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.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Jiinxsay August 3, 2014 at 2:27 AM

omg, I’ve come upon this post way to far from it’s beginning in 2008!! It’s now August 2014, and I just discovered Noa, as I am in the midst of legally changing my OWN name :) I’ve been over and over and over EVERYthing!!! Driving myself to crazyland!!! I was going to give up and just go with Julie because every Julie I’ve EVER known was Beautiful. Wow, I was “giving up” my “dream name”, that I couldn’t have anyways because unlike California, where you can have like 13 middle names and create a lovely kaleidoscope, here in good ole Boston, Mass, they are tightwas/fisted :( BOO!!! The courthouse didn’t even KNOW the limit, they told me to call Social Security, she was so surprised by the question that she said, in her 40 yrs of working there, NO ONE had ever asked LOL, (story of my life), she asked her supervisor, it’s 16 letters per first, middle, last, well, there went my dream of my “special” name. Then I thought, well, I suppose I could just fill out the name part and write, “must speak to judge”, then when I got called on a date to see the Judge, I could “throw myself on his/her mercy & BEG for “life, liberty & THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS!!!! who know, it MAY work, it may not. But if it Does, NOA will be in my Kaleidoscope of names, if it DOESN’T work, I will just be NOA :) with some middle and the special Last name I came up with (found). So I am TOTALLY & COMPLETELY in LOVE with the name Noa, AND the meanings behind her FABULOUSNESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think Israel has the RIGHT idea!!!! Thank you so much for letting me share this….I have been copying baby name lists since I got online in 1996, I just can’t believe it took me almost 20 yrs to find NOA. Love, Ali (Alice=ick!)

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Monique July 6, 2012 at 3:48 PM

My daughter Noa Gabrielle was born in Oct. 2010. Even then we knew Noah was on the upswing but in response to a previous poster’s comment about how Anglophiles want their girl’s names super feminine, how much girlier can a name get than with just one soft consonant at the beginning and two big beautiful open vowels at the end?! I actually found it in French baby name book listed as the feminine version of Noah (which of course is so wrong!) but it stayed in my head and ultimately I couldn’t get it out of my head when we were deciding. I didn’t know it means movement but boy does this girl move! She has been in gymnastics since she was 10 months old and doing things that my older daughter who was 3 at the time, was still learning in her class! Crazy how that rings true for us. I have since ran into a couple of boy Noah’s at the playground and people are always interested in enough to learn that we spell our daughter’s name differently and I love being able to share the feminist bible story with them too. As for school…it will only take that first day for the teacher to figure it out and she’ll go through school with the same kids so I don’t imagine this being a huge deal unless she has to move around a lot and go through the first day many times. And for what it’s worth, my husband is French so we travel there and to Belgium quite often. In France, Noah is not common and Noa is unheard of. I just couldn’t let any of the perceived drawbacks of this name stop me from loving how simple, feminine, graceful, loving and yet strong this name is. I hope more people embrace it because it has so much more wow factor than the ubiquitous boy name Noah.

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Karen March 5, 2012 at 6:10 PM

My daughter’s name is Noa and, needless to say, I think it’s the most beautiful name out there.

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Kathryn Higgins Osmond February 16, 2012 at 10:08 AM

If it’s a girl it will be Noa! Her sister is named Rue so we are a huge fan of the nickname-less names for girls. :)

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sara December 8, 2011 at 10:34 AM

Before finding your topic I always wanted my son, should i ever have one, to be called Noa, i would drop the H, too old school. but until now I didnt know Noa is used for girls. I will still call my son Noa, its too cute.

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Desiree June 21, 2012 at 6:07 AM

Agreed! I’m from South Africa and Noa (for a boy) would be the perfectly exotic! Loving it!

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bee April 4, 2011 at 2:37 PM

We welcomed our little Noa into the world on 3rd march (7weeks early). one of the nicu nurses kept referring to her as “he” even when changing her diaper…if that doesnt emphasize that its a girl then i dunno lol

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appellationmountain April 5, 2011 at 6:25 AM

Congratulations, Bee! Wishing you and yours the best.

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Elisa May 22, 2014 at 3:49 PM

This fall, we named our daughter Noa. She was also seven weeks early (so strange and neat to read your story!) The nurses got their pronouns right in our case, but everyone else here in the US is definitely struggling with the idea of a girl named Noa – hence, we often call her “Noa-girl” in front of people! I hope your Noa is doing well!

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noa January 26, 2011 at 5:17 PM

hey i’m noa and i have to say that i just love my name.
i’m israeli so my parents picked this name because it meant movment and it’s very popular in israel these days. everyone loves my name in israel and i never had any trouble with it.
but i have trouble with it outside of israel cause like you’ve said, it’s like Noah. i hate it when people think it Noah but i can live with that cause it’s such an amazing name and i’m glad to have it.

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Noa's mom November 1, 2010 at 9:46 PM

My Noa is four years old. We live in Canada and we encounter more and more little Noas all the time. Thank you for getting the biblical story right!

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may September 6, 2010 at 11:13 AM

I am going to due my little girl on 20th of November… and my husband and I chose NOA DEL MAR because in Spanish mean the movement of the sea….I just love this name, I think has a lot character. :-)

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noa February 10, 2010 at 9:47 PM

My name is Noa, I live in Italy and I love my name ;)
In my 50 years I’ve never had problem with my name, I think that “Noa” bring me good luck ;)

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Mel March 28, 2009 at 3:03 PM

Hi, we just named our baby girl Noa. I discovered this name 15 years ago when I came across the wonderful israeli singer Achinoam Nini, also known as Noa. When the israeli PM Rabin was murdered, I was moved to tears when I heard his grand-daughter talk in public about him, and about the peace process in the middle-east.
Since then, it has always been clear to me that my daughter would be named Noa.
I love the sound, the meaning and the history of this name. It is original without sounding pretentious, it is simple without being boring and it can be easily pronounced in every language (my husband is English, I am French and we live in Italy).
Our little Noa is only 1 month old (born 5 weeks early) but we have had countless comments about her name and the “h” issue. But I don’t care about people’s ignorance !!!! To me, it is the most beautiful girl’s name ever !!!!

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Amelia January 28, 2009 at 9:34 PM

We also just named our baby daughter Noa. We have a very long last name and it flows wonderfully. We have had a couple nurses refer to her as “he” at the dr.’s office, but I’m sure once she gets older and has longer hair, it will be less of an issue.

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appellationmountain January 28, 2009 at 9:50 PM

Congrats on the new daughter – what a great name!

And I’m convinced that you could call your little one Arabella, dress her in pink ribbons and lace and still have her referred to as “he” now and again. :)

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Joan November 12, 2008 at 5:52 PM

I love the name Noa for a girl. I think it’s absolutely beautiful. Confusing it with the boy’s name Noah is certainly going to happen, but it is a fully feminine name with its own unique history – nothing to do with the male Noah story – its own spelling and in my opinion, Noa is a little jewel of a name.

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roberta borodinsky October 22, 2008 at 1:28 PM

dear kelsey and dennis, welcome to noa, i am sure she will be home soon. congradulations.

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appellationmountain September 28, 2008 at 2:32 PM

Hi Kelsey! Congrats on the birth of Noa Miranda! You and yours will be in my thoughts. Please drop back in and let us know when Noa comes home. She’ll always have a great story behind her name – and plenty of motivation to keep taking on new challenges.

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Kelsey Kleiman September 28, 2008 at 10:54 AM

Hello.
I was intrigued to find your post. My husband and I just named our daughter Noa Miranda.
She was born last Monday AM on September 22nd, well before her due date and will be in the NICU for a long time. We love her name and while we hadn’t picked a name yet we decided on Noa because, quite frankly we want her to keep moving. The NICU nurses ask me if she moved as much in utero as she does now and yes, she did so when we learned Noa meant movement, it was final, Noa was her name.

As for Miranda, it is the name of an artist I love but also means unique and amazing. We wanted something feminine as a middle name as well.

Kelsey
mom to Leila Bea Swan and Noa Miranda

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Nzinga Gardner August 8, 2011 at 7:19 AM

I cannpt believe when I read your reply!!! My daughter Noa was in NICU for a long time, and I prayed abotu ehr name and stumbled on Noa, and when I found out the meaning, MOVEMENT, I KNEW it had to be her name. She just needed to keep MOVING. I am so blown away that this EXACT things has happened to you!! Wonderful. I do hope you get this message. I am pleased to announce that since Noa was born on the 8th October at barely 2lbs, she is now a 16lb whopper and full of boundless energy. She NEVER stops moving!!!! lool

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Katharine September 21, 2008 at 5:02 PM

At a party a while ago the subject turned to girls names with everyone citing their favourite – the likes of Freya, Daisy, Amelie, Ruby & Isabella all came up, none of which remotely surprised me. Until one friend tentatively suggested that she rather liked Noa, well you could have knocked me for six! (and everyone else, judging by their lack of comment). Why hadn’t a name nut like me ever come across, let alone considered Noa? After all, she has a clean, breezy, simple style in keeping with the current zeitgeist, surely she is just tredding water, waiting (like Mia, Ava and Isla before her) to be discovered?

Well, as Appellation Mountain has noted, Noa’s ultimate stumbling block will always lie in her confusion with Noah. While I might like the idea of her on a sleek, fashionable Eurorepean woman, in practice she doesn’t feel quite right to me. I know I’m generalising here, but I doubt whether Brits would ever get past Noa’s likeness to Noah, and even if we could, my guess is that her gender neutrality would probably always be a sticking point – after all we are a nation who like our girls names to be just that – girly girls names.

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Corinne September 21, 2008 at 2:02 PM

I quite love Noa! Oh I would use it in a heartbeat if the misspelling thing wasn’t an issue. I think it’s perfect for a no nickname name, and it’s just adorable! I love the juxtaposition of the o and the a.

As for people thinking Noa is a boy, there are SO many boys names on girls these days, I’m not sure anyone’s ready to make any assumptions anymore!

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LyndsayJenness September 21, 2008 at 2:46 AM

I think it’s cute, but like you said, it would be misspelled ALL THE TIME! I wouldn’t be worried so much about people thinking she’s a boy, since boy names for girls are so popular these days, but the spelling thing would be awful! People would think you were just trying to be clever. I grew up with no one ever spelling my name right (even aunts and uncles), and trust me, it’s annoying!

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Laney McDonald September 20, 2008 at 10:08 PM

I like Noa, but I don’t think I would use it because of the fact that Noah is so popular for boys and when the little girl goes to school, her teachers would be doing their roll call and they’d think she is a boy at first. I wouldn’t want her to have to explain to other kids why she has a boy’s name. Also, Miley Cyrus’s little sister is named Noah and I am not a fan of Miley at all so that ruins it for me. Otherwise, it’s a pretty name.

I like Noah for a boy, but it is too common for my taste. I would save it for a middle name and come up with a unique first name to go with it.

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appellationmountain September 20, 2008 at 11:53 PM

Laney, I completely missed Miley’s little sis – but I’m sure she’s not the only female Noah out there.

I think Noa’s simplicity works for a lot of parents seeking a nickname-proof name, but being mistaken for a boy AND having to spell your name every single time? To me, that’s two headaches too many.

But if I lived in Spain or Belgium, I’d be all about Noa. Except then I’d probably find it too common. :)

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Lola September 20, 2008 at 8:07 PM

Noa/h sounds wishy washy to me on either sex.Maybe it’s just because I grew up in a heavily Italian, blue collar community in NJ and Noa/h sounds like one of the ancient ones saying “No, I”. I’m not a fan of those “short” names either.

I wouldn’t have a problem with it on someone else’s kid, don’t get me wrong. but it makes me wince, so unfeminine sounding, so plain. I just prefer something else, both sound wise & visually. Noa’s okay but so very not for me. Sorry Katharine, Noa’s one I just can’t make myself like.

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