Name of the Day: Noa

by appellationmountain on September 20, 2008

It could be the perfect name – short, simple, oft-used in the Bible with a pan-global vibe. But she’s been eclipsed by an unrelated, chart-topping choice for boys.

Can Noa emerge from Noah’s shadow? Thanks to Katharine for suggesting today’s Name of the Day.

Noah and his family gathered the animals two by two and weathered the Biblical deluge. Puritan parents loved the story, and used his name for their sons. You’ll meet plenty of small boys called Noah today, too. In 2007, he held the #14 slot. Our best guess is that he’s not leaving the Top 20 anytime soon, so figure on around 16,000 boys receiving the name this year alone.

But there’s another Noa in the Bible, and she has completely different roots. Noah comes from the word for rest; Noa is derived from a word meaning movement. In Hebrew, Noah’s final “h” would not be silent – making the two names truly distinct. In modern English usage, they sound exactly the same.

The other Biblical Noa is one of Zelophehad’s five daughters. Back then, women couldn’t inherit. But Zelophehad had no sons, and his daughters appealed to Moses. While they had to promise not to marry outside their tribe, the women did indeed receive the property. It’s a nice little feminist spin on an ancient name.

Speaking of spin, if you’re hoping for a name that works in a range of languages, Noa is also claimed as a Japanese name, loosely translated as “my love” and an Arabic name meaning light. We can’t confirm how common Noa is in Japan, but she does show up in anime and manga. The Arabic connection is a stretch – we always thought nur meant light, and Noor was the preferred transcription of the feminine name.

Nonetheless, Noa is big in Europe. She recently ranked #56 in Belgium, #40 in Spain and #12 in the Netherlands. And in Israel? She’s held the #1 spot since 2005. Noa wears well nearly anywhere.

In the US, plenty of our daughters wear boys’ names. Stop by the average elementary school, and chances are you can find girls called Madison, Taylor, Morgan, Mackenzie, Jordan, Riley, Avery and Kennedy. These names have been embraced because they were once reserved for boys. It almost seems like Noa would offer the perfect compromise – nearly masculine, but clearly feminine.

Factor in the popularity of short names for girls – #4 Ava and #15 Mia – plus Emma, Ella, Anna, Maya, Leah, Zoe and Chloe – and Noa seems like a home run.

Instead, she seems to be stuck in the middle. Noa is too soft to please parents determined to find a gender neutral choice for their girls – those moms and dads are considering Hadley and Maguire. And for those interested in lesser used Biblical appellations, the chances that their child’s name will be confused with Noah forever and ever, amen, is equally off-putting.

It all leaves Noa in limbo. We love her simple sound and style, as well as her history. But inevitably, your daughter would go through life protesting that she’s not wearing a boys’ name and no, it isn’t spelled with an h.

It’s one of our favorite short names, but we suspect that Isla has a better chance of taking off, at least in the US.

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