This was a common name in classical Greece, and, due to both the saints who carried it and the favourable meaning, it came into general use in the Christian world, being especially popular among Eastern Christians. It was however rare in Britain before the 19th century. Famous bearers include three tsars of Russia (in the Russian form Fyodor) and American president Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919).
This name was common among continental European royalty during the Middle Ages, and it was popularized in Britain by the German House of Hanover when they inherited the British throne in the 18th century. It was the name of characters in the novels Tom Jones (1749) by Henry Fielding and The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) by Oliver Goldsmith.
In the United States this name was only moderately common until the 1990s when it began rising in popularity, eventually becoming the most popular for girls from 2011 to 2013. A famous bearer is the Italian actress Sophia Loren (1934-).
Due to the saint's popularity, the name came into general use in medieval Europe, especially in Spain and France. It was also borne by a 16th-century king of Portugal who died in a crusade against Morocco.
A famous bearer of the surname was James Madison (1751-1836), one of the authors of the American constitution who later served as president.
In the United States this form was more popular than the full form Elizabeth from 1958 to 1978, and was in fact the top ranked American name between 1962 and 1969.
In the United States this form was much less common than Isabel until the early 1990s, when it began rapidly rising in popularity. It reached a peak in 2009 and 2010, when it was the most popular name for girls in America, an astounding rise over only 20 years.
A famous bearer is the Italian actress Isabella Rossellini (1952-).
After the Protestant Reformation it was occasionally used as a given name in the English-speaking world, and it became somewhat common in America due to the fame of the revolutionary Ethan Allen (1738-1789). It only became popular towards the end of the 20th century. It is the name of the main character in Edith Wharton's novel Ethan Frome (1911), about a man in love with his wife's cousin.
The name has been used by kings of Scotland, Poland and Yugoslavia, emperors of Russia, and eight popes. Other notable bearers include English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), American statesman Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), Scottish-Canadian explorer Sir Alexander MacKenzie (1764-1820), Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), and Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), the Scottish-Canadian-American inventor of the telephone.