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. There’s just something about the sound of Beulah that I find totally unattractive. I can’t pinpoint it at all, but it makes me just go “ick” to say/hear.

  2. I actually sort of love Beulah. My husband teases me that I like any name that most people thing is old and ugly. It was the name of my great-grandmother, but she went by her middle name, Madge. I just love quirky and old fashioned names. I think it could come back, a little, but not for a few years, at least.

    Maybe if I have another daughter, I could convince my husband to use it as a middle name, though the chance of that is quite slim. 🙂

  3. Now I can’t get Ben Stein saying “Bueller…Bueller…” out of my head 🙂
    I could see this name getting popular in more adventurous corners of the baby-naming world, but doubt it will have widespread appeal.

  4. I would venture a guess that Beulah could be like Hazel…destined for obscurity until she is bestowed upon a celebrity baby. I don’t really like the BYOO sound, but as far as 2 syllable ends in LA sound names go, Beulah’s got Kayla beat by miles in my book 🙂

    In other news, it seems like Alicia Keys may have sparked a country trend with her Egypt Dean Daoud…Mike Tyson just named his baby boy Morocco Elijah!

    1. Yep, she may have, but Mike Tyson and his wife were already onto the trend when they named their now-two-year-old daughter, Milan.

      No Doubt’s Tony Kanal and his wife, Erin Lokitz, also had a baby this week – Coco Reese Lakshmi Kanal. Does anybody else think it’s weird that they chose three celebrity-inspired names for their daughter? Coco, as in Chanel and baby Cox-Arquette, Reese as in Witherspoon, and Lakshmi as in the definitely-less-famous Padma – hm.

      And, finally, it appears that Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have welcomed their first son, name pending.

      OH! Right. Beulah. Eh, not for me. It’s the “byoo” sound that gets me…

      1. Thanks Lemon, I didn’t know they had a daughter named Milan. I guess if you’re going to go with a theme there are worse ones than letter M place names.

        I do think it’s interesting that 2 celebrity babies in the last year have been named for North African/Muslim majority countries.

        Also, nice that you noted Tony Kanal’s daughter has 3 celebrity-inspired names. I hadn’t picked up on that. Perhaps Lakshmi is for someone in Kanal’s family and is just a coincidence with Padma?

  5. Makes me think of the Mississippi John Hurt Song, Beulah Land. The sound of the name is just really not my style. Sounds like drudging through mud.

  6. Names I’d never give to a child? Phyllis. Bertha. But not Beulah. The indie rock association definitely gives it a hip, positive boost, for me, at least.

  7. I really don’t find it unattractive. Gertrude either. I don’t understand why most seem to find them so ugly. I’d rather be Beulah or Gertrude over a lot of popular names today.

  8. I guess you could go with the nickname “Bea” (bee) for Beulah? I’m not sure it’s making a comeback, though. It reminds me of an old Southern lady. Or a New Englander saying “Bueller.”

    Which, speaking of old Southern ladies- may I suggest more family tree names, this time from the Appalachians: Lodusky, Betulah, and Wavel. Where did these names come from??

    1. My name is Beulah,born in the 60’s.Hared the name.Because I was called Hurricane Beulah at school.Always said as so as I got older I would change it.Teen years picked up the nick-name of Bea,sometime Bee-Bee by those close.When i wad in my 20’s meet someone how told me about Beulah Land.He told me about tht beautiful land.I looked at my name differntly then.One thing about it most people is going to call any name beside Beulah.But once you tell the name they want forget it.

  9. I really like Beulah’s sound. My pop – culture brain recalls a Beulah in “Ice Castles” perhaps? Some ice skating thing I read when I was 8 or 9 anyway. Not a gorgeous character (like Zuleika!) but a friendly one.
    I really do like the sound of Beulah. I think it’s soft & beautiful. My problem is her lack of nicknames. I think one cute nickname is all she’d need to mainstream again. Heck if Millie (cute) can save Mildred (which has a sound I really loathe), Beulah needs one. It’ll make people think twice about her. Beulah’s distinctive, and that’s neat. She’ll never be misheard as something else either, I’d bet. Which is another point in her favor.
    All in all, Beulah’s got potential for use, In my book.

      1. Ahh, memory’s an awesome thing; I haven’t read “Ice Castles” in almost 20 years!

        Boo is the sort of nickname that appeals to me, at least until they’re 4 or so (says she with Rufus/Roo on her boys lst!) but maybe Belle or Bebe would work better when she’s older. I really like Belle as a nickname, it’s my sister’s second middle.

    1. I like it!
      I love the nickname Boo!

      Last Nigh of Ballyhoo is a great play. The main characters name is Beulah Levy, nicknamed Boo. Her daughter’s name is Lala Levy.

      I also adore Beilah!