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Elizabeth: The Name That Has Everything?

queen_elizabeth_ii

As a fledgling name nerd, I remember being fascinated by the name Elizabeth.  It was so elaborate, so odd for a name that had been so widely used over so many centuries.  John, sure, that was a name simple and straightforward enough for the masses to get behind.  Anne and Mary, of course they had what it took to transcend the ups and downs of fashion.  But Elizabeth, with its long E beginning and lisping ending, its bizarre z in the middle and its four freaking syllables?  I don’t think so!

And yet the unlikely Elizabeth has endured.  It’s the only girls’ name to have remained in the Top 25 (okay, 26) throughout entire recorded American baby-naming history, since 1880.  Elizabeth hit its nadir in 1945, when it dipped to number 26, but it should be noted that its short form Betty was Number 11 that year, after having been in the Top 10 since 1921.  Even when Elizabeth and her sisters were relatively unpopular, they were everywhere.

Elizabeth, which means “pledged to God,” springs from the ancient Hebrew custom of referencing God — or El — in a name’s prefix or suffix. The ancient Hebrew form of the name is Elisheva.

The New Testament Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist and the cousin of The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.  She is a descendant of Aaron and wife of Zechariah.  There is also an Old Testament personage, wife of Aaron, named Elischeba.

Other notable early Elizabeths, according to Charlotte Yonge’s The History of Christian Names,  include:

ELISAVETTA — A Russian princess who was the love of the Norwegian poet king Harald.  She figures in many Scandinavian legends and ballads as ELSEBIN, LISBET, and HELSA.

ELISABETH of Hainault — Trasmuted to ISABELLE upon her marriage to a French royal, starting a fashion for that name in several forms, from ISABEL to YSABEL to ISABELLA.

ISOBEL and ISBEL — Became popular in Scotland in these spellings after the fashion in France.  The popular peasant nickname that definitely deserves consideration by modern parents naming a child Elizabeth is TIBBIE.

BESS — Good Queen Bess was the first Elizabeth of England, and the short forms Bess and Bessee were popular for centuries, giving rise to BETTYQueen Elizabeth was also called ELIZA, and that form became so popular in England at the beginning of the 19th century that some families had children named both Elizabeth and Eliza.

ELISABETTA was the form borne by an Italian royal who was said to be the only one who married into the French royal family without having to change her name to Isabel.

Other proper forms of the name include:

BETHA

BETTINA or BETTINE

ELISA

ELISE

ELSABET

ELSPETH

ILSE

LISA

LISE

LISL

LIZA

Short forms not already mentioned, including some that have fallen into disuse over the centuries, include:

BELLE

BETH

BETSY

IB

IBBOT

LIBBY

LISETTE

LIZ and LIZZIE

NIB

Two iconic modern Elizabeths are the queen and Elizabeth Taylor, both powerful women with very different images.  Parents today might most fashionably use the variation Eliza and the short form Libby.  But with the style power of gorgeous Mad Men star January Jones, we wonder if Betty might rise again.

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