Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Elsa
Elsa is the short form of Elisabeth (which is the French, German and Dutch form of the more common English spelling of Elizabeth). The name Elizabeth in its various linguistic forms has been around since the Middle Ages, mainly popularized by the French (using the spelling Élisabeth). Elizabeth with a “z” is the typical spelling in English; most other European languages use the “s.” Elizabeth is found in the Bible (Luke 1:5-80) as the wife of Zachariah and the mother of John the Baptist. The name is essentially Greek (Elisabet) from the Hebrew (Elisheva) meaning “God is my oath.” In the Biblical story, we learn that God looks 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 is sent to Zachariah with a message that Elizabeth will soon conceive a son and “you shall call his name John.” Gabriel also says 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. Zachariah expressed disbelief since his wife was well past childbearing years. As punishment for his doubt, God struck Zachariah mute. Sure enough, Elizabeth became pregnant and gave birth to John, after which Zachariah’s voice was restored. Around the same time, Mary become impregnated by the Holy Ghost with Jesus (Mary and Elizabeth are contemporaries; tradition holds they were 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 European countries 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 long-enduring and enormously popular names which have also spawned scores of variations and pet forms. Elsa is an example of one such pet form originally used among the Germans, Swedish, Finnish and English. Other pet forms you may recognize are Bess, Bessie, Beth, Betty, Buffy, Eliza, Elle, Ella, Ellie, Else, Libby, Lillian, Lisa, Liesel, Liza, Lizzie (and that’s just a partial list!). Elsa is currently the 3rd most popular name in Sweden (2011). It is also a high ranking name in France, Catalonia and Spain. Because Elsa is used among so many European cultures, we would consider this name quite cosmopolitan.