Gardengnome face
Image via Wikipedia

He’s twin brother to Naomi, used internationally but seldom heard in the US, despite the raging success of the very similar Noah.

Thanks to Shan for suggesting Noam as our Baby Name of the Day.

I have a theory about why Noam hasn’t taken off, a theory better illustrated than described – just glance up at the little fellow in the corner, the red-capped garden dweller, the happy fellow found in countless German fairy tales.

Except that the name Noam isn’t pronounced gnome, and has nothing to go with ornamental statuary with a high kitsch value.

Instead, Noam comes from a Hebrew word for pleasant. Much like Noah is a two-syllable name, Noam is properly pronounced NOE ahm.

The most famous figure is Noam Chomsky, prolific author, long-time professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an acclaimed linguist and philosopher. Noam is actually his middle name – his given name is Avram.

A handful of other Noams surface, like actor/director Noam Pitlik who snagged an Emmy for his work behind the camera on 70s sitcom Barney Miller. Pretty much all of them are Israeli, or at least of Jewish descent. Perhaps he hasn’t always been wildly common, but in recent years, he’s ranked in the Israeli Top Ten.

Or should I say she’s ranked in the Israeli Top Ten? Among Israeli parents, a group far more tolerant of truly unisex names, Noam works for daughters, too. Writer Noam Friedlander is, indeed, a she.

Still, Noam strikes me more like Evan than Avery – not unreasonable for a daughter, but if you see it in a birth announcement, you assume the happy couple has welcomed a son. In France, Noam is solidly for Team Blue, and he’s in the Top 100 and climbing.

Noam has never cracked the US Top 1000, but he fits right in:

  • Biblical powerhouse Noah is at his most popular ever, ranking #7 last year. He’s been in the Top 100 and gaining since 1995;
  • Liam ranked #30, proof that ends-in-m names have their place in 2011;
  • Nolan rose to #104, another upbeat Irish appellation, and further proof of the appeal of o.

While we’re looking at the rankings, Naomi is also at her most popular ever, reaching #96 in 2010 – her first appearance in the US girls’ Top 100. Noel and Noelle, as well as Noe and Nola are other no- names attracting attention in recent years.

Then there’s his upbeat meaning. Stumped for names for all-boy triplets? Try Felix, Asher, and Noam. Triple happiness, each with a distinctive sound of his own.

Overall, Noam is the kind of choice that ought to appeal – different, but familiar. Upbeat and unusual. He’s a handsome pick for a family determined to stick close to conventional choices, and yet still choose something completely surprising.

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 son, now 1, is named Noam–I definitely visited this page when we were deciding on names!. It has only grown on me, and I also like that it inspires terrific nicknames (Noamsy and Noamzilla, to name just a couple). I recommend!

  2. Hmm, it’s a bit odd to discover that you’ve been pronouncing a name wrong for years! I always thought that Noam rhymed with gnome. I actually like NOE-ahm much better, though rhymes with gnome is still nice too 🙂 Noam would definitely be a hero pick for me, for Noam Chomsky. Love it!

    1. My son’s name is Noam and we pronounce it as Noe-ahm, not Gnome. We love his name, we call him Noe for short. People hear Noah first time they meet him and we say his name, but everybody seems to say his name without any problem.

  3. In France I love how boy names move so fast, in fact faster than girls.

    Check out the evolution:

    1. Lucas
    2. Nathan
    3. Enzo
    4. Louis
    5. Mathis
    6. Gabriel
    7. Ethan
    8. Jules
    9. Noah
    10. Rapha

  4. Nope, can’t do it. I’m a devotee of B. F. Skinner, who proposed a behaviorally-based theory of linguistic development that was essentially shouted down by vocal Chomsky supporters. I’d feel like a traitor.

  5. I’ve always loved Noam, it’s on my short list. DH isn’t sold on it yet even though he’s Jewish. I admire Noam Chomsky and really like the Avram Noam name combo. But we’re both deaf so we can’t be too sure of how it sounds with DH’s very unique, Ellis Island-altered Polish last name.

  6. When I was living in BC it seemed like EVERY little boy I met was named Nolan, Liam, or Noah (ok, there were also a few Cohens and Lukes/Lucases). I think I would have to meet a Noam to discover whether the name would come as a welcome relief or too much like a sound-alike. I do like his meaning though.

  7. I’ve gotten into the habit of suggesting Noam to anyone who likes Noah but either a) wants to get away from the Noah’s Ark association or b) thinks Noah is too popular. Haven’t had anyone declare that Noam was the name for them, but it does get mostly positive feedback. I think it has a lot of potential. Maybe if a celebrity used Noam for their son…

  8. A staple on my list (and quickly vetoed by my husband)… Linguistics type stuff was my thang until I graduated and had to, y’know, start paying back all those student loans, so Noam has a personal sort of thing going on for me – a sort of homage to a previous incarnation of me… plus I like how it sounds (and I’d honestly never thought of gnomes before with this name). I like it more than Noah or Noel and we have several Liams in our circle, so it beats that name out, too (Liam is a name I also like, but would not use due to knowing three little ones with the name in a fairly small circle of kids). My biggest issue with Noam is the lack of nns, but that would be a big plus for others.

    Do you think Chomsky’s politics holds the name back in the US?