By Linda Rosenkrantz
Have you noticed that even ancient names from the Bible go in and out of style?
This was not true in the recent past, when names like Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah and Hannah were high on the list; now Hannah is the sole survivor in the Top 50. There are, however, others showing definite signs of revival, such as Naomi at Number 77, Delilah at 116, Esther at 203, Ruth 293, and Miriam 294, with Deborah and Judith further down, still hindered by their midcentury nicknames of Debby and Judy.
But there are viable girl names in the Old Testament beyond this constricted circle and here are some of the best.
Bathsheba—In Hebrew the hyphenated Bat–Sheva—was the beautiful wife of David and mother of King Solomon. Bathsheba Everdene is the heroine of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd and the exotic name also appears in Harry Potter and Silverwing. The interesting French version is Bethsabee.
Dinah—We’ve always considered this a wonderful but overlooked name, which made only brief appearances on the pop charts in the 1940s to 60s (heyday of singers Dinah Washington and Shore), but completely off since 1967. The story of the biblical only daughter of Leah and Jacob is the basis of the bestselling Anita Diamant novel, The Red Tent.
Jemima—A great name that is finally escaping centuries of stereotyping in the US, the OT Jemima was the strong and beautiful first-born daughter of Job following his period of suffering. Though Jemima hasn’t been on the US charts since 1893, it is currently 200th on Nameberry and 211 in England.
Mara—The modern-sounding name chosen for herself by Naomi when she returned, devastated, to Bethlehem after the death of her husband and two sons–hence the meaning of “bitter.” It currently ranks at Number 739 in the US after entering the list in 1950, is 339 on Nameberry, 32 in Portugal and 68 in Spain. Mara is also a sci-fi character fave.
Noa—Rare in the US (it just entered the Top 1000 last year), Noa has been a top name in Israel for more than a decade, despite the possible confusion with the unrelated Noah. Noa could serve as a feminist icon: because of her and her biblical sisters, a law was established among the Israelites allowing daughters of a man without sons to inherit their father’s land.
Tamar—There are three biblical bearers of this name, one of them a daughter of David and sister of Absalom praised for her “fair countenance.” A strong, handsome choice, Tamar is sometimes given to girls born on the holiday of Sukkoth, and is mega popular in Israel.
Tirzah—A Hebrew name with the delightful meaning, “She is my delight.” She was one of Noa’s sisters who appealed to Moses for female hereditary rights. Tirzah figures in the William Blake poem To Tirzah and is the name of the hero’s sister in Ben-Hur.
Vashti—Queen Vashti is the first wife of the Persian king in the Book of Esther, read on the Jewish holiday of Purim. Viewed as strong and independent she has become something of a feminist icon. In fiction the Persian name Vashti has been used by E.M. Forster, Charlotte Bronte and Toni Morrison.
Yael/Jael is the courageous woman who helped free the Israelites from years of Canaanite oppression. A. S. Byatt wrote a short story related to the biblical character. The Yael spelling has long been popular in Israel—it was Number 4 for Jewish girls there in 2014.