The baby name Rachel rocketed into the US Top Ten thanks to a sitcom, but this Biblical choice feels more like a classic than a pop culture sensation.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
ROCK STEADY RACHEL
In a few more decades, silver-haired Golden Girls will answer to Brittany and Courtney, Taylor and Jen.
And yes, Rachel.
But unlike some of those names, odds are good that there will still be little girls called Rachel, too.
Consider the statistics: while the baby name Rachel isn’t quite as evergreen as Katherine or Elizabeth, the name has never left the US Top 250. That’s going all the way back to 1880.
OLD TESTAMENT ROOTS
After all, the baby name Rachel belongs with the Old Testament choices, just as surely as enduring names like Benjamin and Jacob.
Speaking of Jacob, he’s part of the story. Jacob meets Rachel and tells her dad, Laban, that he’ll toil for seven years to earn his daughter’s hand in marriage. Laban agrees, but pulls a double-cross. On their wedding day, Jacob discovers that his heavily-veiled bride is actually Leah, Rachel’s sister.
But Jacob isn’t deterred. Instead, he works another seven years and marries Rachel the second time around.
It comes from a Hebrew name meaning ewe, as in a female sheep.
If you met a Rachel in many centuries, odds are decent that she’d be Jewish. Fictional Rachels – think Friends and Glee – conform to this stereotype. But ever since the Protestant Reformation, it’s become more broadly common.
President Andrew Jackson’s wife answered to the name, though she died in December of 1822, just as her husband took office.
Other famous women by the name include:
- French actress Mademoiselle Rachel became a sensation in 1830s and 40s Europe, for her romances as well as her theatrical performances.
- Biologist-turned-nature writer Rachel Carson lends the name a serious, world-changing vibe.
- There’s a character in Anne of Green Gables with the name, a friend to Marilla.
- Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel My Cousin Rachel makes the title character either the hero or the villain. Olivia de Havilland played the role in the 1952 film adaptation of the mystery-romance.
- A 1968 movie starring Joanne Woodward in the title role was called Rachel, Rachel.
All of these uses helped keep the name in the US Top 200.
SMALL SCREEN DARLING
But it’s the small screen that boosts the baby name Rachel time and time again.
In 1967, soap opera Another World introduced us to Rachel Davis. Scheming and ambitious, her entanglements made the new daytime drama a smash hit by 1970. A few years later, she did marry for love, but it’s a soap opera – drama followed the character way up until Another World ended its run in 1999.
During the first year the character joined the cast, Rachel jumped from #154 to #105, and then to #92. By 1969, it ranked #69. And by 178? It stood at #25.
Maybe the name would’ve cooled, but then along came an ever bigger sensation: Friends.
Jennifer Aniston made famous her character’s choppy layers. And also? Rachel leapt to #9, entering the US Top Ten for the first time ever in 1996.
Two more famous characters followed: Glee gave us an ambitious singer, played by Lea Michele from 2009 to 2015. And then came legal drama Suits, debuted in 2011, with a Rachel played by Meghan Markle, the future Duchess of Sussex.
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. In 1982’s Bladerunner, Rachael was a replicant – who thought she was a real girl.
Today the most famous bearer of the -ael spelling might be celebrity chef and television host Rachael Ray, but she’s far from the only one.
The baby name Rachel counts as a near-classic; that’s because we really do hear it everywhere, across decades.
It’s broadly tied to the 90s, thanks to Jennifer Aniston’s star turn on generation-defining Friends, as well as her character’s signature haircut.
But others answer to the name, like actors Griffiths, Bloom, Weisz, Bilson, and McAdams. There’s journalist Maddow and singer Platten; plus many more fictional characters I’ve omitted.
The name’s boom in the 80s and 90s tends to obscure this name’s traditional status. Despite some decades in the spotlight, Rachel qualifies as a traditional choice with centuries of history, and some fun quirks. (A variation of the Reuben sandwich is called the Rachel; it’s also associated with the Queen of Diamonds in playing cards. (Judith is the Queen of Hearts; Pallas of Spades; and Argine of Clubs. And don’t forget the whaling ship in Moby-Dick.)
It’s the kind of name that sounds sweet on a child but perfectly appropriate for a district attorney.
It’s tough to go wrong with Rachel.
What do you think of the baby name Rachel? Is it a classic, or stuck in time with Ashley and Jennifer?
First published on February 11, 2011, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on November 19, 2019, and again on January 14, 2021.
My name is Rachel and I go by Rach. I used to hate the nickname. Now I love it. I also really hate the variation Rachael. Everyone is always spelling my name wrong.
My name is Rachyl, pronounced Rachel. I like my spelling a lot. It is very uncommon, to the point where I haven’t met anyone with the same spelling as me. When I looked my name up on the internet, one of the few sites that had it listed said that it was pronounced RA-EL, which I like a lot. When I go to college I may go by that..
My name is Rachel and I love it! I am actually distantly related to Andrew Jackson and I never knew he was maried to a Rachel, that’s very cool.
I’m a couple days late to this party, but I’d like to contribute another variation. I have a Mexican friend named Raquel, which I’m assuming is the Spanish version of Rachael. Her nickname is Quel and she always signs her emails with Q. She’s very spunky and cute, so her name has a positive association for me.
Lulu Bee says
I have a friend named Raquel, too. In high school most people called her Rachel, but I think she goes mostly by Raquel now, and uses the nickname “Raquie” or something like that, pronounced pretty much just like Rocky.
That’s kind of fun!
what about Rachelle?
i think it sounds pretty and i actually considered Rachel/Rachelle for my younger daughter =)
it’s a good old fashioned name, that makes an equally beautiful first or middle name
for those who believe in God, it is a great name from the Bible too!
I met a baby Rochelle or Rachelle last summer – I had a weird moment of hearing a name that I thought fit a woman my age or older on a newborn. I think Michelle was so widely used in the 1970s that -chelle names feel a little worn. But Rachelle was never so common, and Rochelle retains a touch of Hollywood/francais glam. Either would make for a decidedly off-style choice, but not in a bad way.
They’re very different from the ever-so-classic Rachel, though. Rachel might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she feels like a can’t-miss name – solid.
I would like to give a shout-out to one Mrs. Rachel Lynde, “one of those capable creatures who can manage their own concerns and those of other folks into the bargain.”
The words “Mrs. Rachel Lynde” are actually the words that begin Anne of Green Gables.
Charlotte Vera says
I can’t believe I’d forgotten about Rachel Lynde! Perhaps it’s because Lynde seems such an inextricable part of her name.
Emmy Jo says
When I was pregnant with Julius (but before we knew he was a he), the two girls’ names my mom suggested to me were Vivian and Rachel. I’ve actually always had an affinity for Rachel, and while it’s a little plainer than I want, if I were married to the sort of man who insisted upon normal top 100 names, it’s one I’d be happy to use.
Charlotte Vera says
I’ve known a lot of Rachels growing up, so the name’s a bit ho hum for me. I agree that it’s a good choice in the sense that it screams neither “trendy” nor “unfashionable”. I do think the name is pretty, but it’s a bit too safe for my personal tastes.
A story about the Biblical Rachel that always stands out to me is the one where she steals her father’s household gods, hides them under her seat, and then, when her father comes to search for them, tells him that she can’t get up because she’s menstruating. It rather seems to me like Rachel’s father’s deceptive craftiness rubbed off on his daughter–or perhaps she was just trying to get back at him.
I admit, I was shocked to see Rachel today, especially following Montserrat! Wow. But, indeed, it was a pleasant surprise!
Rachel is just a fun, easy-going, yet altogether professional and tidy name for a girl. Yep, that’s right – I just called a name “tidy.”
I really think this would’ve been a good name for me to have. Of my siblings, I’m the only one who doesn’t have a Hebrew or Biblical name, even though we aren’t Jewish. Also, mine is a trendy one of my generation, though still very much used today – Rachel fits more with my siblings’ timeless names! I once told my mom this, and the only other Biblical name she found appealing was Hannah. Twins named Sarah and Hannah are a bit matched, so Sarah and Rachel would’ve been better for my sister and I – alas, I’m stuck with Lauren.
Tidy is a GREAT way to describe Rachel!
Sarah A says
My little sister’s name is Hannah, but we’re 7 years apart so it doesn’t sound matchy. One of my favorite sibset names is the Peasall Sisters, a Christian group (they sang on the O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack). The 3 girls are Hannah, Leah, and Sarah. Yes they’re common but all together sound just lovely. I haven’t been able to find out their brothers names.
It is funny that when some of the siblings have Biblical names and others don’t it can make the others stand out. I have a good friend named Rebecca whose little sister is Rachel, but their brother’s name is Kyle. I felt like a major name nerd when I told her that Kyle sounds out of place next to Rachel and Rebecca 🙂
Whenever people ask my siblings’ names and I respond with Benjamin “Ben” and Sarah, I get these looks of “Oh. Well, yours is an odd fit…”
I would’ve been happy as Hannah or Rachel, honestly!
British American says
I got a porcelain doll for my 13th birthday and I named her Rachel. So I must have liked the name a lot back then, but because of that it’s a little 1993 for me personally.
That being said, I don’t know any children called Rachel – which does give the name ‘bonus points’. I agree with Lula Bee – that it doesn’t really excite me personally. Definitely a solid choice though.
My kids have a cousin named Rachel. (Technically she’s my cousin, but her mom is my age, so … ) I never thought about Rachel much before she was born, but I do love the name now.
I don’t find the sound attractive but I have a good association in my MIL who I’m sure would have loved us to have used the name on either daughter.
It is a solid, no fuss name although I detest Rach as a nickname and that goes for both “RATCH” and “RAYCH”. I’ve heard both.
The Biblical story appears to be a mixture of a daytime soap opera and Jerry Springer. Not one of my ‘favourites’ tales to be honest.
I guess I have heard Raych – my cousin is sometimes Ray, which I find appealing.
As for the story – ‘zactly. Not the greatest story ever told.
Lulu Bee says
I agree with all the good points of Rachel. It’s a nice and sensible name, kind of a female version of David (if that makes sense). I’ve only ever had positive experiences with Rachels, but I just can’t get excited about it at all. Even though I get that it’s always been around, it seems very 80s/90s to me, and while I think it works just fine for a baby, not so dated like the others you mentioned, it just bores me. I’m not a fan of giving babies names from their parents generation, personally.
She is the female David. I know what you mean about names from their parents’ generations – they feel a little unoriginal. And yet I think many people would be happier with a daughter named Amy instead of Ava. By trying to avoid a “common” name, it is amazing how often we end up picking one that’s wildly popular!
I find it interesting that someone born Amy who disliked her name (to the point of picking another name to go by and making it legal) actually endorses using it on a child! Then again I assume that for you personally it’s not that Amy is a bad name or something that you’d be embarrassed to have, but rather that among your age group it’s too common/boring (which wouldn’t be the case for someone born these days). This reminds me of a story I wrote (it’s one that I e-mailed to you a few months ago) set in the early 1980s where one parent wanted to name the daughter-to-be Jennifer and the other wanted Nancy; they ended up playing a game and whoever won got to choose the name. The parent who liked Nancy won, and in the story when she was a teenager I mentioned that although her name is a bit dated for her age group she ended up being glad that she wasn’t just another Jennifer among her peers.
I would have disliked being Jennifer or Melissa equally, Kelly! You’re right, it’s not the name. It’s how popular the name was in 1973. If I were born in 2011, I’d rather be Amy than Emma.
The thing is, though, I can see that plenty of women grew up as Amy, Jennifer, and Melissa and turned out just fine. It’s a tough call – we name our children before we know them. You have no way of guessing whether your kid would prefer to blend in or stand out.
Sarah A says
I LOVE Rachel! This is one of those names that despite its popularity and the fact that I know a million Rachels, I still love it.
With my penchant for Old Testament names that also appear in the Quran, the choices for girls are slim. I don’t think Rachel is mentioned by name in the Quran, but she’s definitely identified as Joseph’s mother somewhere along the line. Maybe this sounds crazy, but as a Sarah I’ve always felt some kind of connection to the biblical Sarah and I would love to pass that connection down to a daughter with a name like Rachel.
I have a good Iranian-American friend whose name is Rahill (it’s pronounced Raheel) which is the Arabic of Rachel. She says when she was really young she wanted people to call her Rachel, but that as she grew older she liked the distinction. I love both Rachel and Raheel (would have to find a different spelling, hate that double e!)
I know she’s never really been out of the top 200, but I am heartened to see that she’s fallen 70 spots from #20 in the last decade. Maybe parents are thinking that Rachel doesn’t really fit with Mackenzie or Isabella 🙂
Wow! What a surprise to see my own name pop up for NotD.
While as a child I did go through the inevitable I-hate-my-name phase (I wished I’d been called Angelica or something similarly frilly) I very much like my name now. It’s relatively nickname-proof as well
You know, I’m regularly called Abbie and Abbey, and I don’t get it.
A few years ago I ordered something personalized from an Etsy Shop for my cousin Rachel, and it came back Rachael. (The shop owner was so NICE and fixed it instantly.) But once there are alternate spellings out there, I guess it doesn’t matter if you have the dominant, ordinary, traditional spelling – sometimes Madison will get Madisyn. Go figure.
Nice addition, Patricia – thank you!
And Sadie, Amy and Rachel is a (nice) surprise in 2011.
A currently well-known Rachel is Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s primetime hit, The Rachel Maddow Show.
I really like Rachel. Maybe because I only knew one growing up. My friend just named her twin girls Amy and Rachel.