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.

Witchy names, Part I

Since the wonderful month of October has begun, I’m featuring Halloween-themed names for the next four weeks. I’ve showcased quite a few Halloweeny names in years past, with meanings related to words like “dust,” “skeleton,” “ghost,” “spider,” and “bat,” but there are some name meanings I didn’t yet spotlight.

Let’s get started with the names of witches from literature and mythology. As always, these names can also be used for pets, dolls, stuffed animals, or fictional characters. Unless otherwise noted, all these names are female.

Acanthis is the Latinized form of the Greek Akanthis (prickly). It’s the name of the thistle finch bird, after a character in Greek mythology. She and her family were turned into animals by Zeus after her brother was eaten by a horse. This name was also used for an old witch by first century BCE Roman poet Propertius.

Aradia may be a Tuscan form of Erodiade, the Italian feminine form of Greek name Heroides (i.e., Herod), which probably means “song of the hero.” In American folklorist Charles Leland’s 1899 book Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, she’s a regional Italian goddess who gives women the gift of witchcraft.

Brisen is an Arthurian witch. The name may be derived from Old Norse brisinga (glowing, twinkling), which in turn relates to goddess Freya’s famous brísingamen necklace.

Carline means “witch, old woman” in Lowland Scots.

Duessa was created by English poet Edmund Spenser for his 1590 epic poem The Faerie Queene. It may mean “disunity,” “second,” or “duplicitous,” from Latin duo (two) and a feminine suffix. Duessa is an ugly, evil witch allegorically representing Mary, Queen of Scots and the Roman Catholic Church. Not exactly the most positive of these names!

Eidyia means “to know” or “to see” in Greek, from eidos. She’s the mother of sorceress Medea, and may personify the eye’s magical power. In Greek superstition, the eye was the source of a witch’s supernatural powers, and strengthened by the sun’s beams.

Elphaba is the protagonist of Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s derived from LFB, the initials of L. Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).

Endora probably derives from the Witch of Endor, whom King Saul consults in the First Book of Samuel. It was used for a character on popular U.S. TV show Bewitched (1964-1972).

Errafaila is a Medieval Basque witch.

Glinda is the Good Witch in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It may be based on modern Welsh name Glenda, composed of elements glân (pure, clean) and da (good).

Heiðr is a unisex name in Norse mythology. Its uses include that of an epithet for good witches.

Jadis is the White Witch in CS. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. It may be based on Persian jadu (witch) or French jadis (of old, long ago).

Meroë is a witch in Roman poet Lucius Apuleius’s second century novel The Golden Ass. It’s probably based on the name of an ancient city along the Nile.

Morgause is an Arthurian witch, Queen of the Orkneys, and King Arthur’s halfsister. The earliest form of her name is Orcades, which probably derives from Celtic *forko– (piglet). It may have mutated into Morcades and Morgause through confusion with Morgan.

Nessarose is the Wicked Witch of the East in Wicked.

Pamphile is the feminine form of Greek name Pamphilos (friend of all). Bearers include a legendary woman who invented silk weaving, a respected first century historian, and a witch in The Golden Ass.

Pieta means “witch of the moon” in Old Karelian Finnish.

Proselenos is an elderly witch in Roman writer Petronius’s first century novel The Satyricon. It means “before the Moon” or “older than the Moon” in Greek.

Spīdola is a witch in Latvian national epic Lāčplēsis. She’s enslaved by the Devil, but eventually rescued by hero Koknesis, who becomes her husband.

Sycorax is a powerful witch in Shakespeare’s 1611 play The Tempest. There are several theories about its etymology, including “Scythian raven,” “heartbreaker,” and “pig crow.”

Rokapi (M) is the leader of the kudiani, a mythological Georgian group of witches. Supreme god Ghmerti punished him by chaining him to an underground column, where he ate human hearts brought to him by other kudiani. Rokapi tried to escape every year, but always failed.

Zinta means “witchcraft, magic, charms” in Latvian.

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).