English: clouds in the sky
English: clouds in the sky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s among the most hated of baby names, one that can prompt pages of accusations.  But where, besides the skies, did she come from?

Our Baby Name of the Day is Nevaeh.

As we all know, Nevaeh is simply Heaven spelled backwards.  As a given name, Heaven has ranked in the US Top 1000 every year since 1990, coming in at #317 in 2011.  Heavenly – and, of course, Heavenlee and Heavenleigh – are heard, too.

Nevaeh is a little different, though.  She sounds like she should be a name, something with exotic roots or an intriguing backstory, a sister for Cloelia and Corisande.  Indeed, you’ll find lots of comments that Nevaeh is actually an old Scandinavian or Hebrew or what-have-you appellation, something with plenty of history to silence all the haters.

And yet.

In 1999, there were just a few baby girls named Nevaeh.  Then in 2000, Sonny Sandoval, frontman for P.O.D., went on MTV’s Cribs to show off his living quarters.  Sandoval was a proud new papa, and also introduced his newborn daughter, Nevaeh – “heaven spelled backwards,” he explained.

Apparently we were all watching.  Nevaeh’s debut in the US Top 1000 in 2001 was a record-setting #266.  By 2005, she was up to #69, and by 2010, she’d reached #25.  Misspell it Neveah, which is phonetically more logical but spells Haeven in reverse, and it still makes the Top 1000.

The interesting thing about Sandoval isn’t necessarily his musical career – though P.O.D. has had a good run.  Instead, it is the lifestyle and perspective he represents, and that’s the clue to Neveah’s success – and her controversy, too.

Sandoval was a teenage gang member, a ne’er do well who converted to Christianity following the untimely death of his mother.  We tend to think of conversion tales as straightforward narratives, where the changed life results in clean living and the pursuit of a career in something sensible.  Bank teller, maybe, or HVAC repair technician.  But Sandoval launched a musical career instead.  P.O.D. stands for Payable On Death, a reference to the death of Jesus on the cross.  Christian metal – and Christian-themed popular music in general – made a certain openly religious, cross-on-your-sleeve style not just acceptable, but downright cool.  It’s quite the phenomenon, an evolution tracked and analyzed by academics.

That’s the secret to Nevaeh’s success.  Sandoval’s other kids are daughter Marley and son Justice – a mix of musical influences and virtues, names that are meaningful and current – just like his music.  And that almost certainly strikes a chord with many parents.  If you’re not Catholic, saints’ names like Mary and Ignatius may lack relevance, just as they did for Protestant Reformers.

At the same time, plenty of the devout may find Nevaeh uncomfortable – like Trinity, it is a name that may appear to trivialize religious faith rather than celebrate it.  But that really depends on how each individual understands faith.  It is similar to the debate about Cohen – is it a disrespectful borrowing, or an innocent adoption?

But factor in that evangelical Christians may have children younger, and that younger parents tend to choose different names – more creative, less traditional – and there’s more than one reason for Nevaeh’s appeal.

Nevaeh fell to #35 in 2011, suggesting that, like many a supernova’d name, she may quickly plummet from use.  But it will be decades before another name occupies her unique space in the naming ‘verse.

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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. FYI — our Nev@eh (neh-VAY-uh) has the nickname Nene (nay-nay). [One of my aunts keeps spelling it Nana & I keep telling her that’s NAN-uh or nah-nah!] Nene’s brother is a J0seph Jr., so he’s called Jojo; I do think Nene & Jojo are cute for siblings, but while he can be a Joe when he’s older, I don’t think Nene ages well.

  2. I had a coworker who named her daughter Nevaeh (Neh-VAY-ah) and it truly suitethe little girl and her mother. I don’t care for the name personally, and would never pick it for one of my children but I get some people like it. To each his own.

  3. Being an Evangelical Christian I guess I’m supposed to be part of the group that’s falling over itself in excitement about this name, but something about the phrase “heaven spelt backwards” makes my insides go all squirmy. I get the appeal of the sound of the name, just not its origins. Don’t get me wrong, if either of my children had been born *very* prematurely and female they might have been named Celeste; we chose the name because we liked its sound and obvious didn’t dislike the meaning. I admit to being something of a traditionalist in that I tend to prefer older names rather than new coinages. Nevaeh is not only a new coinage, it’s one whose meaning has always sounded rather kitschy to me.

    I’ve yet to come across someone with the name, but I hope that when I do I respond without judgement. And I hope that the parents in question chose the name because they sincerely like it and that it means something to them. Most importantly, I hope that the Nevaehs of this world grow into their names with grace.

    1. I very much agree with you – I named my kids more traditional / old fashioned names. I like seeing the little graph with the ‘way back when’ popularity being high.

      I also want to be conscious not to be all ‘name nerd snooty’ if I do meet a Nevaeh at church or preschool or the library etc.

  4. I’ve always wondered why it causes so much hatred. I almost think that folks in the name world don’t like it just because it isn’t liked. I was reading a thread that asks for “most hated names” and Nivaeh was on EVERYONE’s list. I scrolled down and couldn’t believe that poster after poster kept typing “Nivaeh. Nivaeh. Nivaeh.”

    The “heaven backwards” thing *seems* misguided– but I keep thinking how often I come across a thread that asks how to honor a relative without directly using the name, and, if it works phonetically, invariably someone will suggest spelling the name (or part of it) backwards– but no one freaks out about that, and, in fact, people often like the hidden homage.

    I’m not fond of the aforementioned phonetic issues, but so this also stops me from using names Bea, Geoffrey, or Marzia. I’ve never liked names that look different than how they sound (including names with origins in ancient languages, however historically accurate they may be).

    Which leaves the final undesired characteristic, the “made up” part. Which I’ve never been incredibly dogmatic about. I’m sure there are plenty of names that have been made up relatively recently, but due to years of use, they sound perfectly legitimate.

    So why all the hate? I’ve often seen people, on message boards, claim it to sound “trashy”. I don’t see that at all. Nivaeh sounds really beautiful. A little too popular and little close to the skincare company, Nivea, for me, but I just can’t seem to hate it.

    1. I also want to say that I don’t think that people don’t truthfully NOT like it. I’m just puzzled why SO many people don’t like it.

      1. Okay, I just realized I’ve been spelling NEVAEH all wrong (which I ALWAYS DO! I get too concerned about not mixing up the E and the A that I drop in an “I” instead..??)

  5. Nevaeh is one of a very few names that makes my skin crawl when I hear/see it. I dislike its sound and look. If one wanted the meaning of heaven/paradise, I’d much rather see Celeste, Celia, or Eden used. I have a cousin (whom I have not seen since a child) that named his first daughter Nevaeh. His other children are Dakota (male) and Kassidi. I must admit, I cringed with each birth announcement. Interestingly enough, his brother has children named Hannah, William, Jacob, and Lucy, and is the religious one of the two.

  6. I have met a cute little Nevaeh, and I think the name has a pretty sound, but I can’t get past the “heaven spelled backward” thing, and the fact that it is pronounced like “Neveah”. Does it make me a complete weirdo that I think “Haeven” looks more funky-cool to me as a girl’s name? I assume that would be pronounced “haven”. But, yeah, I’d name my daughter Heaven before Nevaeh… but Sky before Heaven.

    I think if I were going to give my daughter an explicitly religious name, it would be Theophany. But only if she were born at that time of year. (… If your daughter was born in June, don’t call her Noel. That’s all I am sayin’.)

  7. The name seems artificial to me, but when I’m honest with myself, I quite like the sound of it. I wouldn’t choose it, but if I knew a child by that name, I think I could overcome my prejudice against it.

  8. It’s just too close to Nivea to be usable for me.

    I’d rather see a parent use the name Nevaeh because she/he likes the name and/or it’s meaning than name her/his daughter Mary because tradition or the church says so.

  9. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Nevaeh, despite being a Christian and teaching preschool Sunday School at an evangelical church. Names I’ve seen twice on children at our church are Levi, Ruby, Andrew, Aubrey, Joseph, Brooke, Grayson and there were almost two Lucys. Newest church-going-babies that I’ve spotted locally are Zia and Landon.

    The closest thing I’ve met to Nevaeh at church is Eden – I know a 1 year old and a 7 year old.

    P.S. the Harvard article won’t load for me right now. Says the connection is timed out.

    I just asked my 7 year old if she knows of any at (public) school and she doesn’t. My son starts Christian preschool next month and I’m desperate to read his class list. Could there be a Nevaeh?!

    I’m not a fan of the name, but I could see liking it more if I actually knew a child by the name. The “backwards” thing gets me, as I always think of “backwards” as being “opposite” so it makes me think “opposite of heaven is hell” – plus the ‘if you play this record backwards there are messages from the devil’ idea adds into that in my mind.

    Though I can understand wanting something more subtle than actually naming your child “Heaven”. Nevaeh seems to dilute the ‘pressure’ of having everyone immediately think of God and angels when they hear your name. Plus you can nickname Nevaeh “Neve” and what do you nickname “Heaven” – “Hev”? As a Sunday School teacher, I think I would feel weirder having to call a child “Heaven”, rather than Nevaeh. (Though incidentally, the weirdest I felt in Sunday School was calling a little girl ‘Jordan’ because that’s the name of my 28 year old brother and it was so strange to use his name to talk to a little girl.)

    I keep mispelling the name too – typing Neveah instead. I think it would be strange to grow up and find out that your name means heaven backwards, but your parents changed the spelling or misspelled it.