Biblical names have always been popular — after all, what parents wouldn’t want their daughter to be as pure as Mary, as brave as Esther, as faithful as Hannah, or as loyal as Ruth?
However, a new crop of biblical names is popping up. Not all the characters in the Bible are so angelic, and parents looking for something different are increasingly being drawn toward some of the Bible’s naughtier namesakes. I present for you today the biblical bad girl names — some already on the rise, some worthy of consideration, and some that should remain taboo.
- Eve — As the name of the first woman, Eve is about as feminine as you can get. And few names manage to sound innocent yet sultry the way Eve does. She makes the bad girl list for being the first person to sin, but the name still comes highly recommended. Ranked #681, it’s a great Ava alternative.
- Rahab — She was a harlot in the city of Jericho; when Joshua sent spies to check out the walled city, Rahab hid the spies in her home. In return, the spies made a deal with her: if she would hang a scarlet cord outside her window as a sign, they would spare her life when they attacked. After the fall of Jericho, she converted to Judaism, got married, and lived a respectable life. She is considered faithful and heroic. But is her name usable? Pros: She was a reformed prostitute, she has the popular long A sound found in many top names, and she’s similar to the timeless Rachel. Cons: She is still best known for being a prostitute, and her name sounds like “rehab.”
- Sapphira — Her name, obviously enough, means “sapphire”, and gemstone names are in right now. Plus, Sapphira (suh-FIE-ruh) sounds almost like the well-loved Sophia. I think it’s very usable, but be forewarned: the biblical Sapphira withheld money from the church, lied to the apostles, and was instantly struck dead by God Himself. Yikes!
- Jezebel — Her name has unfortunately become synonymous with a promiscuous woman, though by all biblical accounts she was a perfectly faithful wife to King Ahab. She was, however, responsible for bringing idol worship into Israel and murdering hundreds of Jewish priests. Thus, despite Jezebel’s jazzy sound and similarity to Isabelle, I think this one is best avoided.
- Vashti – Before Queen Esther, there was Vashti (VASH-tee). As King Ahasuerus’s first wife, she was commanded to “display her beauty” (read: dance naked) at one of his banquets. She politely demurred and was summarily divorced and banished. Though the ancient Persians may have seen this disobedient wife as a bad girl, I think our culture would find plenty to admire in her actions. While it is hard to dissociate in my mind from the image of a woman dancing naked (which is ironic, because she didn’t), it’s exotic, lovely, and rather sexy; I’d be delighted with any parents who dared to use it.
- Salome — Ah, another naked dancer! Well, there were actually two biblical Salomes. The more famous was a stepdaughter of King Herod — she agreed to dance naked for all his friends if he would give her John the Baptist’s head on a platter. The lesser known Salome was one of Christ’s followers and among the first to discover His empty tomb on Easter morning. Usually pronounced either suh-LO-may or SAH-lo-may, it’s a lovely moniker that sounds just foreign enough. Also a good choice for an Easter baby!
- Delilah — “Hey there Delilah, on the rise in every city / You’re a liar and a traitor, but your name is oh-so-pretty….” Delilah, of course, was the girlfriend of mighty-man Samson. She tricked him into telling her the secret of his great strength, then cut his hair while he slept and handed him over to his enemies. I have a hard time getting behind this one due to the pure wretchedness of the Bible character, but I don’t fault parents who do go for it. Delilah is currently shooting up the charts; it gained over 200 places between 2006 and 2007, likely due to similarity to Lily, Leila, and Lila (not to mention the Plain White T’s song).
- Bathsheba — When King David saw her bathing on a rooftop, he was so struck by her beauty that he sent for her, seduced her, and had her husband killed. Though the name is certainly pretty, it’s impossible to distance the name from the story as the word “bath” is embedded right in it.
- Magdalene — Mary Magdalene was a women from whom Jesus cast out seven demons; she became one of his followers and witnessed his crucifixion and empty tomb. Some Christian traditions have identified her as a repentant prostitute. One version of her name, Madeline, is currently ranked #61; if you want something with more character, consider Magdalene or Magdalena.
- Euodia and Syntyche — All we know about them is that they were argumentative Philippian women. In fact, they were having such a hard time getting along that they were openly reprimanded by Paul in a letter to the whole church. Syntyche (SIN-ti-kee) means “common fate” and Euodia (yoo-OH-dee-uh) means “good fragrance.” (It’s also a genus of tree.)
- Orpah — “No, it’s not Oprah. It’s OR-puh.” Your daughter had better get used to saying that, because chances are, she’ll be reciting it for nearly everyone she meets. Orpah’s story appears in the book of Ruth. Ruth and Orpah were married to brothers. After both their husbands died, their poor, widowed mother-in-law told them to return their own families so they’d be free to marry again someday. After much pleading on Naomi’s part, Orpah agreed to go back to her family. Ruth, however, insisted on staying with Naomi. Thus Ruth goes down in history as one of the most loyal women who has ever lived, and Orpah seems like a bit of an also-ran. My take on this name: Because your daughter is likely to be mistaken for a talk show host every day of her life, it’s probably not worth it.
- Jael — Best known for driving a tent stake through a man’s skull. Granted, he was a bad man, but it’s still pretty gory. Plus, try as you might to pronounce it as two syllables (JAY-el), the name sounds like “jail.”
- Peninnah — We all know Hannah’s in the top 10, but what about her husband’s other wife? Peninnah (pronounced pi-NIN-uh) has never ranked in the U.S. top 1000. You see, Hannah and Peninnah were both married to the same man. Peninnah bore him nine children, while Hannah was unable to have kids. Still, their husband loved Hannah more, so Peninnah became bitter and teased Hannah mercilessly, while Hannah trusted God and was eventually rewarded with a son. Pros: It means “precious stone” and it could lend itself to the nickname Penny. Cons: It shares its first four letters with a male body part.
- Tamar — There were two biblical Tamars. The more famous dressed as a harlot in order to seduce her father-in-law. Before you say “ick,” she had a good reason. Okay, you can still say “ick,” but hear me out. You see, Tamar was a young childless widow, and in Hebrew tradition should have been given as a wife to her deceased husband’s younger brother so that their first child could carry on the older brother’s name. Her father-in-law kept saying he would arrange the marriage but kept delaying. When Tamar finally got wise to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen, she disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law in order to conceive a child. A few months later, it became obvious that she was pregnant. Her father-in-law wanted to stone her for disgracing the family, until it was revealed that he was the child’s father. (Wondering if the second Tamar might redeem the name? Not really: she was raped by her half-brother.) Luckily for those who love the name, neither Tamar has a story as culturally familiar as Delilah’s or Jezebel’s, so the name still seems wearable. It means “palm tree” and, according to Wikipedia, the most common English pronunciations are TAH-mer or TAY-mer. I prefer it pronounced tuh-MAR.
So there you have it! Fifteen not-so-innocent appellations submitted for your consideration. Are any of these worthy of redemption?