called Zuzu Petals. Since she was a rock’n’roll groupie, here’s guessing that her name wasn’t any more real than Penny Lane.
None of this makes the name real, does it? In 2011, Top Chef alum Tania Peterson welcomed a daughter named Zuzu Audrey. And by then, a handful of girls were receiving the name every year: 11 in 2011, 12 in 2013.
Zuzu is an appealing mix of retro-sentimental sweetness and modern edge.
If it feels too cool to write on a birth certificate, the enduring Susan – choose your favorite form – makes a more conservative formal name. There’s also Zuleika – the given name of Brazilian fashion designer Zuzu Angel.
Overall, Zuzu has potential. If Coco is on your shortlist, Zuzu might appeal, too.
What do you think of Zuzu? Would you use just Zuzu? Or do you think it works best as a nickname for Susan?
That was my Grandma’s name, too. I’ve never heard of anyone else with the name and never realized it may be from the name Susan or Suzanne.
Used it for more daughter born in 2003
My daughter’s name is Zula. She was named after her great grandmother. I’ve heard of two other women from that era named Zula. Alas no one knows the origin.
Melissa Montovani says
I named my cat Zuzu, after Zuzu Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, but didn’t realize it was a nickname for Susan.
My grandson (hopefully more to come!) calls me ZuZu. My name is Susan, so its absolutely perfect and I really love it!
I named my one and only ZuZu. She likes the name and I always smile when I think of the movie from which it came. I usually have to explain the relation to Susan. I did find it in a baby name book as a Polish version of Susan. It fit with her heritage. Overall, it has served her well.
We had our daughter Zulah in 1999, but we use her nickname – which is Zuzu (as It’s A Wonderful Life is my husband’s favourite film)
We named our daughter Zuzu In 2011 and we love it!! It grows on you and we are so happy we went with our gut. Her middle name is Anastacia.
Do you think it works as a nickname for Suvannah
Suvannah? Huh – that one is new for me, but it’s lovely. I think it works effortlessly for Suzannah, but the v/z switch is a little tricky. I can’t see why it wouldn’t work, though.
We know 3 Zuzu girls and love the name. Of course we are in a progressive and the most educated part of the country, lol! My name is horrible!
One of my favorite names is Suzume, Japanese for sparrow or songbird. I would totes use Zuzu as a nickname for Suzume.
I just associate it with the Boston Teens SNL sketch
Zuzu is a great nickname, but in my book gets filed under “ONLY a nickname”, i.e., I’d never give and would never recommend someone give it as a child’s legal name.
I love this name! I would want something formal for the birth certificate though. Would Shoshanna or Zosia work instead of Susan and its variants?
Shoshanna, absolutely! Zosia feels like a little more of a stretch to me, especially since it is a nickname already … but I don’t think it is out of the question.
I have a three year old daughter named Susan on the birth certificate, but always called Zuzu! We get compliments on her name all the time, and it suits her perfectly 🙂
LOVE her name!