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, G-M

FYI: If you’re wondering why I’ve barely mentioned any Arthurian names in this series, it’s because I’m saving them for a future post on that subject only.

Sorry I couldn’t find a bigger pool of names! The relative dearth of literary male vs. female names is evidence of how, until fairly recently, people generally have been more creative with female names.

U.S. comedic actor Buster Keaton as Hamlet, 1922

Gareth first appeared in Thomas Malory’s 15th century collection of Arthurian legends, Le Morte d’Arthur. It’s based on Gahariet, the name of a similar Knight of the Round Table in French legends. This name, like many others in those stories, may also have a Welsh origin. If so, it may be derived from gwaredd (gentleness).

Gavroche was created by Victor Hugo for a character in Les Misérables (1862). Because of the fictional Gavroche, this has become slang for “street urchin” and “mischievous child.”

Goldmund is one of two title characters of Swiss-German writer Hermann Hesse’s amazing 1930 novel Narcissus and Goldmund. It’s meant to mean “gold mouth,” from German gold and mund, but it can also mean “golden protection.” Mund means “mouth” in modern German, but “protection” in Old High German.

Hamlet is an Anglicised form of Danish name Amleth, famously created for Shakespeare’s 1600 play of the same name. For whatever reason, this name is also used in Armenian.

Hareton may have been created by Emily Brontë for a character in her 1847 novel Wuthering Heights. It may also derive from an English place name meaning “hare town.”

Heathcliff was invented for the male protagonist of Wuthering Heights, and has the self-explanatory meaning “from the heath cliff” or “from the cliff with heath.” A heath is a shrubland with low-growing, open, woody plant life, mostly in acidic soils.

Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights (1939)

Indulis started as a diminutive of Latvian name Indriķis (home ruler; i.e., Henry), but is now given as a full name in its own right. Playwright and poet Rainis (a pseudonym of Jānis Pliekšāns) used it on one of the title characters of his 1911 play Indulis un Ārija.

Keimo was invented by legendary Finnish writer Aleksis Kivi in the 19th century, inspired by the village of Keimola.

Kordian is the protagonist of Polish writer Juliusz Słowacki’s famous 1833 play. I’m going to give this name to a till-now minor background character who’s soon to become an important secondary character, and also gave it as a middle name to another character. It’s derived from the Latin cordis (heart). This name is so romantic and beautiful!

Lesław was created by Polish writer Roman Zmorski for his 1847 poetic novel of the same name, derived from Lech (the legendary founder of the Polish nation) and the root sław (glory).

Lestat was created by Anne Rice for a character in her Vampire Chronicles series, which débuted in 1976. She may have intended it to look derived from Occitan or Old French l’estat (the status, state), though Lestat’s name was originally Lestan, in honour of her husband Stan. While writing the first book, she accidentally wrote the name wrong, and only noticed later.

U.S. President Andrew Johnson (left) as Mercutio, 1868 political cartoon by Alfred Waud

Malvolio means “ill will” in Italian. It was created by Shakespeare for a character in his 1602 play Twelfth Night.

Marganore was invented by Italian writer Ludovico Ariosto for his 1516 poem Orlando Furioso (published in its complete form in 1532). Fittingly, since it belongs to a tyrant, the name derives from Greek words margaino (to rage, to be mad) and anor (man). Thus, it means “madman.”

Mercutio is a diminutive of Mercury, probably ultimately from Latin mercari (to trade) or merces (wages). Shakespeare used it for a character in Romeo and Juliet (1596).

Names symbolic of short life

Content Warning: This post is about names befitting stillborns, infants with very short lives, and miscarriages.

I know this is a depressing, macabre topic no one should ever have to deal with, but fetal and neonatal deaths are an unavoidable fact of life. And as always, these names can also be used for fictional characters. I’ve used some of them for my own characters.

Though traditional Jewish Law dictates stillborns and infants who live less than 30 days shouldn’t be named or have Kaddish recited for them, I find it very meaningful to give such a child a simple but symbolic name. When I asked one of my rabbis about this, he said he’d never tell grieving parents not to say Kaddish for their dear baby, no matter what custom dictates.

Other traditions have different outlooks, and individuals of any faith or culture should make their own decisions. God forbid this should ever happen to me if I’m blessed with biological children before time runs out, but if it did, I’d opt against the name I’d previously chosen and instead use one of the following names, with the understanding this child would never be called that. A name that might seem corny or pretentious on a living child is transformed into something haunting and beautiful on one who was born asleep or barely lived.

Unless otherwise noted, all names ending in vowels are female, and all names ending in consonants are male.

Amala means “pure, clean” in Sanskrit.

Angel is rather self-explanatory.

Atropos (F) was the oldest the Three Fates, the one who cut the thread. Her Roman version was Morta.

Bedisa means “fate” in Georgian.

Blessing is self-explanatory.

Bracha means “blessing” in Hebrew. The male form is Baruch.

Clotho was one of the Three Fates, the one who spins the thread of Life. Her Roman version was Nona.

Dalisay (F) means “pure” in Tagalog.

Destiny is self-explanatory. This name has such a different image when used on a stillborn or someone who died in early infancy.

Faith is self-explanatory.

Glenda was created in the 20th century from Welsh elements glan (clean, pure) and da (good).

Heimarmene was the Greek goddess of the Fate of the Universe. The name may be derived from the verb meiresthai (to receive as one’s lot), from which the word moira (destiny, fate) also derives.

Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep, described as very kind, gentle, and calm. His Roman version was Somnus.

Inmaculada means “immaculate” in Spanish, after the Immaculate Conception. Other forms include Imaculada (Portuguese), Immaculata (Irish), Immacolata (Italian), and Immaculada (Catalan)

Innocent derives from the Latin Innocentius, ultimately from innocens (innocent). Other forms include Innocenzo (Italian), Innokentiy (Russian), Inocencio (Spanish), Innocenty (Polish), Innozenz (German), Inocentas (Lithuanian), Innocenz (German), Inocent (Croatian), and Inocenţiu (Romanian).

Female forms are Innokentiya (Russian, Bulgarian), Iñoskentze (Basque), Innocentia (Latin), Innocència (Catalan), Innocenta (Polish), Inocencia (Spanish, Portuguese), and Innocentja (Polish).

Juvenal means “youthful” in Latin, from original form Iuvenalis.

Kader (F) means “destiny, fate” in Turkish.

Kiyoshi (M) means “pure” in Japanese.

Lachesis (F) was one of the Three Fates, the one responsible for measuring the thread and determining length of life. Her Roman counterpart is Decima.

Memoria means “memory” in Italian.

Mneme means “memory” in Greek. She was one of the original Three Muses.

Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of remembrance. Other forms include Mnemosina (Russian, Macedonian, Serbian, Tatar, Ukrainian, Azeri, Basque), Mnemosine (Italian, Portuguese), Mnémoszüné (Hungarian), Mnemozina (Bulgarian, Bosnian, Croatian), Mnemósine (Spanish, Asturian, Catalan), Mnemozino (Esperanto), Mnemasina (Belarusian), Mnēmosine (Latvian), Mnemosinė (Lithuanian), Mnemosin (Piedmontese), and Mnemosune (Afrikaans).

Neshama means “soul” in Hebrew. A diminutive form is Neshamaleh.

Oroitz means “memory” in Basque.

Peace is self-explanatory.

Pepromene was the Greek goddess of one’s individual fate. The name may derive from the verb peprosthai (to be fated, finished, fulfilled) or the noun pepratosthai (finite).

Qismat means “fate” in Arabic. This name is female in Sanskrit (Qismet) and Turkish (Kismet).

Remember, Remembrance. Though these were unisex names in Puritan times, Remember in particular has always sounded more feminine to me.

Safi (M) means “pure” in Arabic. The feminine forms are Safiya, Safiyyah (Arabic) and Safiye (Turkish).

Shalom means “peace” in Hebrew. This is a unisex name.

Syntyche means “common fate” in Greek.

Tahira means “pure, chaste, virtuous” in Arabic. In Turkish, it’s spelt Tahire. The male Arabic and Turkish form is Tahir.

Thuần means “pure, simple, clean” in Vietnamese.

Zachriel, Zechariel, Zachariel is the archangel who leads souls to judgment in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Zaha means “pure, innocent, fresh, clean, clear” in Hebrew.

Zakiyya, Zakiya, Zakiah means “pure” in Arabic. The male form is Zaki. In Tatar and Bashkir, it’s spelt Zäki. The Hebrew form is Zakkai, Zakai, Zakay.

A name that arose from the earth

Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855), one of Poland’s great national poets, painted 1828 by Józef Oleszkiewicz

Adam means “man” in Hebrew, and may ultimately derive from the Akkadian word adamu (to make), the Hebrew word adamah (earth), or the almost-identical Hebrew word ‘adam (to be red; i.e., a reference to a ruddy complexion). All these etymologies obviously are very symbolic, given Adam is the name of the first man in the Biblical creation story.

The name is also used in English, German, French, Dutch, Georgian, Arabic, Catalan, Romanian, and the Scandinavian and Slavic languages. The variation Ádám is Hungarian; Ádam is Faroese; and Âdam is Jèrriais.

Adam has long been common in the Jewish world, but it didn’t become popular in Christendom till the Middle Ages. After the Protestant Reformation, it became even more popular. The name has been in the U.S. Top 500 since 1880, and began vaulting up the charts in the 1950s. It went from #428 in 1954 to #71 in 1970. Adam attained its highest rank of #18 in 1983 and 1984.

The name has remained in the Top 100 since. In 2018, it was #78. Adam is also #2 in Belgium, #3 in the Czech Republic (as of 2016), #5 in Hungary and France, #6 in Sweden, #9 in Ireland, #11 in Poland, #16 in Catalonia (as of 2016), #17 in The Netherlands, #18 in Northern Ireland (which hopefully soon will be reunified with the rest of Ireland), #24 in Scotland, #25 in Denmark, #36 in England and Wales, #39 in Israel (as of 2016), #40 in Norway, #41 in Spain, #43 in NSW, Australia, #44 in Slovenia, #50 in Switzerland and Austria, #51 in British Columbia, Canada, #55 in Italy, and #96 in New Zealand.

Adam was the name of one of my great-great-grandfathers, the father of the only great-grandfather I have memories of. Judging from the vintage newspaper stories I’ve found about him, he was quite the local character!

Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723–1790), author of one of the most boring books ever written, The Wealth of Nations

Other forms include:

1. Adamo is Italian.

2. Adán is Spanish.

3. Adão is Portuguese.

4. Ádhamh is Irish.

5. Aatami is Finnish.

6. Adomas is Lithuanian.

7. Akamu is Hawaiian.

8. Aadam is Estonian.

9. Aaden is Somali.

10. Adami is Greenlandic and old-fashioned Georgian.

11. Ādams is Latvian.

12. Adamu is Swahili, Amharic, and Hausa.

13. Adda is Welsh, though I’d avoid this in an Anglophone area. Unfortunately, many boys with names ending in A are teased, and there’s no saving grace of this being a widely-known male name like Nikita or Ilya.

14. Aden is Romansh.

15. Ārama is Maori.

16. Âtame is Greenlandic.

17. Áttán is Sami.

18. Hadam is Sorbian.

19. Jadóm is Kashubian.

20. Odam is Uzbek.

21. Adem is Turkish.

22. Y-adam is a rare Vietnamese form.

Feminine forms:

1. Adamina is English, Polish, and Romani.

2. Adama is Hebrew and English.

3. Adamella is a rare, modern English form. I’m really not keen on this name! Some names don’t naturally lend themselves to feminine versions, and look forced.

4. Adamia is English.