Concerning the Names
Teresa, Theresa, Tracy, and Treasa

by Jodi McMaster
known in the SCA as Ælfwyn æt Gyrwum

©1999 by Jodi McMaster. All rights reserved.

Last updated 4 Oct. 1999

The name Teresa was confined to the Iberian peninsula (modern-day Spain and Portugal) until the late 16th century, when it spread in the wake of the veneration of Saint Teresa of Avila.

Teresa is probably originally derived from a Greek locative Therasios, Therasia 'inhabitant of Thera'.  The first known bearer is the Greek Therasia, wife of St. Paul of Nola, who lived around the 4th or 5th century A.D. [1]

The use of Teresa is attested in the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula beginning in the 11th century and continuing throughout the middle ages.  In one late 15th century sample of Iberian names, Teresa was the 10th most common feminine name, accounting for 3% of women. [2]  Its bearers include royalty of Leon (10th century), Portugal (late 10th century) and Castile (beginning in the 11th century). [3, 4]  Here are some of the ways in which it was spelled [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]:

We have also found a modern reference to Teresa Bou, the mistress of the Catalan poet Asuias March, who lived 1397-1459. This suggests that there was a Catalan form of the name, but we do not know how it was spelled. [9]

Forms of Teresa do not appear in languages outside Iberia until the end of the 16th century, when the fame of Saint Teresa of Avila spread the name widely in Europe. [10] Teresa of Avila died in 1582, was beatified in 1614, and was canonized in 1622. [11] She also wrote several books, which were published in the late 16th century. [12] The spread of the name to central Europe was probably also influenced by the close ties between Spain and Austria beginning in the 16th century, when the royalty of Spain and of Austria were close kin.

The name Teresa spread throughout Italy at the end of the 1500s. [13] We have found examples in Hungary Theresia 1565, and Poland Teresa 1683 and 1694 [14, 15]. A Polish princess, Teresa Kunigunda Sobieska, married Maximillian II Emanuel of Bavaria in 1694. [9] The name was not used much in England until the 18th century, although we found Frances Teresa Stuart, duchess of Richmond and Lennox, mistress of Charles II, who was born in 1647, the daughter of English parents living in France. [9]

We found no evidence that the similar-sounding Tracy or Tracie was used as a given name, feminine or masculine, before the 19th century. Tracy is often treated as a diminutive of Teresa, but its true origin is unclear. It may have evolved from the various forms of Theresa which also appear in England during the nineteenth century: Treza, Treesy, and Treacy. [16]

Alternatively, Tracy may have originally been a surname, re-cycled as a given name in the 19th century like many other surnames, and only later associated with Teresa. The modern popularity of Tracy dates from the 1940s, perhaps because of the appearance of Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord in the movie "The Philadelphia Story."

Modern dictionaries of Irish names give Treasa and Toirésa as Irish equivalents of Theresa. [17] No forms of the names Teresa or Tracy have been attested in medieval or renaissance Ireland. Treasa may be an attempt to adapt Tracy to Gaelic spelling. Both of these names appear to be modern inventions [17, 18].

Teresa is a well-attested name in the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula throughout the middle ages. Its spread to the other parts of Europe did not begin until the late sixteenth century but was well-advanced by the end of the seventeenth century.


[1] Drosdowski, Guenther, Duden Lexikon der Vornamen, 2nd ed. (Mannheim: Dudenverlag, 1974).

[2] Elsbeth Anne Roth, "16th-century Spanish Women's Names" (WWW: Self-published, 1998).

[3] Lopes, Fernão, Chronique du Roi D. Pedro I/Crónica do Rei D.Pedro I, ed. Giuliano Macchi, trans. to French and notes Jaqueline Steunou (Paris: E'ditiones du Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique, 1985).

[4] De La Torre, Antonio and E. A. de la Torre, eds., Cuentas de Gonzalo de Baeza Tesorero de Isabel la Católica (Madrid: Biblioteca "Reyes Católicos", 1956).

[5] Diez Melcon, R. P. Gonzalo, Apellidos Castellano-Leoneses: Siglos IX-XIII, ambos inclusive (Universidad de Granada, 1957).

[6] Carrasco Pérez, Juan, La Población de Navarra en el Siglo XIV (Pamplona, Spain: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra, S.A, 1973).

[7] Menedez-Pidal, Ramon, Crestomatía del Español Medieval (Madrid: 1971).

[8] Menedez-Pidal, Ramon, Orígenes del Español: Estado Linguistico de la Península Ibérica Hasta el Siglo XI (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, S.A., 1964).

[9] "March, Ausias" Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, Accessed 27 August 1999.

[10] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press 1977) s.nn. Teresa, Theresa.

[11] "Teresa of Jesus (Teresa of Avila)," Catholic Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Press, Inc. 1913; Electronic version- New Advent, Inc. 1996), accessed 7/13/98 at:

[12] "St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)," Christian Classics Ethereal Library Server (Wheaton College: 1998), accessed 7/13/98 at:

[13] De Felice, Emidio, Dizionario dei Nomi Italiani (Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan, 1992) s.n. Teresa.

[14] Kázmér Miklós, "Régi Magyar Családnevek Szótára: XIV-XVII Század" Magyar Nyelvtudományi Társaság, (Budapest, 1993) s.n. Barca.

[15] Danuta Kopertowska, "Nazwy Osobowe Mieszkan'ców Podkieleckich Wsi (1565-1694)" [Polska Akademia Nauk -- Oddzial/w Krakowie, Prace Koisji Je,zykoznawstwa, No. 56].

[16] Dunkling, Leslie and William Gosling, The New American Dictionary of First Names (New York: Signet Books, 1983) s.n. Tracy.

[17] Woulfe, Patrick, Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish Names and Surnames (Kansas City: Irish Genealogical Foundation) s.n. Toiréasa.

[18] Woulfe, Patrick, Irish Names for Children (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1974) s.nn. Toirésa, Treasa.