Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Tess

Tess, like Tessa, is a pet form of Theresa which itself is a name of uncertain etymology. Theresa most likely originated from the Greek “therizein” meaning “to harvest, harvester” or from the Greek “theros” meaning “summer”. Therasia is also the name of a Greek island. Usage of Theresa as a female given name finds its roots in Spain and Portugal where it remained largely confined up through the Middle Ages. According to tradition, Therasia was a Spanish noblewoman and wife of the 4th century Roman Senator and lawyer, St. Paulinus of Nola. After tragically losing their son, the wealthy couple gave everything to the poor and led a life of religious austerity. It is believed that the name Teresa originated from this woman. Later on in history, Teresa of Ávila was a prominent 16th century Spanish saint who is credited for spreading the name beyond the borders of Spain and Portugal and embraced more widespread throughout Europe. As a mystic and meditation practitioner, Saint Teresa of Jesus (as she’s often called) wrote prolifically and her works were a vital contribution to the body of Spanish Renaissance literature. Adding further “saintly” currency to the name Theresa was a 19th century French Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Normandy) who is often referred to as the “Little Flower of Jesus”. Not only is she co-patron of France (along with St. Joan of Arc), but her place of pilgrimage in France is second only to Lourdes. Ironically, Saint Thérèse died a little-known cloistered Carmelite nun at the age of 24; it wasn’t until after her death that she gained a huge following even beyond the French borders (thanks to her widely read autobiography “Story of a Soul” that she left behind). Her piously sentimental writings inspired a nation. Then of course, there’s the unforgettable 20th century Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The name Theresa is practically synonymous with holiness so it was no surprise that it became a name of choice among Catholics throughout the Western World. Theresa with an “h” is the version most often used by the English and Germans, while Teresa is the Spanish and Portuguese form and Thérèse the French. The pet form of Tess was popularized in the later 19th century by Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel “Tess of the D'Ubervilles” (see literary references below). Today the name Tess as an independently given name is hugely popular in the Netherlands, but also ranks moderately high in Belgium and France.

All About the Baby Name – Tess



The number Nine personality represents the completion or ending of the cycle, and a need for perfection. This is the personality that moves from "self" to a greater understanding and compassion for the human condition and the world order. They want to make the world a better place. Nines are capable of great spiritual and humanitarian achievements. They are courageous and fearless, able to fight great battles on behalf of worthy causes. These personalities will not tolerate injustice. They are compassionate people with a strong sensitivity to others. They are able to both educate and inspire. Friendships and relationships are the lifeblood to the Nine, and they place a high value on love and affection. Nines are often exceptionally gifted artistically, and they have a keen imagination and enterprising mind.



Although Tess was made famous by the central character featured in Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel “Tess of the D'Ubervilles”, the name did not appear on the American female naming charts until very recently in 1983 and even then she limped onto the list. Then suddenly between 1989 and 1990 Tess rose fairly dramatically on the charts. Why? At the end of 1988 20th Century Fox released a hugely popular film called “Working Girl” starring Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill (a sort of working girl’s Cinderella story). After that brief frenzied interest in Tess, the name seemed to settle at levels of so-so moderation but then began to decline most dramatically since the 21st century. Little Tess is in competition with Tessa and Tessa is winning the race. Yet the pretty one-syllable and minimalistic Tess is just as charming in our opinion. It works well on a little girl but ages more elegantly into adulthood than Tessa. Tessie is an obvious nickname.

Quick Facts























Cultural References to the Baby Name – Tess

Literary Characters


Angel Clare is Tess’s husband and true love in the 1891 Thomas Hardy novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” A freethinking rebellion, he rejects the conformist route of Cambridge University like his brothers and sticks to farming. He strives toward personal goodness and the nobility of man. Part of that includes him falling in love with Tess, a mere milkmaid and his social inferior. However, his notions of morality turn out to be conventional: he rejects Tess on their wedding night when she confesses that she isn't a virgin, even though he isn’t either. Eventually he is brought down to earth where his moral system is readjusted and realizes he’s been unfair to Tess. Ironically, it is not the angel who guides the human in this novel, but the human who instructs the angel, although at the cost of her own life.

Alec is a character in Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, adapted many times over in various media. Alec is the son of the d’Urbervilles who have merely purchased the title, and he has base designs upon poor Tess, who wrongly thinks she must stay in his employ to help her impoverished family. The not-very-nice Alec rapes her against her will, impregnating her and leaving her to give birth to a child who dies and must be buried in unconsecrated ground. After two years, Tess is eager to make a new start outside the village, obtains work as a milkmaid and becomes reacquainted with an earlier beau, Angel Clare, son of the parson. Not until their wedding night does Tess own up to her sullied past, and Angel is appalled. Off he goes to Brazil (but of course), off she goes to her next milkmaid assignment, where she one day encounters the bad boy, Alec, who has now been converted to a Christian preacher by none other than Angel’s father. Alec begs Tess not to tempt him ever again (!) but shortly thereafter denounces his Christianity and begs her to marry him. Tess is still guiltily and lovingly tied to the absent Angel, however, but when he remains away, she finally agrees to become his mistress. Bad timing – here comes Angel to make things up. Tess, in her rage and despair, kills Alec and finally is executed. And Angel walks away hand in hand with her sister. Lesson: it looks to us as if poor Alec really did get the worst of draw in this contest, no matter how much he may have deserved it.

Tess is the title character of Thomas Hardy’s classic, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (A Pure Woman), published in 1891. Considered extremely scandalous due to its treatment of rape and infidelity in Victorian settings, “Tess” stands as an indictment against the demoralizing forces of hypocritical religious and social mores. Tess herself is a lovely young woman of a family in reduced circumstances, but attached by blood to the ancient name of d’Urbervilles. This distinction brings her nothing but grief, however, as she is seduced and impregnated by the immoral son of the current day d’Urbervilles, who have purchased the name rather than inheriting it. Caught between the classes and condemned for a crime of which she is an innocent victim, Tess is forced over and over to compromise herself, to struggle to survive and to suffer the cruelty of being blamed for a sin against herself. Ultimately she dies for the consequences of that same sin, and in our more enlightened times, has come to represent a tragic figure of the indiscriminate cruelties of fate. A large chore for so light a name – Tess carries it well.

Childrens Books


We cannot find any childrens books with the first name Tess

Popular Songs


Tess Don’t Tell
a song by Ivy

Famous People


Tess Harper (actress)
Tess Gerritsen (author)

Children of Famous People


We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Tess

Historic Figures


We cannot find any historically significant people with the first name Tess