All about Elizabeth

Though I’ve had prior posts about my favourite forms of the name Elizabeth, and its many nicknames, I’ve never had a post devoted to the name in its entirety. This post will also only focus on derivatives of the standard form Elizabeth, not related names Isabel and Lillian (unless those are a language’s only forms of Elizabeth). Despite their origins, they’ve for all intents and purposes developed into their own independent names.

Queen Elizabeth I of England in the 1560s, artist unknown

The English name Elizabeth comes from the Hebrew Elisheva, “my God is an oath.” Its historic popularity stems in large part from the fact that this was the name of John the Baptist’s mother. Traditionally, it was much more common in Eastern Europe (in its variety of forms) until another famous bearer (pictured above) appeared in the 16th century and made the name popular in Western Europe too.

Since the U.S. began keeping data on names in 1880, the name has never fallen below #26 (in 1948). It was in the Top 10 from 1880–1923, in 1925, from 1980–2001, in 2003 and 2004, in 2007 and 2008, and in 2012 and 2013. In 2018, it was #13.

The name enjoys more modest popularity in Scotland (#75), New Zealand (#81), Ireland (#60), and England and Wales (#44). The alternate spelling Elisabeth, used in German, English, Dutch, and the Scandinavian languages, was only #788 in the U.S. in 2018, and has never charted higher than #302 in 1984.

Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, later Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Fyodorovna of Russia, now Saint Elizabeth the New Martyr (1864–1918)

Other forms include:

1. Elisabet is Scandinavian, Catalan, Finnish, and sometimes Spanish. The alternate form Elísabet is Icelandic.

2. Élisabeth is French.

3. Elisabete is modern Portuguese.

4. Elizabeta is Slovenian and Croatian.

5. Elikapeka is Hawaiian.

6. Elixabete is Basque.

7. Elisabeta is Romanian.

8. Elisabetta is Italian.

9. Elisavet is modern Greek.

10. Eliisabet is Estonian.

Princess Elisabeta of Romania, later Queen of Greece (1894–1956)

11. Elisabed is Georgian.

12. Erzsébet is Hungarian.

13. Elizabete is Latvian.

14. Eilís is Irish.

15. Elżbieta is Polish. The alternate form Elžbieta is Lithuanian.

16. Ealisaid is Manx.

17. Ealasaid is Scottish.

18. Elisaveta is Bulgarian and Macedonian.

19. Yelizaveta is Russian.

20. Yelyzaveta is Ukrainian.

Georgian actor Elisabed Cherkezishvili (1864–1948)

21. Alžbeta is Slovak. The alternate form Alžběta is Czech.

22. Jelisaveta is Serbian.

23. Bethan is Welsh.

24. Lizaveta is Russian.

25. Zabel is Armenian.

26. Sabela is Galician.

27. Elspeth, or Elspet, is Scottish.

28. Eisabèu is Provençal.

29. Élîzabé is Jèrriais.

30. Elizabeto is Esperanto.

Polish poet Elżbieta Drużbacka (1695/98–1765)

31. Elisabette is a rare French and English form.

32. Elisapeci, or Ilisapeci, is Fijian.

33. Elisapie is Inuit.

34. Elizabet is Belarusian and Bulgarian.

35. Eliżabetta is Maltese.

36. Elizete is a rare Brazilian–Portuguese form.

37. Elzabé is Namibian.

38. Elžbjeta is Sorbian.

39. Erihapeti, or Irihapeti, is Maori.

40. Il-shvai is Amharic.

Male names of literary origin, A-F

18th century miniature of Tariel and Avtandil meeting in a cave

Aminta was coined by Italian poet Torquato Tasso for his 1573 play of the same name. It’s derived from Greek name Amyntas, from amyntor (defender).

Amiran is the hero of Medieval Georgian poet Moses of Khoni’s great romance epic Amiran-Darejaniani. The name is derived from mythical Georgian hero Amirani, of unknown etymology. I have a character by this name, who breaks out of prison after four years of Soviet torture and walks all the way into Iran, over the Alborz Mountains, to find his wife Alina.

Astrophel was coined by 16th century British poet Sir Philip Sidney for his sonnet collection Astrophel and Stella. The name probably means “star-lover,” from Greek roots aster (star) and philos (lover, friend).

Avtandil is another Georgian name, created by Shota Rustaveli for his 12th century national epic The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. It’s derived from Persian roots aftab (sunshine) and dil (heart).

Bayard is a magical bay horse owned by Renaud de Montauban and his brothers in Medieval French poetry. It derives from Old French baiart (bay-coloured).

Caspian is a character in C.S. Lewis’s famous Chronicles of Narnia series. Caspian, who débuts in the fourth book, is Narnia’s rightful king who’s been forced into exile by his evil Uncle Miraz. The name probably comes from that of the Caspian Sea, which in turn derives from the city of Qazvin, Iran, named for the ancient Kaspian tribe.

Cedric was created by Sir Walter Scott for a character in his 1819 novel Ivanhoe. He based it on Cerdic, the first historically-verified King of Wessex (and my 48-greats-grandfather). The name is possibly connected to Brythonic name Caratacos, which comes from Celtic root car (love).

Lithograph of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, date unknown

Csongor (CHON-gor) was created by Hungarian writer Mihály Vörösmarty for his 1830 play Csongor és Tünde. It probably derives from a Turkic root meaning “falcon.”

Cymbeline is the title character of a 1609 Shakespeare play about a mythological king based on Cunobelinus, a British chieftain who’s said to have ruled in the first century of the Common Era. It may mean “hound of Belenus,” from Old Celtic root koun (hound) and Belenus, a Gaulish god of the Sun often equated with Apollo. Belenus may mean “bright, brilliant” in Old Celtic.

Cyrano is famous as the title character of French writer Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. The name may come from Cyrene, the Latinized name of Ancient Greek city Kyrene (now in Libya), which was named after Queen Kyrene of Thessaly. It ultimately means “sovereign queen.” Rostand’s character is based on a real person, 17th century satirist Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac.

Dorian was created by Oscar Wilde for his 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, derived either from Ancient Greek tribe the Dorians or Irish surname Doran (descendant of Deoradhán). The name Deoradhán in turn means “wanderer, exile.”

Ebenezer means “stone of help” in Hebrew. This is used as a place name in the Bible, but most famously used as a person’s name in Charles Dickens’s 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. This is also the real name of next-oldest child Ben Pepper in Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers series. Ms. Sidney used a lot of strange or pretentious names.

Amato as Cyrano de Bergerac, 1910

Etzel is a character in the great Medieval German saga Die Nibelungenlied. It’s a form of Attila, as Etzel is a fictionalised version of Attila the Hun. The name may mean “little father,” from Gothic root atta (father) and a diminutive suffix.

Figaro was created by French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais for the protagonist of his plays The Barber of Seville (1775), The Marriage of Figaro (1784), and The Guilty Mother (1792). The name may be derived from the French phrase fils Caron, son of Caron (the playwright’s nickname).

Florimond is the name of the prince in some versions of Sleeping Beauty. It possibly derives from Latin florens (flourishing, prosperous) and Ancient Germanic mund (protection).

Female names of literary origin, G-M

I belatedly realised I left out three names in the first post in this series:

Daiva was created by Lithuanian writer Vydūnas and possibly based on a Sanskrit word meaning “destiny.”

Dalma was created by Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty for his 1825 epic poem Zalán Futása. Though the original Dalma was male, later writers used it for female characters.

Etelka was created by Hungarian writer András Dugonics for the protagonist of his 1788 novel of the same name. It’s derived from male name Etele, which is possibly a form of Attila (little father).

Image of Jessica, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines, 1896, by Luke Fildes

Gloriana is the title character of Edmund Spenser’s 1590 epic poem The Faerie Queene, an allegory of Queen Elizabeth I. It’s an elaborated form of the Latin word gloria (glory).

Grażyna means “beautiful” in Lithuanian. It was created by great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz for the title character of an 1823 poem.

Gyneth is King Arthur’s daughter in Sir Walter Scott’s 1813 poem The Bridal of Triermain. It’s possibly a variation of Welsh name Gwyneth, either from Gwynedd (the name of a region in Wales, perhaps derived from Old Welsh name Cunedda) or the word gwyn (fair, blessed, white).

Haidee was created by Lord Byron for a character in the 1819 poem Don Juan, possibly derived from Greek word aidoios (reverent, modest).

Imogen is a princess in Shakespeare’s 1609 play Cymbeline, based on legendary character Innogen, which in turn is probably derived from Gaelic inghean (maiden). Her name was misprinted and never corrected.

Janice is an elaborated form of Jane created by Paul Leicester Ford for his 1899 novel Janice Meredith.

Jessica was created by Shakespeare for Shylock’s apostate daughter in The Merchant of Venice (1596), probably based on Biblical name Yiskah (to behold).

Jolánka is the protagonist of Hungarian writer András Dugonics’s 1803 novel Jólánka, Etelkának Leánya. It may have come from jóleán (good girl) or Yolanda (violet).

Juliet is an Anglicized form of respectively French and Italian nicknames Juliette and Giulietta. It was first used in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1596).

Kinscő was created by Hungarian writer Mór Jokai in 1872’s The Novel of the Next Century, derived from kincs (treasure).

Lalage is a character in one of Roman poet Horace’s odes, derived from Greek lalageo (to prattle, babble).

Lalla is the protagonist of Thomas Moore’s 1817 poem Lalla Rookh, derived from Persian laleh (tulip).

Layla means “night” in Arabic, and was used in 7th century romantic poems. The variation Leila was used in several of Lord Byron’s poems.

Loredana is a character in French writer George Sand’s 1833 novel Mattea, possibly based on Venetian surname Loredan and ultimately place name Loreo.

Lorna was created by R.D. Blackmore for his 1869 novel Lorna Doone, based on Scottish place name Lorne and possibly ultimately legendary king Loarn mac Eirc of Dál Riata.

Lucasta was created by poet Richard Lovelace for a 1649 poetry collection of the same name, dedicated to his love Lucasta, Lucy Sacheverel. He nicknamed her lux casta (pure light).

Lucinda was created by Miguel Cervantes for a character in 1605’s Don Quixote, an elaboration of Lucia, ultimately derived from Latin lux (light).

Magnhild derives from Old Norse magn (strong, mighty) and hildr (battle). This is the title character of Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s 1877 novel.

Malvina was created by 18th century poet James MacPherson for his Ossian poems, possibly intended to mean “smooth brow” in Gaelic.

Mahulena was created by Czech writer Julius Zeyer for his 1898 play Radúz and Mahulena, possibly derived from Magdalena.

Miranda, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines

Mavis was first used as a personal name in a character in British writer Marie Corelli’s 1895 novel The Sorrows of Satan. It comes from a bird also known as a song thrush, ultimately from Old French mauvis (unknown etymology).

Melantha may be a portmanteau of Mel (from names such as Melissa and Melanie) and suffix antha, from Greek anthos (flower). John Dryden used it for a character in his 1672 play Marriage à la Mode.

Mélisande is the French form of Millicent (strong work), used in Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 play Pelléas et Mélisande.

Minea was created by Finnish writer Mika Waltari for his 1945 hist-fic The Egyptian, possibly based on Greek name Minos (king).

Miranda was created by Shakespeare for the protagonist of The Tempest (1611), derived from Latin mirandus (wonderful, admirable).

Mirèio is an Occitan name first used by French writer Frédéric Mistral in the 1859 poem of the same name, possibly derived from Occitan mirar (to admire).

Moema means “lies” in Tupí, an indigenous Brazilian language. Poet Santa Rita Durão used it in his 1781 poem Caramuru.

Myra was created by 17th century poet Sir Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, possibly based on Latin myrra (myrrh), or an anagram of Mary. This is also the name of an ancient city of Anatolia.

Female names of literary origin, A-F

Cosette on first-edition 1862 Les Misérables cover, by Émile Bayard

While all names necessarily have to be invented at some point, names created for literary characters are usually more recent creations than other names. Their staying power and popularity seems to hinge on how well they blend into the language of origin; i.e., do they sound like actual names, or do they only work in a fictional world?

This post only covers names invented for fictional characters, not names which already existed but only became popular after their use in literature.

Albena is the heroine of Bulgarian writer Yordan Yovkov’s 1930 play of the same name. It may be based on the word alben, a type of peony.

Amaryllis is a character in Virgil’s epic poem Eclogues. The name comes from the Greek word amarysso (to sparkle). The amaryllis flower is named from Virgil’s Amaryllis.

Aminta is a character in Italian poet Torquato Tasso’s 1573 play of the same name, inspired by the Greek name Amyntas (defender).

Araminta was possibly first used in the 1693 William Congreve comedy The Old Bachelor. Its etymology is unknown. This was the birth name of Harriet Tubman.

Ariel means “lion of God” in Hebrew. It was first used as a personal name in Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611), though the -el ending truly denotes a male name in Hebrew. Authentically Hebrew female forms are Ariella and Arielle.

Armida was probably created by the abovementioned Torquato Tasso for his 1580 epic poem Jerusalem Delivered.

Ayla was created for the protagonist of Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series in 1980. It’s the Neanderthal pronunciation of her unknown birth name.

Bambi is derived from the Italian word bambina (little girl). It’s of course famous as the name of the (male) deer in the Disney movie based on Swiss writer Felix Salten’s 1923 novel. Prior, it was used in American writer Marjorie Benton Cooke’s 1914 novel.

Belphoebe was coined by Edmund Spenser in his 1590 poem The Faerie Queen, derived from French word belle (beautiful) and the Latinized name Phoebe. The latter ultimately comes from the Greek name Phoibe (pure, bright).

Briana was also first used in The Faerie Queen. It’s a female form of the Irish name Brian, which may derive from Old Celtic root bre (hill), and thus by extension mean “noble, high.” This name exploded in popularity in the Nineties, in countless spellings, but has now dropped down the charts significantly.

Rosalind and Celia, 19th century, by Margaret Gillies

Celia is the feminine form of Latin surname Caelius (heaven). Shakespeare introduced it to the Anglophone world in 1599’s As You Like It.

Charissa is an elaborated form of the Greek Charis (kindness, grace). This also comes from The Faerie Queen.

Charmaine was possibly first used in the 1924 play What Price Glory?, either the English word “charm” with the -aine suffix of Lorraine, or a form of Charmian, used by Shakespeare in 1606’s Antony and Cleopatra.

Clarinda again comes from The Faerie Queen, a combination of Clara (clear, famous, bright) and suffix -inda.

Clarissa, derived from Clarice and ultimately Clara, is the title character of Samuel Richardson’s massively long 1748 novel.

Cora comes from the Greek Kore (maiden), another name for Persephone. It arose as a name in James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of  the Mohicans.

Cordelia is an adaptation of Celtic name Cordeilla, of unknown etymology. Shakespeare used it for the youngest daughter in 1606’s King Lear.

Cosette comes from French chosette (little thing), and was used in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862). Her real name is Euphrasie.

Csilla (CHEE-lah) means “star” in Hungarian. It was invented by András Dugonics for an 1803 novel.

Doreen may have been coined by Edna Lyall in her 1894 novel of the same name, from nickname Dora and suffix -een.

Dorinda comes from Dora and -inda, created for John Dryden and William D’Avenant’s 1667 play The Enchanted Island.

Cordelia, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines, William Frederick Yearns

Dulcinea was created by Miguel Cervantes for Don Quixote (1605), derived from Spanish word dulce (sweet).

Eglantine comes from the word for a flower also called sweetbriar. It was first used, as Eglentyne, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Enikő was coined by 19th century Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty, inspired by Enéh, legendary mother of the Magyars. It may mean “deer” or “cow.”

Eponine was also used in Les Misérables, and may derive from Empona, a first century Roman Empress in Gaul. The Italian form is Epponina.

Ethel was created in the 19th century, from Old English root æðel (noble), and popularized in several novels.

Evangeline may have first appeared in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epic poem of the same name. It means “good news” in Greek.

Fantine is another Les Misérables name, possibly derived from French enfant (child).

Fiammetta means “little flame” in Italian. This is one of the members of the brigata in The Decameron.

Fiona was possibly first used in Scottish poet James MacPherson’s 1762 poem Fingal. It’s the feminine form of Fionn (white or fair).

The many forms of Eleanor

Queen Eleanor of Aquitane (1122 or 1124–1 April 1204), painted 1858 by Frederick Sandys

The name Eleanor, in the U.S. Top 100 in 1895 and again from 1897–42 (with its highest rank of #25 in 1920), is now quite trendy again. It began slowly rising in 1987, and was up to #32 in 2018. It’s not such a secret that more than a few parents choosing this name just want the trendy nicknames Ella and Nora.

Eleanor is also fairly popular in England and Wales, at #54, and New Zealand, at #76.

The name derives from the Old French form of the Occitan name Aliénor. One of the earliest known bearers was the above-pictured Queen Eleanor of Aquitane, named for her mother Aenor (of unknown etymology) and called alia Aenor, “the other Aenor,” to tell them apart.

It’s uncertain if other early bearers were Aenors to whom the name was retroactively recorded, or if the name has an alternate etymology.

Other forms of this name include:

1. Eleonore is German and Breton.

2. Eléonore is French. A variant is Éléonore.

3. Eleonora is Russian, Polish, Italian, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Ukrainian, Greek, Bulgarian, Georgian, Czech, Latvian, Slovenian, Croatian, and Icelandic. The variant Eleonóra is Hungarian and Slovak.

4. Eleonoora is Finnish.

5. Eleonor is a Swedish variant.

6. Leonor is Portuguese and Spanish.

7. Leonora is Spanish, Italian, and Latvian.

8. Ellinor is Scandinavian.

9. Eilionoir is Scottish. The nickname is Eilidh.

10. Elinor is English.

Holy Roman Empress Eleonora Gonzaga (1598–1655), painted ca. 1623/24 by Justus Sustermans

11. Eleanora is English and Belarusian.

12. Elenora is also English.

13. Elnora is another English form.

14. Lenora is English, and is also an independent invented Soviet name meaning “Lenin is our weapon.” Some fool at Behind the Name thought my comment indicated I believed the name was created in the USSR and has no other etymology or history. Absolutely nowhere did I indicate I was ignorant of its other usage!

15. Leanora is English.

16. Lenore is English, most famous as the dead love interest in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” I have a character by this name, who indeed was named for the literary character.

17. Elionor is Catalan.

18. Alionor is Aragonese.

19. Eilénóra is Irish.

20. Eilionora is also Irish.

British novelist Elinor Glyn (1864–1943), whose work was hugely influential on early 20th century popular culture

21. Ailionóra is a rare Irish form.

22. Elenola is Hawaiian.

23. Eleonoor is Dutch.

24. Elianora is Sardinian.

25. Elinore is English.

26. Ellinoora is Finnish.

27. Léionore is Norman.

28. Lenoa is Provençal.

29. Llinor is Welsh.

30. Lonore is a rare Basque form. The variant Lonôre is Jèrriais.