She rocketed into the US Top Ten thanks to a sitcom, but this Biblical choice has far more staying power than many pop culture hits.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Rachel as our Baby Name of the Day.
In a few more decades, silver-haired Golden Girls will answer to Brittany and Courtney, Taylor and Jen. And yes, Rachel. But unlike most of those names, odds are good that there will still be little girls called Rachel, too.
Consider the statistics: while Rachel isn’t quite as evergreen as Katherine or Elizabeth, since 1880, she’s only fallen out of the US Top 200 three times. In 1958 and 1959, she ranked #201, and in 1951, she ranked #202. Overall, she’s been remarkably steady – a twentieth century staple, likely to be worn into the future.
Jennifer Aniston helped propel her character’s name into the US Top Ten. Friends debuted in 1994. In 1996, Rachel peaked at #9. The series boosted other names, too – the actress’ surname, for one, as well as Chandler and Phoebe.
But before there was Must See TV, there was the Biblical Rachel, from the Hebrew rahel – ewe.
The Old Testament story goes like this: Jacob happens upon Rachel and tells her dad, Laban, that he’ll work seven years to earn her hand in marriage. Laban agrees, but on the wedding day, the bride is draped heavily in veils. It’s not just local custom; it’s an attempt to fool the groom. When the ceremony is over, Jacob has been married to Laban’s elder daughter, Leah. Jacob decided to marry Rachel, too – even though it meant fourteen years’ service. The couple are, eventually, happy, but Rachel dies in childbirth.
If you met a Rachel through the ages, odds are decent that she’d be Jewish. (Actually, Friends’ Rachel Green was Jewish; so is Glee’s Rachel Berry.) But since the Protestant Reformation, it’s been kosher for non-Jews to use the name, too.
Other famous Rachels you might recognize include:
- First Lady Rachel Jackson, wife of Andrew, died in December 1822, right as her husband took office;
- In the 1830s and 1840s, French actress Mademoiselle Rachel took Europe by storm;
- 20th century Israeli poet Rachel Bluwstein is often known by her first name alone;
- The is-she-or-isn’t she heroine/villain of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel;
- Biologist-turned-nature writer Rachel Carson;
- In 1982’s Bladerunner, Rachael was a replicant – who thought she was a real girl;
- Actresses Rachel Griffiths, Rachel Weisz, Rachel Bilson, and Rachel McAdams;
- Celebrity chef Rachael Ray.
That’s not counting the variation on a reuben sandwich, the haircut, or the Queen of Diamonds, nicknamed Rachel in French.
As for the -ael spelling, it seems to be based on Michael. It’s never been as common as Rachel, but it isn’t new. Charles Dickens used Rachael for minor characters in Bleak House and Hard Times.
Call your daughter Rachel today, and no one will be surprised. It’s a solid, unchanging name – one that might sound more or less stylish in future decades, but still perfectly sensible. She’s feminine, but frills-free; relatively nickname-proof; and sweet on a girl but appropriate for a district attorney.
It’s tough to go wrong with Rachel.