Disfugured Lion Ain dara
Disfigured Lion at Ain Darra by Verity Cridland via Flickr

She’s just four letters long, but this little name has quite a lot of meaning.

Thanks to Maize for suggesting the culture-spanning Dara as our Baby Name of the Day.

Dara emerged as a girls’ name in the US in the 1950s, and she peaked in the 1980s. Plenty of other -ara names have been successful:

  • Sarah was a Top Ten pick in the 1980s, with Sara almost as popular;
  • Tara ranked in the Top 100 from 1970 through 1990;
  • Cara peaked at #187 in 1977, while Kara reached the Top 100 briefly in the 1980s;
  • Lara, Mara, and Shara have also appeared in the US Top 1000.

Dara’s sound was very much in vogue, so odds are that most Daras were born to parents seeking something just a little different. But she also works for families seeking a highly portable name. She has oodles of possible origins:

  • A sixth century Irish saint answered to Mac Dara, apparently related to the word for oak tree, or possibly second;
  • There’s another Gaelic, masculine origin – Dáire, meaning fruitful;
  • In the seventeenth century, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s eldest son was Dara Shikok. In Persian, Dara could mean wealthy;
  • Others suggest that Dara means star in Khmer;
  • There’s a Hebrew name Dara. When Dara first appears in the Bible, it is a masculine name – one of the sons of Zerah. He’s sometimes called Darda;
  • The Slavic element dar means gift, and Dara appears as a feminine name in some Eastern European languages;
  • Darius, while not common in the US, has fared better elsewhere. Daria is the usual feminine form, but Dara could also work. Darius comes from Persian elements meaning “to possess” and “good.”

Yoruba, Swahili, and Indonesian origins are all claimed, too. In Iran, a pair of dolls meant to emphasize traditional values are called Dara and Sara.

My favorite use of Dara is as a place name. In Syria, not far from the Turkish border, there’s an Iron Age temple thought to date to 1300 BC. The photo of the ruins above is taken from Ain Dara. The site is also called Ayn Dara or Ain Darra. The temple is quite similar to the Biblical description of Solomon’s Temple.

There’s also a modern village called Ain Dara in Lebanon, and a historic fortress by the name in Mesopotamia. The Mesopotamian site – today, it is Turkey – was the location of the Battle of Dara in 530, a conflict between the Byzantines and the Sassanids.

Despite multiple masculine roots, the two Daras most likely to come to mind are female.

  • Neil Sedaka gave the name to his daughter in the 1960s, and she recorded duets with dad several times in the 1980s;
  • Dara Torres won Olympic gold medals in swimming between 1984 and 2008.

Overall, Dara occupies an interesting place. Her -ara ending leaves her feeling the tiniest bit dated, like Cara and Tara. But Sarah is evergreen, and Dara herself was never especially popular.

While she can’t be called fashion-forward, Dara remains distinctive; a seldom-heard choice that could appeal to parents seeking a name with history, but with a certain flexibility.

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.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. My sister’s name is Dara. Pronounced Dar-a not Dare-a. She has always had to correct people about the pronunciation as they generally want to say Dare-a. She has also been called Dora, Darla, Dana, Darnell! I had also heard that a possible meaning was “house of compassion or wisdom” but multicultural names like this are so hard to track! The compassion meaning was what influenced my mother to choose the name.

    1. XD mines the same except that it’s pronounced Dare-a but everyone says Darr-a, I’ve also been called Darrell

  2. “Dara herself was never especially popular.” Don’t I know it! I was born in 1984 and I’ve never actually met another person with my name, although I’ve known others who’ve known people with my name. Mine is pronounced like Sarah and I’ve fought the battle throughout my life on telling people it’s pronounced that way. I don’t know why it’s automatically thought of DAR-uh when you don’t pronounce Sara, Kara or Tara that way most of the time.

    I never heard of a man named Dara though so that’s news to me! Only ones I ever heard of were women. And I can’t tell you how many times people called me Dana. Or Daria (especially in high school when the TV show was popular).

    When I go places like restaurants that ask for my name, I just give my middle name–Marie–because nine times out of 10 they either pronounce it wrong or call me Dora, Dana, or any variant thereof 😛 Still, I like it since there aren’t many out there with it. And it’s not so unique that it sounds weird like some of the names coming out today.

  3. When it’s DER-? (rhymes with Sarah) it feels all girly-girl to me. When it’s pronounced DAW-ra it feels ruggedly male (although I’d prefer it spelled as Daragh.)

    The only Dara I know in real life, is actually named Darlin, so that’s influencing my feeling that it’s a sugary-sweet name.

  4. Dara is pretty. (I’m pronouncing it DAR-uh, but DAIR-uh is nice, too.) It’s neat to find names that work across so many cultures. I can only imagine this as a girls’ name in the U.S.

  5. I like Dara and Daria a lot, but the pronunciation question swayed me from considering it too seriously. I think I’d prefer it as a middle name for that reason.