Quick: name a name you’d never give to a child.  GertrudeEthel?  Today’s choice often makes that list, but it wasn’t always so.

Thanks to Emily G. for suggesting one from her family tree.  Our Baby Name of the Day is Beulah.

From 1885 through 1916, Beulah ranked in the US Top 100, peaking at #72 in 1903/1904.  She left the rankings after 1959.

Nancy tells us that five girls were named Beulah in 2009.  Her sound is unusual – nothing else sounds quite like BYOO lah.  She’s a Biblical place name, an alternate name for Israel in the Book of Isaiah.  More than a dozen Beulahs dot the map throughout the English-speaking world.  She first became a given name post-Reformation, when parents went looking for non-saintly, but still spiritual, options.

You might recognize actress Beulah Bondi, born in 1888 when the name was quite stylish.  She earned two Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations in the 1930s, and won an Emmy for her work as Martha Corinne on The Waltons in the 1970s.  She played Jimmy Stewart’s mom four times, despite being just ten years his senior.

If you’ve ever been to Milwaukee, you might have heard of Beulah Brinton.  She opened her home to teach new immigrants to read English.

But for our parents’ generation – or maybe our grandparents – Beulah is tied to one very specific character.  In 1939, Marlin Hurt introduced Beulah on his radio show.  Because it was radio – and a few decades pre-civil rights – no one objected that a white man was voicing a black female character.  Beulah Brown was the Henderson’s housekeeper, known for her common sense and excellent cooking.

The character caught on, and eventually got her own show.  After Hurt died, another white actor continued voicing Beulah.  Eventually Hattie McDaniel – the first African-American actress to win an Oscar – would take over the role, but her health failed, and by the time the television show Beulah debuted on ABC in 1950, she filmed only six episodes.  Ethel Waters and Louise Beavers also shared screen time as the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Kitchen.”

By the 1950s Beulah had been popular for more than two decades.  No wonder parents felt that the name was no longer an option for their daughters, regardless of race or class.

Today’s new parents grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, and some of them are daring to resuscitate names long lost.  Sure enough, there’s Beulah on Nameberry’s Hipper Than Hipster list.  If Opal, Peggy, Fern, and Luella can make a comeback, surely Beulah can, too.

You might recognize British singer Beulah’s 2006 single “Stay.” Former indie band Beulah comes to mind, too, mostly because “Popular Mechanics for Lovers” and other singles have been used in a pair of Michael Cera films in the past few years.

It all makes for a truly daring name.  Beulah is either the next Beatrix or Betty, Oona or Tallulah – names that sound perfectly fashionable today, but twenty years ago were unthinkable – or she’s truly headed for obscurity.

It’s too soon to tell, but if you’re crestfallen to discover that Ramona is the new Matilda, maybe Beulah is one to consider.

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 realize this is an older post, but I’m new and shuffling through your blog. I LOVE Beulah. I would totally use it except I’m afraid when calling for her (like someone else already mentioned), I’d say, “Bueller…Bueller…Bueller.” Otherwise, I think it’s an awesome name.

  2. I’m with Bek, I just can’t like this one on a person. Though I once knew a very cool sheep that went by Beulah.

  3. And so Beulah gets a B+! I’m surprised – I thought this might be one of those never-never-no-way names. But I do find myself liking her quirky vibe.

    Could we be just one celebrity baby away from hearing Beulah again?

    And I hadn’t thought about beautiful/Beulah – but that’s a nice point.

  4. FYI, I like Gertrude. I think the nickname Gertie is beyond adorable. When we were kids my brother had a hamster we called Gertie. He’s now married with four kids & I still picture him as a 10-year-old boy calling with a falsetto to his Gertie. 🙂

  5. I’ve actually met a number of Beulahs — in India, not Canada — but the name has never struck me as particularly euphonious. Beulah is also the name of a large church in the city that many of my relatives live, so it would probably sound strange to most of them to hear it on a child.

    And I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I LOVELOVELOVE Gertrude! If the name wasn’t so universally hated I’d use it in a heartbeat.

  6. Thanks for featuring Beulah! I’ve always thought the name was pretty, so I was quite pleased when I discovered I have a Beulah on my family tree.

    Beulah has two major things going for it, as far as I can see. (1) It shares its first syllable with the word “beautiful.” That’s why I’m so surprised that a lot of people say the “BYOO” sound is ugly. (2) It’s very similar in sound to Bella, and thus could serve as a less popular alternative.

    The biblical significance of Beulah is lovely as well. It is used as a metaphor for the land of Israel’s restoration after having turned away from God. It literally means “married” — the name is symbolic of God’s promise to bring Israel back into a loving covenant relationship with him.

    Sarah A — I think you’re absolutely right. I’ve thought before that it would take just one celebrity naming her daughter Beulah for this one to catch on. And if I were a celebrity, I’d use it with out hesitation.

    As it stands now, though? I’m not sure I could give my daughter a name that so many people have unpleasant associations with. People to whom I’ve mentioned Beulah tend to picture a large redneck woman living in a trailer park — I feel horrible even typing that, but I’ve gotten very similar descriptions from people numerous times. I’ve actually heard Beulah may be more acceptable in Britain (along with Jemima), so maybe that offers some hope for it making a comeback.

    Anyway, it has been neat reading everyone’s reactions — and I’m glad some of them are favorable.

    Oh, and I should mention here that I do know a 10-year-old whose middle name is Beulah.

    1. It stinks when people don’t like names that we love! Emmy Jo – your daughter could be the person who changes people’s perceptions of Beulah 🙂 And she could always go by B. Middle name if she didn’t like it, or any of the suggested nn, like Bebe, Bea, Lala.

      I think it’s the letter B itself that can be kind of difficult and that paired with the “oo” sound is what might turn some people off to the name. People might associate Beulah with the word ‘beautiful’ more if Beulah were spelled Beaulah (not that I would EVER suggest respelling a name!).

      I say go for it, if not in the first spot than as a middle name. The biblical significance is great and it’s in your family tree 🙂

      1. The nicknames really are beyond spectacular – I’m still stuck on Beau and Boo. And I do think that family names trump all, if you’ve decided to turn to your tree for inspiration. It’s the way I felt about Alexander, even though there were SO MANY boys called Alexander. It’s equally true if the name is rare.

  7. Am I the only one who sung “Beulah Land” at church camp?

    The “oo” sound isn’t really fashionable, but after thinking about it for a while it’s surprising how many names that I like have it: Sunniva, Oona, June, Ruth, Luke, Reuben, Hugo. I wouldn’t name a child Beulah, but I could grow to like it…

  8. It’s the sound I make when I vomit. I can see exactly why many turn their noses up at it. Ralphing aside, I don’t hate it and prefer it to many more mainstream choices like Olivia and Charlotte.

    I love Gertrude but not enough to inflict it as a first name on a daughter of mine. If I did, I’d be fully prepared to be hated for it.