My latest novel in progress features a cast of real historical characters most of which have the real name ‘Elizabeth.’ My main character is not called Elizabeth, but her mother is, and her sister. Records show that her aunts on her mother’s and father’s side are also called Elizabeth, as is her employer for whom she works as a lady’s companion.
|The Charity of St Elizabeth Of Hungary
Edmund Blair Leighton
This is a real problem for historical novelists who are stuck with a cast of characters who all have the same name. I have taken the obvious way out which is to call them all by variants – so we have Aunt Beth, Aunt Eliza, Liddy, and yes, you’ve guessed it, Elisabeth (but spelled with an ‘s’.) Oh, and ‘Mama’ (who is also an Elizabeth, but I try to avoid using her actual name!)
Here are a few more common abbreviations that were used in the 17th and 18th centuries: Bess, Bessie, Beth, Betsy, Betty, Elisa, Eliza, Ella, Ellie, Elsa, Elsie, Elyse, Libby, Liddy, Lydia, Lilian, Lilibet, Lilibeth, Lillia, Lillian, Lisa, Lise, Lizbeth, Lizette, Lizzie, Lizzy, Tetty.
I imagine the general population had exactly the same trouble in knowing who was who, and that’s why all the diminutives sprang up. But to add to ‘Elizabeth mania’, and not content with the English version, the pesky name crept into English at this time as these exotic variants as well: Isabella (Spanish), Lise (Danish), Isabelle (French), Lisa (Dutch), Liliana, (Hungarian), Elísabet (Icelandic), Eilish, (Irish), Elisabetta, Liana, (Italian), Belinha, (Portuguese), Elspet, Elspeth, Ishbel, Isobel, Lileas, Lilias, Lillias (Scottish) and Bethan or Bethany (Welsh).
|Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I|