Jezebel: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on June 19, 2013

Jezebel (film) Photo credit: Wikipedia

Would you dare use this on-trend but off-putting name for a daughter?

Thanks to Night for suggesting Jezebel as our Baby Name of the Day.

First, a rule: names with on-trend sounds will be used, regardless of connotations.  Because some parents will always listen to your “but Braxton just makes me think of contractions” comments and dismiss it with a conversation-ending “I just like the sound.”  And really, there’s no comeback to that.  22 girls were named Jezebel in 2012, with another handful called Jezebelle.  Odds are strong that none of their parents were trying to torture their child.

In fact, it is possible – maybe even likely – that the Biblical Jezebel got a bad rap.  The meaning usually given to her name is “not exalted,” but others have suggested that her name might honor Ba’al, as in the major god of ancient Phoenicia.

Which would track – Jezebel’s dad was Ethbaal, a Phoenician king.  Like many a princess, she was packed off to marry a reasonably-aged partner for political reasons.  That’s how she ends up King Ahab of Israel’s wife, and the subject of a story in the Old Testament Books of Kings.

The royal couple encouraged the worship of Baal in their kingdom.  Jezebel squared off against the prophet Elijah over whose god was supreme.  Elijah performed miracles on Mount Carmel, and used his success in the name of Yahweh as an excuse to murder the priests of Baal.

The religious wars continued, amping up until Elijah was responsible for putting Jehu on the throne after the death of Ahab.  That’s when Jezebel meets her death.  She’s pitched out a palace window by Jehu’s supporters and eaten by dogs – just as Elijah had foretold.

Even as Jezebel was defenestrated, Jehu was ordering the death of all of Ahab’s descendants, possible rivals for the throne.  And yet he’s the hero and Jezebel the villain.

It’s easy to make a case that Jezebel was behaving no worse than any other bloodthirsty would-be ruler in ancient times.

But forget the good book.  It’s what Jezebel has come to mean over the years that is truly problematic.  A jezebel is a schemer, a temptress, a woman bent on getting her way.  She’s wicked, evil.  Bad to the bone.

The 1938 Bette Davis movie casts Davis as Julie, a spoiled, arrogant New Orleans debutante.  The film is titled Jezebel, but maybe that’s a bit too strong.  Julie is a brat, but her biggest crime is showing up in a red dress when all the other girls are wearing white.  Things go downhill from there, but Julie ultimately grows up and makes a noble sacrifice.

By 1930s standards, a jezebel was a hussy.

Doubtless that’s why the website Jezebel has reclaimed the name, making it a feminist statement.

Indie darlings Iron & Wine recorded a lovely song called “Jezebel,” though it references windows and dogs, too.

But websites and song lyrics do not have to introduce themselves to new classmates and co-workers.

If the sound attracts you, respelling might be an option.  Jessabel, maybe?

Or do you just charge forward and use Jezebel, assuming that, like Delilah, her bad girl roots are fading into ancient days?

While I admire the spirit behind reclaiming a name, I have a tough time with Jezebel.  The lyrics to “Stay With Me” float through my brain: red lips, hair, and fingernails …  I hear you’re a mean old jezebel.

She’s not unthinkable in 2013, but Jezebel remains an eye-popping, jaw-dropping daring choice for a daughter. 

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Bekka December 30, 2013 at 12:42 AM

I really like this name. I’m not sure why, considering I’m quite religious, but this name doesn’t really sound bad to me. I chose it for a certain character because of the contrasts with her personality: a sweet, innocent, naive princess trying to protect her lover.

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Anonypilgrim June 21, 2013 at 8:31 PM

I love the name Jezebel. Unfortunately the father of my future children hates it.

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Kells June 19, 2013 at 7:03 PM

Wow, people feel very strongly about this name….
I recently met a charming 7 or so year old named Jezabelle (nn Jez) at my kid’s alternative school. Admitedly I was shocked seeing her name on artwork hung at school and meeting her. I think it’s a bit much for a kid, though I love how Jezabel.com reclaims it. Personally, I wouldn’t be concerned with the biblical connotations (other biblical “bad girl” names are fine with me), but the colloquial “harlot” meaning ruins it for me.
Great theory, Panya!

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Shannon June 19, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Jezebel.com absolutely ruins this name.

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Panya June 19, 2013 at 9:19 AM

My hypothesis has always been that Isabel is derived from Jezebel — or at least was a parallel coinage to the Elisabeth form.

In Hebrew, Jezebel is alef.yud.zayin.bet.lamed [`izbl], and Isabel is yud.zayin.bet.lamed [izbl], with only the glottal stop alef for difference. It would make sense for someone hearing the name for the first time [and not used to initial glottal stops] mistaking `Iz_bel for Iz_bel.

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Allure June 19, 2013 at 9:11 AM

I love the name and would use it in a heartbeat. I’m not religious so I don’t really care about what her “role” was in some book…

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Allure June 19, 2013 at 9:14 AM

Also my only reference to this name is the song Jezebel by the artist Sade, which is a beautiful song, and really empowers a woman with this name.

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Liz June 19, 2013 at 6:51 AM

I love the name and love knowing more about it, thank you. I do think it’s still too heavily connotated to use, unfortunately. Jessamy?

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Vanessa June 19, 2013 at 6:51 AM

Jezebel is totally off limits, the connotation is permanant! The ultimately dismissive nature of choosing this name for a daughter is symptomatic of the decline of morals, value of women, and general respect for traditional beliefs that is plaguing our society. First it’s Jezebel, maybe because someone “likes the sound”, then it’s Harlot on the heels of Charlotte, but that’s not far enough, people will name their daughters Vixen, Temptress, and Floozy.

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