by Linda Rosenkrantz
When it comes to biblical girl names, it’s been the Old Testament women’s names that have been found on most popularity lists in the recent past. Rachel and Rebecca, Sarah and Hannah have been long-running stalwarts. But the New Testament has some appealing options as well, ranging from the classic Mary and Elizabeth to the recently popular Chloe to faded favorites like Lois and Rhoda to some of the more interesting appellations below.
Here are some fresher choices you might consider.
A prime example of a sweet-spot name, Claudia is familiar but not mega-popular–it’s in the lower echelons of the SSA list–feminine but not frilly, substantive and strong. Mentioned in a St. Paul’s letter to Timothy as one of the Christian women in Rome, Claudia was common in ancient Rome—it was borne by the wives of both Nero and Pontius Pilate. In the contemporary US, Claudia was heard most often in the 1950s, reaching #111 in 1952. Claudia Schiffer is an ever-glamorous bearer, and one starbaby Claudia is the now grown daughter of Michelle Pfeiffer. Current Nameberry rank: 119.
In addition to an appearance as the beautiful wife of Felix in the New Testament, there have been Drusillas in the works of Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins and William Faulkner and as a vampire in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Drusilla barely snuck onto the Nameberry pop list at #975.
The name of another early convert to Christianity mentioned by Paul, Junia makes an under-appreciated alternative to June, Juno, Juniper and Julia. Zac, one of the name-savvy Hanson clan, welcomed his daughter Junia Rose Ruth in 2010.
Lydia was the first person baptized by Paul in Macedonia. In the US, Lydia has never left the Most Popular list, almost always in the Top 300. It’s been in the Top 100 since 2011, now at #89, close to its all-time high. A name with deep history and a haunting, rhythmic sound, Lydia has a wide variety of associations, from the youngest Bennett sister in Pride and Prejudice to the eldest daughter in Mrs Doubtfire to the Winona Ryder character in Beetlejuice. (On a personal note, I’ve always had a warm spot for Lydia as it was my almost name.)
The biblical Persis is mentioned by St. Paul as “beloved” and having “worked hard in the Lord.” An unusual name with a whiff of exoticism, you might remember it via the character Persis Ford in one of the Anne of Green Gables books. Indian actress Persis Khambatta played Lt. Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Unusual but definitely wearable.
Phoebe was a woman of prominence in the early church, referred to by Paul as a ‘benefactor’. A lively, appealing name, Phoebe calls up Holden Caulfield’s precocious little sister in The Catcher in the Rye, and goofy, lovable Pheebs on Friends. Bill and Melinda Gates have a daughter named Phoebe.
Shunned for its somewhat prissy, puritanical image for a time, Priscilla is back, both nationally (#575) and even more so on Nameberry (253). Long associated with 17th century Puritan Priscilla Alden in the Longfellow poem The Courtship of Miles Standish, her image got a modern twist when Elvis married his Priscilla. Taking it even further was the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Nickname note: Paul in his epistles frequently referred to Priscilla as Prisca.
A biblical jewel with the sparkle of the related sapphire. Perfect for a girl born in the month of September, with the vibrant blue gem as its birthstone. Willa Cather wrote a novel called Sapphira and the Slave Girl and Sapphira Brockhouse is a character in Lord of the Rings.
Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond Satran of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. In addition to contributing stories on trends and celebrity naming, she guides the editorial content and manages the Nameberry Twitter and Facebook accounts. You can follow her personally at Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.