Lillian was coined as a pet form of or nursery name for Elizabeth in the 16th century. Although the name is often thought to be an elaboration on Lily, this is incorrect given the fact that Lily wasn’t in use as a female given name until the 19th century – or almost three centuries after Lillian. Elizabeth is one of those highly popular English names (originating from the Bible) that have spawned scores and scores of pet forms, diminutives and nicknames. Lillian is one of them. Elizabeth is a name borne from the New Testament (Luke 1:5-80) as the wife of Zachariah and the mother of John the Baptist. John the Baptist’s role is important because it will later become his job to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. He also had the honors of baptizing Jesus in the River Jordan. In other words, John was one important Biblical dude among Christians and Elizabeth was his Baby Mama. When Elizabeth gave birth to John she was way past childbearing years (not to mention barren). So God sent his “oath” (the promise of a baby) to Zachariah and Elizabeth by way of the angel-messenger Gabriel. Hence, the meaning of the Hebrew name Elishebha is “God is my oath”. The nursery name Lillian has been around for almost five centuries but today is most popular in North America (Canada and the United States).
Lillian has enjoyed a position on the American female naming charts for well over a hundred consecutive years. A highly common name at the turn of the 20th century and a Top 10 favorite from 1898 to 1901, Lillian’s popularity finally waned by the 1980s. However, along with other female names that were popular in the early 1900s, Lillian is currently experiencing a revival. The name reclaimed her Top 100 status in 2002 and is now a Top 25. Its attraction is owed to its sweet, classic charm and the ability to shorten it to “Lily” if one chooses – another popular girl’s name today.