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Israelite Names:  Elisheba, &c.
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.

The 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.

This 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 prefix.

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.

In 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 Countries.

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 Hungary—or Erzsebet as she is called in her native country—earned 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 contractions.

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 Farnese—a determined personage—was 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.

 

English.
Elizabeth
Eliza
Bessy
Betsey
Betty
Lizzy
Libby
Lisa
Scotch.
Elizabeth
Elspeth
Elspie
Bessie
Lizzie
German.
Elisabeth
Elise
Lise
Lischen
Elsabet
Elsbet
Elsabe
Bettine
Bette
Ilse
Bavarian.
Lisi
Liserl
Swiss.
Elsbeth
Betha
Bebba
Bebbeli
Liserli
Danish.
Elisabeth
Elsebin
Helsa
French.
Elisabeth
Elise
Babet
Babette
Babichon
Italian.
Elisabetta
Elisa
Betta
Bettina
Lisettina
Russian.
Jelissaveta
Lisa
Lisenka
Polish.
Elzbieta
Elzbietka
Servian.
Jelisaveta
Jelisavka
Liza
Slovak.
Lizbeta
Liza
Lizika
Esthonian.
Ello
Elts
Liso
Hungarian.
Erzebet
Erzsi
Erszok
Orse
Orsike
Lusatian.
Hilzbeta
Hilza
Hilzizka
Lisa
Liska
Beta

Lise and Lisette are sometimes taken as contractions of Elisabeth, but they properly belong to Louise.

 

English.
Isabella
Isabel
Belle
Nib
Ibbot
Ib
Scotch.
Isabel
Isbel
Tibbie
French.
Isabeau
Isabelle
Spanish.
Ysabel
Bela
Portuguese.
Isabel
Isabelhina

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 Ἠλιας, the 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 Netherlands.

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 Isaiah—Immanuel (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.

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Israelite Names
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Moses and Aaron
Miriam or Mary
Elisheba, etc.
Joshua, etc.
From the Book of Judges
Names from Chaanach
David
Salem
Later Israelite Names
Angelic Names

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Spirit of Nomenclature
Hebrew Nomenclature
Patriarchal Names
Israelite Names

  

 

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