Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Beth
Beth is a short form of Elizabeth. The name is essentially Ancient Greek (Ελισαβετ) from the Hebrew (Elisheva) meaning “God is my oath” (Beth by itself means “oath”). While the Hebrew Elisheba shows up in the New Testament as the wife of Aaron (Moses’ brother), the Elizabeth we remember most is from the New Testament (Luke 1:5-80), wife of Zachariah and the mother of John the Baptist. Her story tells us that God looked favorably upon Zachariah and Elizabeth as “they were both righteous before God…but they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:6). The angel Gabriel was sent to Zachariah with a message that Elizabeth will soon have a son (“you shall call his name John”). Gabriel also tells them that John’s birth will be cause for much rejoicing and that the baby will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from Elizabeth’s womb. Around the same time, Mary became impregnated by the Holy Ghost with Jesus (Mary and Elizabeth are contemporaries; tradition holds they are cousins). John the Baptist’s role is important because it will later become his job to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah, the knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of sins “because of the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78). And John the Baptist also has the honors of having baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. In other words, John was one important Biblical dude among Christians and Elizabeth was the Baby Mama. It’s no surprise that the Biblical Elizabeth became the inspiration behind the usage of her name, and why so many Christianized Europeans embraced it since the early Middle Ages (her Feast Day is November 5). The much admired Saints Elizabeth of Hungary and Elizabeth of Portugal also encouraged the usage of Elizabeth in later medieval times; further cementing the name’s lasting popularity. Elizabeth is up there with Mary, Margaret and Catherine as a long-enduring and enormously popular female name; names which have also spawned scores of variations and pet forms. In fact, Elizabeth wins the prize when it comes to pet forms: Beth, Bess, Bessie, Betsy, Bette, Betty, Buffy, Eliza, Ella, Ellie, Elsa, Elsie, Elyse, Libby, Liddy, Lilian, Lilibet, Lilibeth, Lillian, Lisa, Lise, Liz, Liza, Lizbeth, Lizette, Lizzie, Tetty…suffice it to say, the list is exhausting. Beth also happens to be a name paired with other female names like Bethann or Marybeth. It could also be considered a short form of Bethany.