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.