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. My cousin’s daughter (3 years old) is called Bethany – she’s a beautiful little girl with blonde curls and big blue eyes. Her brother and sister are Michael and Amelia.

  2. I’ve always hated Bethany for some reason. I think it’s probably the ‘th’– there are only a few names that have the th sound that I actually like, and Bethany’s not one of them. Besides that, I find it pretty dated and dull. But it’s a perfectly fine name, just not for me.

  3. This just made my day, finding Bethany as the name of the day! It is my absolute favourite name ever. I first fell in love with it when I was younger, reading the Serpent’s Egg series by J FitzGerald McCurdy. Bethany was the name of an elven city that sounded completely beautiful. I’ve loved the name ever since, and when I’m older I will have a baby girl and she will be named Bethany.

  4. Bettany as a first name is quiet well known in the UK (although under-used) thanks to TV-historian Bettany Hughes. Bethan, of course, is huge in Wales, although Bethany is still lingering around the top 100 here.

  5. One of my very best friends growing up is named Bethany. Her parents, very religious Christians, were big on quirky family nicknames and often called her Bramble Bush 🙂 While she answers to Beth and Bethie, no nn every really stuck and she is definitely just Bethany. I also know that she enjoyed being the only Bethany in school. While I don’t really care for ends-in-y names, I could see myself using Bethany as a middle to honor my good friend.

  6. I have found a very interesting name-Nadezda. I am very curious about it and would love to know more! Could it be-pretty please-NotD?

  7. I like Bethany, but LOVE Bethan. I’m a humongous fan of the Discworld series of novels (for really intriguing name choices, check it out!) and Bethan is a very, very minor character in some of the books. I am not having kids anytime soon, but I want them to eventually have a literary connection, even as “soft” as the Discworld books are.

    That said, the Boyfriend thinks Bethan is a silly name and would prefer the more “complete” Bethany, even though he doesn’t like it either. I’ll catch you up in seven years on whether he came around or not. 🙂

  8. Bethany has been creeping up our girl’s list, but my husband says she’s not ‘special’ enough to dethrone our top choices. I was unaware that she had such a young history as a given name, which definitely counts against her. Still, I love the sound and the biblical references so we’ll probably keep her on the short list even though she’ll be a major underdog.:-)

  9. I grew up with a friend named Bethan, who hated it when people called her Bethany, or Beth for that matter. I think she even had Bethlehem at one point.

    Personally, I don’t like the name, any variation of it really: Beth, Bethan, Bethany.

  10. I’ve adored this name since I was very young. I just love the sound, and I really wish I could use it as a first name for a daughter — sort of as a smoosh of mine and my brother’s names — but our aunt is called Beth, so I’ve switched to Bettany as a middle name.

    I went to school with a Bethany Pe@rl lastname. She didn’t influence my feelings on the name at all, but she was pretty.

    1. Panya, I wouldn’t let that stop you from using a name you really love 😉 I know it’s different in every family, but my family uses names over and over again (everyone’s gotta honor grandma and grandpa!) and it’s really no big deal. I would just talk it over with your aunt when the time comes – she might be flattered.

      1. Oh I know, everyone in my family is fine with it — I’m the one who doesn’t like reusing names, lol. Plus, my husband would *never* go for it — he gets along with her, but doesn’t *like* her very much, if you kwim. I love Bettany too, so it’s okay. 🙂