The baby name Zuzu blends vintage charm with a high energy sound.

Thanks to Rachel for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


In the English-speaking world, there’s one common association for the baby name Zuzu: the youngest daughter of Mary and George Bailey in Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

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, Susan was a perfectly reasonable name for their daughter, a stylish choice on the upswing with an offbeat nickname, the equivalent of Penelope-called-Pip today.

More on that in a minute.


In the movie, George Bailey calls his youngest child, “my little gingersnap!”

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? 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.

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.


There’s an enduring image from the movie, one that’s all wrapped up with the name.

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. They’re a powerful symbol of all the love and life that he’d have missed out on. He exclaims, “Zuzu’s petals!”

In the early 1990s, writer Laurie Lindeen was part of Zuzu’s Petals, a rock band named for that famous moment in It’s a Wonderful Life.

And, of course, Zuzu utters one of the most famous lines of all time: Every time a bell rings, and angel gets his wings. 

A character in 1990 Andrew Dice Clay comedy, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, was called Zuzu Petals. Since she was a rock and roll groupie, here’s guessing that her name wasn’t any more real than Penny Lane.

No matter how the writers of the movie chose the character name, it’s forever part of our collective imagination.


Two similar-sounding names might come to mind. 

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 stage name came from her name at birth: Eliza Susan.

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It all comes back to Susan.

In most Slavic languages, the name is spelled with Zs: Zuzana or Zuzanna. 

That makes Zuzu a logical nickname, used in Czech, as well as other neighboring languages. 

It’s not such a big stretch from English, either. Susan, Suzanne, and Susanna/Susannah all share the right sounds to get to Zuzu.

And plenty of women have answered to the first name Susan over the years. It entered the US Top Ten in 1945 and remained there until 1968, peaking at #2.

Susan, of course, means lily, or maybe lotus. It’s a Greek name from a Hebrew root.


In 1999, the baby name Zuzu debuted in the US popularity data.

Even if it doesn’t appear on lists of baby girl names earlier, it’s still likely some women chose this nickname for Susan.

By 2022, the baby name Zuzu appears regularly in the Top US 1000. 19 girls received the name that year.

Also noteworthy: In 2011, Top Chef alum Tania Peterson welcomed a daughter named Zuzu Audrey.

Brazilian fashion designer Zuzu Angel was born Zuleika.


All of this makes Zuzu an appealing mix of retro-sentimental sweetness and modern edge.

If it feels too much to write on a birth certificate, the enduring Susan – or Susannah or Suzanne – makes a more conservative formal name.

Overall, the baby name Zuzu has potential – a spirit and spark that’s tough to find in a truly unusual given name.

What do you think of the baby name Zuzu? 

First published on December 24, 2014, this post was revised and updated on April 19, 2024.


vintage charmer


Charming Susan nickname from the east, Zuzu arrived in the English-speaking world thanks to a classic Christmas film.


unranked; given to 19 girls as of 2022




Likely a Slavic form of Susuan, Susanna, Zuzana, meaning lily

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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. I named my cat Zuzu, after Zuzu Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, but didn’t realize it was a nickname for Susan.

  4. My grandson (hopefully more to come!) calls me ZuZu. My name is Susan, so its absolutely perfect and I really love it!