Elizabeth: The Name That Has Everything?

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

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42 Responses to “Elizabeth: The Name That Has Everything?”

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lyndsayjenness Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 6:23 am

Elizabeth is probably the best name of all time. It’s my mom’s favorite name, and it would have been all mine if my maiden name weren’t Taylor… she thought that would be too much to live up to.
I adore Elizabeth and all of her nicknames, I would never be able to choose my favorite, which is my only drawback on using the name. Eliza is so gorgeous and classy/sexy, but Betsey is so quirky, wholesome and sweet! I met a 20-something Betsy a couple years ago and actually couldn’t believe it when I heard her name, she was the first I ever met and I thought it was so charming.
I love Bess because I have a relation who was an artist and my family has always referred to her lovingly as “cousin Bess”, though she went by Bessie. One of the coolest older girls in my middle school was Libby, so I always like that one, too.

I think that’s the great thing about Elizabeth. Whoever your daughter becomes, her name will be suited to her.

Dearest Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 6:24 am

Very interesting!
But the most fascinating form of Elizabeth I know is Ellisiv/Ellisif. It’s an old Norse form of Elizabeth, and I think it’s awesome!
I also love Elspeth more than any of the other variants mentioned. More than Elizabeth too…
Liesel is also a favourite, but I don’t like the supershort spellings Lisl or Liesl… They look like they’re missing letters…

Elsa Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 10:02 am

Hurrah for Elisabeth (this being the best spelling, but I’m biased)… the chameleon of names… as it can be adapted by any own and made their own.

I’m an Elisabeth who chooses to go by Elsa.

I wasn’t always an Elsa though.

Growing up, I was mainly Beth or Libby, but when I went off to boarding school (an all girl school with a strong Christian background) I found myself amongst quite a few other girls called Elizabeth (mainly spelt with the Z, but there was one other girl with the S spelling at one point).

All these other Elizabeths went by Beth, Libby, Lizzy, Ellie etc… you know all the more ‘modern sounding’ nicknames… so I wanted something different. Betsy and Bess were nicknames that certain family members called me, so they are ‘special’, and I didn’t want other people calling me by those. I eventually settled on Elsa, which just seemed to fit me perfectly, and everyone comments how well it suits me.

It will be interesting to see if Elizabeth will continue to remain so consistently popular. I think it will, because of its adaptability.

Abby Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 10:03 am

Great post! My favorite Elizabeth twist is Isabeau. Should we ever have a second daughter, it is a leading contender for a middle name. (In honor of my sister’s nickname, Bo.)

My mother almost gave me Elizabeth as a middle name. I would’ve happily worn it – Libby, Betsy, there’s just so much there.

And I agree – Betty is due for a comeback!

Andrea Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 10:19 am

There’s also Grand Duchess Elizabeth (Yelizaveta) Feodorovna of Russia, the sister of Tsarina Alexandra, who is a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. She went to visit her husband’s assassin in prison and later founded her own order of nuns to help the poor in St. Petersburg just before World War I. She was always known as Ella, another nickname for Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is my confirmation name, largely because I always loved the name but also because it’s my mother’s middle name.

Patricia Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 10:55 am

I always thought Elizabeth was a grand name, second only to Catherine/Katherine which I loved even more. Our first daughter is Catherine, but the second is not Elizabeth because I had a concern about my most favorite nickname, Betsy. I loved that name for a little girl, but was concerned that she might not like it when she was an adult. (It didn’t occur to me that if she wanted to she could choose a different nickname when she was older, as Elsa (above) did, and that the new name would stick.) With our third daughter I couldn’t resist Elizabeth any longer and used it as her middle name. She, in turn, recently gave it to her daughter as her mn. My oldest daughter also used Elizabeth as the middle name for one of her daughters: Jennifer Elizabeth, Miranda Elizabeth, Emma Elizabeth.

Madi Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 11:17 am

For some reason I’ve never been a huge fan of Elizabeth, but I’ve always loved Tibby and Libby (Which is why I now like the name Liberty). I am also fond of Lisbeth.

Katherine Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 11:34 am

I am proud to have the middle name of Elizabeth and when I have a daughter will pass it on as her first name. I want to call her “Ella” for short….what do you think? Too modern for a classic name?

Pamela Redmond Satran Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 4:02 pm

I think Ella is a very creative nickname for Elizabeth! Definitely not too modern….

namefan Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Add me in to the list of Elizabeth lovers! There are only a handful of very popular names that I like, but this is one of them. My top pick for a combo is Elizabeth Mary.

Vera Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 5:28 pm

When I was little, for many reasons, I hated this name, and somewhere in between age 7 and 27 I changed my mind and when I was looking to a name for my first child I decided that I didn’t hate it anymore, in fact, I thought of it as classical and royal. I have a great aunt Elsa, and I even considered naming one of my daughters after her. This name represents how much my taste in names has changed since I was 4 and the only Elizabeth I knew of was the Queen.

Lucy Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I love Elisabeth, with an S, because it is my middle name. I also love Tibbie, I actually know a Tabitha nicknamed Tibby.

Catherine Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 6:37 pm

I met an Elizabeth this summer who goes by the nickname Biz. It’s definitely different, but it had a cool and kind of sassy edge to it that fit this person really, really well.

susan Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Elizabeth is my favorite girl’s name. My daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth. Sometimes I love another girls’ name for a while, but I always go back to loving Elizabeth the most. Love the “z” spelling because it makes Elizabeth look a bit eccentric. Love the “s” spelling because it makes Elisabeth look so soft and wispy.

Karen Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 10:09 pm

My middle name was almost Elizabeth. My father vetoed it on account of an aunt he disliked. I had to grow to like the middle name I did get, and wanted Elizabeth – exotic, classic, elegant, and normal. I think I didn’t go to school with so many Elizabeths – some were nicknamed Beth and some were just named Lisa, as was the style at the time. I met some Lizes in college – that seemed kind of old to me already. I have liked the letter Z for some reason, but I don’t like Liz or Liza or Eliza. I do prefer the Elizabeth with the Z, however.

I met a young (in her 20s) Betsey a few years ago. Before that, Betsy was my childhood dollie (rhymes with Wetsy), or Betsy Ross, who was a couple hundred years old. I’ve also heard of a Libby but I hadn’t met her. I don’t see Liddy on the list – after Elizabeth Dole. Maybe that’s peculiar to her. My favorite nickname is Beth, it’s just so nice. I am also revisiting Lisa – I went to school with so many, and it’s such a 60s/70s name, yet so simple in quality, and also has an Italian-ness to it in brief. Where I used to love the elaborate names, including Elizabeth, my tastes have changed. I’m more likely to just cut to the chase rather than let the nicknames fall where they may. Elise or Lisa or Beth, full stop. I sort of also like Betty, and have for some time. I think it might be better on a pet – it is perky and quirky, but it’s also a slang word – not sure it’s suitable for a person. I liked it from Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” I like the essence of it.

Jill Says:

November 18th, 2009 at 3:34 am

Great blog! I love the name Elizabeth, and seriously love the name Eliza! In addition to Eliza, I really like the Libby, Tibbie, and Bess nicknames for Elizabeth.

EvanescenceDolly Says:

November 18th, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I have a cousin named Elizabeth. Elizabeth is so classic and beautiful.

Leslie Says:

November 18th, 2009 at 9:55 pm

“Sounds like a song” were my mother’s words when I told her we were naming our first daughter Elizabeth. And, although it is still in the top 10, I only know one person- an adult in her 20’s- that goes by the full name Elizabeth. I have second guessed many decisions in my life, but 6 years later, I am still thrilled we chose such a classic, beautiful, meaningful name.

peach Says:

November 19th, 2009 at 3:13 am

My mom’s middle name is Elizabeth and growing up I knew a number of people with this name: mostly ladies my mom’s age using the full name (or Betty) and girl’s my age called Lizzie, Lisa, or Liza. I thought of Elizabeth as classic to the point of being boring. I didn’t realize until years later that the CNN fashion journalist Elsa Klensch whose first name I particularly admired was related to Elizabeth. So Elsa, Lisette, and Leisel remain favorite forms I could use or suggest but I’ll keep classic Elizabeth in the trunk for another generation to dust off.

Diana Says:

November 20th, 2009 at 5:05 pm

My niece has a name that is a diminutive of Isabel used in Mexico. It is Itcel. It is pronounced It-zelle. I suppose you could spell it however you want. It really grows on you.

Diana Says:

November 20th, 2009 at 5:18 pm

My apologies…..my husband informed me that it is not a diminutive of Isabel, it is it’s own distinct name and it is a Mexican Indian name. Well, it’s still really pretty!

Diana Says:

November 21st, 2009 at 11:06 am

Here I am again! In mexico, the diminutive of Isabel is Chibella or Shibella. I don’t like it myself, but thought you might find it interesting.

Sheila Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Elisabeth is my daughter’s name. I had to go with the “s” because I didn’t want her to be a Liz. Luckily, the alternate spelling has caught on and I am not explaining nearly as often. The friend that I named her for recommended that we keep it the full name as she had a hard time shaking the Beth and Betsy nicknames as an adult.

Elizabeth Says:

November 28th, 2009 at 9:34 pm

I have Elizabeth as my middle name and have always gone by it. My mother was pretty insistent that I have the full name and not a shortened form. It was too much of a mouthful for my brother when he was very young, however, and I ended up with the family nickname of “Bus.”

Abigail Says:

December 16th, 2009 at 4:16 am

My daughter Matilda’s middle name is Elizabeth. She was named after my grandmother whose name is Elizabeth.

Linelei Says:

December 30th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

My mother’s name is Elizabeth (Liz) and I have always loved it. When I was a teenager I wanted to name my future daughter Miranda Elizabeth. Whatever the first name, my daughter will definitely have Elizabeth as her middle name. I was terrified that my older sister would use it first, but she honored our mother by giving her daughter the same middle name (Anne). Thank goodness! Now it’s all mine. I am in love with Eliza, Elsa, and Lisette as nicknames.

spotlightstarlit Says:

February 6th, 2010 at 7:48 pm

If I could point to the universaly most beautiful name it would be Elizabeth, it has history, beauty and an air of mistique when given to the right girl. I plan to use it as a middle name.

haddison Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Our small church, which is Episcopalian, has a plethora of young Elizabeths, but thankfully, each goes by a different nickname. In addition to an Elizabeth, we have Libby, Liz, Elsa, and Betsy, all around the same age. Plus, we have the same situation with a group of Carolines. Apparently classic names rule among Episcopalians.

Elizabeth Says:

April 27th, 2010 at 11:47 am

As an Elizabeth, I can honestly say this is the best name ever. I love that everyone recognises it, as many nations have variations of it (as mentioned in the blog) and everyone around the world knows the name because of its rich history. I love that I have so many awesome namesakes, even if I was patricularly named after any. I also really haven’t met too many Elizabeth, in school I didn’t until at least grade 10, and now the ones I know go usually by Beth, and I usually go by the full name. I love the endless nickname possibilities too, my family calls me Lizzie, Eliza or Liza, but I also love Betsy and Betty, Elsa, and Libby. All in all a great name – a classic that will never go out of style!

libby Says:

July 2nd, 2010 at 12:48 am

I was born in 1990, named Elizabeth, and have always been called Libby. I didn’t like ‘Libby’ so much when I was in high school and frequently tried to change my nickname to sound more grown up… ‘Libby’ reminds me of a chubby baby.
Now I’m glad that ‘Libby’ stuck with me because I have never met another ‘Libby’, and I think it has a certain offbeat charm.. a little bit cute and quirky perhaps?… though I’m interested to see other people’s impressions the nickname. I think I grew out of ‘Libby’ and then grew back into it on another level…
My great grandmother’s name was Elizabeth, my grandmother’s middle name is Elizabeth, and I’m definitely giving it as a middle name to my first daughter.
The possibilities are endless… Elizabeth is a shapeshifting name and I love it. You can be whoever you want with the name Elizabeth.

Queenbee13 Says:

August 31st, 2010 at 12:33 am

I love the name of Elisabeth (yes, with an S) because its so elegant and classic; plus there’s a beautiful song called “Goodnight Elisabeth” that makes me cry

Elizabeth Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 6:50 pm

I was given the name Elizabeth and have always liked it just fine but have always been referred to as Libby. I like Libby but I sort of don’t feel like a Libby, it feels young to me… I can’t decide if when I move to Colorada I will go by Elizabeth or something more unique, I’ve been thinking of Iza pronounced Izzah.

Its my favorite part of the name and I love names that start with the letter I.

anastasia Says:

June 8th, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I like the nickname Ella

MissusAytch Says:

February 7th, 2013 at 12:22 am

My hubs and I have different naming styles. The only one we both really love is Elizabeth. It’s our #1 for a girl and we plan to call her Betty. When she’s older she can decide if she wants a different nickname. And there’s always Elizabeth in its full glory for her to wear.

I really dislike popular names, but this name manages to be popular without feeling common. As the author of this blog so aptly points out, it makes no sense that it’s been this popular this long. It really is like a little song.

Another nickname I’ve heard for Elizabeth is Busy or Bizzy. Thought that was cute.

jhwhelohim Says:

July 24th, 2013 at 9:07 am

I like “Lise” as a middle name (pronounced the French way “Leez”), especially with a French first name. In France, it’s often part of a first name combination, like “Claire-Lise”.

Elizabeth_K Says:

October 20th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

My name’s Elizabeth but my nickname has been Lily since I was little. I couldn’t pronounce Elizabeth when I was young and apparently my attempts to do so sounded like LeeLee, or Lily. It’s an unusual nickname for Elizabeth, but I don’t think it’s completely unheard of!

Rin Says:

November 10th, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Wow, I guess I am in the super minority that doesn’t care at all for the name Elizabeth. It doesn’t do a thing for me, nor do most of her nicknames. I will admit a marginal preference for Elisabeth over Elizabeth, and a soft spot for Elsie, as it was my Grandma’s middle name.

Besito Says:

December 4th, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I like the name, it happens to be my mother’s middle name, but … I find it too long that it always needs a nickname, rarely does an Elizabeth/Elisabeth use the full name. Also, there are too many women with this name out there! Even though its meaning is beautiful, it being extremely popular is a real turn off …

mysoutherncomfortzone Says:

December 20th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Elizabeth is so friggin cool.

Who’s a Name Nerd? I’m a Name Nerd | The Vodka Soda Escapades Says:

December 1st, 2014 at 1:56 am

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gmdx Says:

March 25th, 2016 at 11:29 pm

Elizabeth is a family name and my middle, but I prefer Elisabeth, Beth, Isobel, or Eliza. I’d especially love to have an Eliza, but I’m a bit turned off by most of the nicknames. I’m very fond of Liddie, but it feels like a bit of a stretch.

Coralina33 Says:

March 30th, 2016 at 4:46 am

My name is Elizabeth and I can honestly say I adore having it as my name. I’m completely biased, but even if it wasn’t my name I would still love it.

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