Israelite Names: Elisheba,
From History of Christian Names, by
Charlotte M. Yonge, 1884.
The names of the wife and
son of Aaron bring us to a style of nomenclature that was very frequent among
the Israelites at the period of the Exodus, and had begun even earlier.
This was the habit of making the name contain a dedication to the Deity, by
beginning or ending it with a word of Divine signification.
Divine title known to man before the special revelation to Moses in the burning
bush, was the Hebrew word El, in the plural Elohim, which corresponds to our
term Deity or God-head. It was by a derivative from this word that Jacob
called the spot where he beheld the angels, Beth El (the House of God), and
again the place where he built an altar, El Elohe Israel (the God of Israel), as
indeed his own name of Israel meant prevailing with God.
termination is to be found in the names of several of his grandsons; but we will
only in the present section review the class of names where it serves as a
The first of
all of these is Eliezer (God of help), the name of Abraham's steward who went to
bring home Rebecca, and again of the second son of Moses. A very slight
change, indicated in our version by the change of the vowels, made it Eleazar,
or God will help, the name of Aaron's eldest surviving son, the second high
priest. Both continued frequent among the Jews before the captivity, and
after it the distinction between them was not observed, though Eleazar was in
high repute as having belonged to the venerable martyr in the Antiochian
persecution, as well as to the brave Maccabee, who perished under the weight of
the elephant he had stabbed.
the Gospels, Eleazar has become Lazarus, and in this form is bestowed upon the
beggar of the parable, as well as on him who was raised from the dead. It
is curious to observe the countries where it has been in use. The true old
form once comes to light in the earlier middle age as St. Elzéar, the Comte de
St. Sabran, who became a devotee of St. Francis, and has had a scanty supply of
local namesakes. The beggar's name has been frequently adopted in Spain as
Lazaro or Lazarillo; Italy has many a Lazzaro; Poland, shows Lazarz; Russia,
Lasar; Illyria, Lazo and Laze.
Aaron's wife was Elischeba,
meaning God hath sworn, i.e. an appeal to his covenant. It recurred again
in the priestly family in the Gospel period, and had becoem, in its Greek form,
Ελισαβετ; in Latin, Elisabeth.
The mother of the Baptist
was not canonized in the West, though, I believe, she was so in the East, for
there arose her first historical namesake, the Muscovite princess Elisavetta,
the daughter of Jaroslav, and the object of the romantic love of that splendid
poet and sea-king, Harald Hardràda, of Norway, who sung nineteen songs of his
own composition in her praise on his way to her from Constantinople, and won her
hand by feats of prowess. Although she soon died, her name remained in the
northern peninsula, and figures in many a popular tale and Danish ballad, as
Elsebin, Lisbet, or Helsa. It was the Slavonic nations, however, who first
brought it into use, and from them it crept into Germany, and thence to the Low
Elisabeth of Hainault, on
her marriage with Philippe Auguste, seems to have been the first to suffer the
transmutation into Isabelle, the French being the nation of all others who
delighted to bring everything into conformity with their own
pronunciation. The royal name thus introduced became popular among the
crown vassals, and Isabelle of Angoulême, betrothed to Hugues de Lusignan, but
married to King John, brought Isabel to England, whence her daughter, the wife
of Friedrich II., conveyed Isabella to Germany and Sicily. Meantime the
lovely character of Elisabeth of Hungaryor
Erzsebet as she is called in her native countryearned
saintly honours, and caused the genuine form to be extremely popular in all
parts of Germany. Her namesake great-niece was, however, in Aragon turned
into Isabel, and when married into Portugal, received the surname of De la Paz,
because of her gentle, peace-making nature. She was canonized; and Isabel,
or Ysabel, as it is now the fashion to spell it in Spain, has ever since been
the chief feminine royal name in the Peninsula, and was rendered especially
glorious and beloved by Isabel the Catholic.
In the French royal family
it was much used during the middle ages, and sent us no fewer than two
specimens, namely, the 'She-Wolf of France,' and the child-queen of Richard II.;
but though used by the Plantagenets and their nobility, it took no hold of the
English taste; and it was only across the Scottish border that Isobel or Isbel,
probably learned from French allies, became popular, insomuch that its
contraction, Tibbie, has been from time immemorial one of the commonest of all
peasant names in the Lowlands. The wicked and selfish wife of Charles VI.
of France was always called Isabeau, probably from some forgotten Bavarian
contraction; but she brought her appellation into disrepute, and it has since
her time become much more infrequent in France.
The fine old English
ballad that makes 'pretty Bessee' the grand-daughter of Simon de Montfort is
premature in its nomenclature; for the first Bess on record is Elizabeth
Woodville, whose mother, Jacquetta of Luxemburg, no doubt imported it from
Flanders. Shakespeare always makes Edward IV. call her Bess; and her
daughter Elizabeth of York is the lady Bessee of the curious verses recording
the political courtship of Henry of Richmond. Thence came the name of Good
Queen Bess, the most popular and homely of all borne by English women, so that,
while in the last century a third at least of the court damsels were addressed
as 'Lady Betty,' it so abounded in villages that the old riddle arose out of the
During the anti-Spanish
alliance between England and France, Edward VI. was sponsor to a child of Henri
II., who received the Tudor name of Elisabeth, but could not become the wife of
Philip II., without turning into Isabel; indeed, the Italian Elisabetta Farnesea
determined personagewas the
only lady who seems to have avoided this transformation.
Poetry did not improve our
Queen Elizabeth by making her into Eliza, a form which, however, became so
prevalent in England during the early part of the present century, that Eliza
and Elizabeth are sometimes to be found in the same family. No name has so
many varieties of contraction, as will be seen by the ensuing list, where, in
deference to modern usage, Elizabeth is placed separately from Isabella.
Lise and Lisette are
sometimes taken as contractions of Elisabeth, but they properly belong to
Scotland and Spain are the
countries of Isabel; England and German of Elizabeth.
The noblest prophet of the
kingdom of Israel was called by two Hebrew words, meaning God the Lord, a sound
most like what is represented by the letters Eliyahu, the same in effect as that
of the young man who reproved Job and his friends, though, in his case, the
Hebrew points have led to his being called in our Bible Elihu, while we know the
prophet as Elijah, the translators probably intending us to pronounce the j
like an i. The Greek translators had long before formed
Elias of the New Testament.
When the Empress Helena
visited Palestine, she built a church on Mount Carmel, around which arose a
cluster of hermitages, and thus the great prophet and his miracles became known
both to East and West.
When the Crusaders visited
the Mount of Carmel frowning above Acre, and beheld the church and the hermits
around it, marked the spot where the great prophet had prayed, and the brook
where he slew the idolaters, no wonder they became devoted to his name, and
Helie became very frequent, especially among the Normans. Helie de la
Flèche was the protector of Duke Robert's young son, William Clito; and Helie
and Elie were long in use in France, as Ellis must once have been in England, to
judge by the surnames it has left. Elias is still very common in the
The order of Carmelites
claimed to have been founded by the prophet himself; but when the Latins
inundated Palestine, it first came into notice, and became known all over the
West. It was placed under the invocation of St. Mary, who was thus called
in Italy the Madonna di Carmela or di Carmine, and, in consequence, the two
names of Carmela and Carmine took root among the Italian ladies, by whom they
are still used. The meaning of Carmel, as applied to the mountain, is
vineyard or fruitful field.
Elisha's name meant God of
Salvation. It becomes Eliseus in the New Testament, but has been very
seldom repeated; though it is possible that the frequent Ellis of the middle
ages may spring from it.
Here, too, it may be best
to mention the prophetic name by which the Humanity of the Messiah was revealed
to IsaiahImmanuel (God with
us), Imm meaning with; an being the pronoun.
The Greeks appear to have
been the first to take up this as a Christian name, and Manuel Komnenos made it
known in Europe. The Italians probably caught it from them as Manovello;
and the Spaniards and Portuguese were much addicted to giving it, especially
after the reign of Dom Manoel, one of the best kings of the noble house of
Avis. Manuelita is a feminine in use in the Peninsula. When used as
a masculine, as it is occasionally in England and France, the first letter is
generally changed to E.*
* Proper Names of the
Bible; Michaelis; Grimm, Deutscha Mythologie.