Bethany; Image by See The Holy Land via Flickr

She’s a Biblical village, and a reality superstar.

Thanks to Clio for suggesting Bethany as our Baby Name of the Day.

Bethany appears in the New Testament, first as the home of Mary and Martha. You might recall that Mary of Bethany sat and listened to Jesus’ teachings while her sister Martha bustled about.) Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in Bethany. And, according to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus ascended into heaven from an earthly spot – in Bethany. It’s an awful lot of action for a Jerusalem ‘burb.

There’s a second place, a village on the Jordan River, sometimes called Bethany in the New Testament, too.

With all of this significance, no wonder scholars have been eager to unpack Bethany’s origins. There’s general consensus that her first syllable – bet – means “house of” in Hebrew and Aramaic. A few theories for the second syllable include:

  • Hini – figs. House of figs is the preferred definition in many a baby name book;
  • Ananiah – the name of another town outside of Jerusalem, possibly related to a feminine given name;
  • Anya – poverty. The Biblical village was the site of a large almshouse for the poor, and Jesus cured Simon the Leper in Bethany. While this may not be the most appealing option, it is the one that most scholars agree is likely accurate.

You can find Bethany on the map throughout the US. There’s Delaware’s Bethany Beach; Connecticut’s Bethany, just outside of New Haven; and a pair of colleges, one in West Virginia, one in Kansas.

Odds are that some parents embraced Bethany for her status as a place name, but many more parents simply liked her sound. She first appears in the US Top 1000 in 1949. Bethany climbed steadily until she peaked at #87 in 1987. She reached even greater heights elsewhere in the English-speaking world. She’s been sliding ever since, reaching #369 in 2010.

It’s easy to see why she caught on in the 1980s:

  • Another three-syllable, starts-with-B, ends-in-y, girl’s name with a geographic bent entered the US Top Ten in 1986 – Brittany;
  • Bethany’s first syllable links her to the evergreen Elizabeth;
  • While the connection is less obvious, Bethany also contains the classic Ann or Annie as a nickname option;
  • As an independent given name, Beth had a good run in the 1960s, with a spike in 1977 thanks to Kiss’ power ballad of the same name.

Bethany is still around. Reality star turned SkinnyGirl entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel is one of the most famous bearers of the name, and she has a show about raising daughter Bryn – and fitting into a size 4 less than a month postpartum. There’s also actress Bethany Joy Galeotti, known as Haley on One Tree Hill.

All of this makes Bethany feel a little bit dated – more of a mom name than an obvious choice for a newborn baby girl. Fresher alternatives could be Hollywood surname Bettany, Belle-inspired surname option Bellamy, or even three-syllable noun names with a vaguely spiritual bent, like Harmony or Amity.

And yet she’s not impossibly faded, and her Biblical status and sound-a-like qualities to so many classic girls’ picks give her some staying power. You won’t meet many little girls called Bethany these days, but that could make her a good option for parents seeking the familiar, but not too common.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I would of sworn that back in 1973, Bethany was just as popular as Jessica and Heidi! My grade had two girls named Bethany, plus a Stephanie with sisters named Tiffany and Bethany. In my mind Bethany would be on par with Melanie, Stephanie and Tiffany… they all feel dated.

    1. Growing up on the East Coast, I remember seeing Bethany Beach on a sign as we were heading for Rehoboth Beach summer after summer. At some point, I remember thinking it would be a great girls’ name, like Tiffany or Courtney. I wonder how many parents – I would’ve been less than twelve the last time we went to Rehoboth – had the same thought as they headed for the seashore …

      But I agree – I thought she was more popular than she actually was, and maybe that’s why Bethany still feels wearable. Not fresh and new and exciting, but not unthinkable. I’d be stunned to meet a baby Tiffany today, but I think I’d be excited to meet a little Bethany.

  2. This fits right in with the two names I seem to be hearing everywhere these days – Julie and Heather. Seriously, they’re all over the place, and Bethany is probably what I’d expect their friend to be named.

    I had a babysitter named Bethamy growing up. Pronounced just like Bethany but with an M. Weird-ish.

  3. One of my childhood friends was named Bethany-so I really like this name, although I wouldn’t use it because my parents still live across the alley from hers, and so confusion would be imminent. Incidentally, the Bethany I know has a pastor for a father, and her siblings are Seth, Bryson and Kendra. I’ve always liked those as a sibset.

  4. I’m kind of liking Bethanya – but House of Poverty isn’t very positive.

  5. Bethany was my absolute favorite girls’ name a few years ago. I still feel rather positively toward her, but don’t know if I’d use her myself. Of course, that would depend at least partly on the tastes of whoever I end up marrying.