Sephora: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on September 20, 2012

Zipporah (left) from Botticelli's Trial of Moses. Zipporah (left) from Botticelli’s Trial of Moses. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shopping for a beautiful name?

Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Sephora as our Baby Name of the Day.

Sophia is the #1 name in the US, Stephanie has been a hit,  Sarah is an enduring classic, and Seraphina is a starbaby charmer.  Sephora sounds a little bit like all of those names, but is far less known.  She’s never been in the US Top 1000, and even the brand that made her famous seems to be confused about her provenance.

If you head to the beauty brand’s website, they’ll tell you that Sephora was founded in 1970 in France by Dominique Mandonnaud.  The name was inspired by Zipporah, the wife of Moses in the Old Testament, known as a legendary beauty.  That part tracks, but the brand says that Zipporah was melded with sephos, the Greek word for beauty.

Wait, really?  Sephora is a legitimate variant of Zipporah.  Also spelled Tzipporah, she’s derived from the Hebrew word for bird: tsipor or tzippor.  This puts her in the company of avian appellations like Paloma and Wren.

Over the years, Tzipporah and Zipporah have given rise to Sephora, Seffora, and Saffurah.  Fourteen years before the French beauty retailer was founded, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments used Sephora as the name of Moses’ beautiful bride, played by a young Yvonne DeCarlo.

A handful of Sephoras appear in the 1940 and 1930 Census records, too, suggesting that Sephora has a long history of use as a personal name.

She may be most common in French.  Séphora is listed as a given name at Meilleurs Prenoms, as is Céphora.  The C spelling seems to have had a good run in Quebec, with combinations like Marie Alice Cephora and Josephine Cephora appearing in their vital records, especially in the nineteenth century, along with a few women who answered to just plain Cephora.  A portrait from 1854 Quebec shows sisters called Noémie, Eugénie, Antoinette, and Séphora.

In the US, she could be a smash hit.  Along with other Old Testament names like Keturah, they have a feminine vibe without being too delicate.  There’s a certain bite to Sephora.  She’s appropriate for a person of faith, but isn’t as overtly religious as Nevaeh.

The question is how the store’s success impacts the name.  Nancy detailed the rise of Sephora as a given name in the US.  From fewer than five girls in 1990 to a few dozen in recent years, Sephora is more common than ever.  And yet, most parents will probably associate her with the shopping mall before they think of any other origins.

This makes for a great opportunity.  If you’re devastated that Sophia is so popular, Sephora could be a great alternative if – and only if – you’re willing to say, “Oh, yes, well, the store was named after Moses’ wife.  She was a real looker.”  And you must be willing to say this dozens and dozens of times.  If you can overcome that inconvenience, you can be confident that everyone will be able to spell and pronounce your daughter’s lovely name.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

L September 22, 2012 at 5:26 PM

Sephora is absolutely gorgeous, but I shop at the store and it’s all I can think of. I could see it easily going on my favorites list if that association weren’t so strong in my head. Strange, because I like Zara a lot as a name despite it being the name of a store. I’m not quite sure why the association bothers me in one case and doesn’t in the other.

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Josie September 22, 2012 at 12:08 AM

One of my THREE (thanks mom… two is more normal…) religious names is Tzippa, which is a diminutive of Tzippora. It was my great-grandmother’s name.

Sephora does feel lighter and more culturally transportable. Cephora is nice too. Tz- is a hard prefix for English.

Before I read the Name of the Day, I was actually wondering if Sephora was a variant of Sapphira. I heard a mother calling out to a small preschool-aged Sapphire not that long ago, and it struck me how rare it is compared to how common Ruby is locally in Australia.

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waltzingmorethanmatilda September 21, 2012 at 8:49 PM

We don’t have Sephora stores here (although I have shopped there online).

However, does Elizabeth Arden put people off the name Arden? Does Anastasia put people off the name Anastasia? I see kids called Chanel, Dior, Armani and Estee in birth notices quite often.

This is one beautiful name!

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Sarah A September 20, 2012 at 12:54 PM

I think Sephora is a gorgeous name and definitely not too tied to the cosmetics chain. Sometimes when there are strong associations with a name it helps to step back and ask if the association is bad or good and if it’s good then it doesn’t matter. A cosmetics chain isn’t a negative connotation for a little girl’s name, in my opinion.
I do think that Sephora feels lighter and somehow more multicultural than Zipporah. Sephora/Zipporah feels like Ibrahim/Avraham to me – I love them both but I’d go with the one closer to my heritage.

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Kara September 20, 2012 at 12:08 PM

I also think Sephora is a beautiful name with a beautiful sound…but might be too closely tied to the store brand for a lot of people to use. Although, that hasn’t stopped people from using Macy or Victoria (though the latter is much more familiar). Always been a fan of Zipporah and Tziipporah- Cephora looks nifty, too!

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appellationmountain September 20, 2012 at 8:23 PM

Nice point about Macy, Kara!

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Kristin September 20, 2012 at 10:29 AM

Sephora is beautiful, but too tied to the cosmetics brand for me. I’d be more likely to opt for Zipporah.

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Zeffy September 20, 2012 at 7:43 AM

Over the years, my opinion on Sephora has changed so many times. As a child I wasn’t a fan of it at all, as a teenager it really annoyed me when people pronounced it incorrectly, as a young adult at university I finally understood its beauty. In a sea of Catherines and Rebeccas, Sephora is downright exotic and even fascinating, and people like asking questions about its origins. It has ambiguity. People look at me and they have no clue of what my nationality or background is, which is something I like. There is no ‘a Sephora looks like a such and such person’ because the vast majority have never even come across the name before to try to come up with what a Sephora might look/act like. It’s more difficult to put people into pigeon holes when you don’t know what pigeon hole they should go in.

It took me 19ish years to come to terms with my name. Now, people still mispronounce my name every day, but I just smile and quietly laugh about it with my co-workers. The thing is, people may struggle to get my name right at first, but they never forget it once they do. And it’s always been my name. I didn’t, and don’t, have to share it with anyone, because no one I’ve ever met has, or knows of someone with, my name. Even the cosmetic store isn’t a factor since I don’t live in the US.

I guess that’s why I prefer unusual names. I can appreciate the beauty and simplicity of an Anne, Jane or Matthew, but no one will ever say ‘Wow, that’s a really interesting name. Where is it from?’.

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appellationmountain September 20, 2012 at 8:06 PM

Zeffy, I had no IDEA this was your name. I am terribly jealous!

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Zeffy September 21, 2012 at 5:28 AM

I don’t usually give out my name on the webs because there are so few Sephoras out there, but I just get excited when I see it (this is what happens when you never have personalised items with your name on it as a child lol). Zeffy was a nickname from my uni professor. He thought I was called Zephora, but it was too much of a mouthful for him and he decided Zeffy would do. He was such a dear that I just let him call me that for 3 years, and then it stuck.

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waltzingmorethanmatilda September 21, 2012 at 8:50 PM

Holy mackerel, this is YOUR name Zeffy? You lucky daughter of a gun! :)

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