The baby name Sarai may seem surprising, but it’s connected to one of the most classic names for our daughters.

Thanks to Heather for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


Chances are you remember Sarah from Sunday school. 

In the Old Testament, Sarah is the wife of Abraham. She and her husband long for a family, but despite many years of marriage, have never had a child. Now they’re elderly, and surprised when God tells them that they’ll have a son.

Sure enough, they do. Sarah becomes Isaac’s mother and God’s covenant is fulfilled.

But there’s more: throughout the Bible, names change. Up until this moment, Sarah was Sarai, Abram’s wife. Only when their future child is promised do their names change. Abram becomes Abraham, “father of many.” 

And Sarai becomes Sarah. 

The two names share a Hebrew origin: a word meaning “important woman.” It’s often translated as “princess.” 

A different meaning is possible. Some suggest it means contentious, or “to contend” – like the name Israel itself. 

And it’s even occasionally said that Sarai meant “quarrelsome,” until she was transformed into the noble Sarah. 

Most sources accept that both Sarai and Sarah both denote a woman of high rank.

No question that Sarah is a significant figure in the Book of Genesis, and a Biblical matriarch whose name inspired parents across the years. Like many Old Testament names, Sarah became a favorite during the Protestant Reformation and has remained in steady use since.

Incidentally, Abraham does become a father of many – but not with Sarah. Abraham also had a child with Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden, a son named Ishamel. Abraham later married Keturah, after Sarah’s death, and they also had children together.


Separate from the Biblical story, Sarai was the capital city of the Mongol Empire during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The name means palace or court, from a Persian word.

It was once a major metropolis, but by the 1500s, the city was in ruins, and eventually gone entirely. Over a few centuries, several invading armies sacked Sarai. The ruins’ exact location remains uncertain, though a replica of the city has been built.

Because of the meaning, Sarai appears in plenty of other place names, too. 



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Shimmering and elusive, Sarai’s intriguing sound coupled with ancient roots makes this the perfect fits-in/stands-out choice.


#428 as of 2022


holding steady


An older form of Sarah, Sarai comes from a Hebrew word meaning a woman of high birth


Nearly any name found in the Bible will see occasional use, and that’s true for Sarai.

A few noteworthy uses include:

  • Model-actress Sarai Givaty
  • Sarai Howard, better known as rapper Miss Eighty 6
  • Latina child actress Sarai Gonzalez rose to fame in the 1990s as the face of the “Soy Yo” video from Bomba Estéreo
  • Popular culture gives us Sarai Kurosawa, a minor character from the long-running Street Fighter video game series
  • More recently, it’s the name of the queen in Netflix animated series The Dragon Prince

Christian author Jill Eileen Smith has penned a fictional account of the Biblical figure’s life, titled Sarai, the first book in her Wives of the Patriarchs series.


With such sparing use, it’s almost surprising that the baby name consistently appears in the US popularity data.

At least, it appears beginning in the 1980s.

In 1987, the baby name Sarai debuted at #963. It left, but returned again in 1989. It’s ranked every year since.

As of 2022, the name Sarai stands at #428, about the same rank it’s held, plus or minus 30ish spots, for the past two decades.

What explains the sustained, if modest, popularity?

It might simply be down to two things: first, anyone looking up Sarah would stumble on Sarai. 

It fit with names we were using as middles: Marie, Louise, Renee, Noelle, Elise. Two-syllables, stress on the second syllable. But Sarai was fresh and different. It would make a great middle name for these reasons, but Sarai has also been consistently used as a first name.

By the 2010s, of course, it also brought to might fast-rising favorite Kai. 

Other similar-sounding names and variations on Sarah/Sara include:

  • Nicknames like Sari/Sary and maybe even one-time Sarah spin-offs Sadie and Sallie/Sally
  • Sarita, either a romance language elaboration of Sara or a separate Sanskrit name
  • Soraya has several origins, but is generally considered a Persian name for the Pleiades constellation
  • In the Book of Mormon, Sariah is the wife of Lehi
  • Seraiah is a masculine name from the Old Testament
  • Arabic name Saira means traveler
  • Lastly, Sarahi probably developed as a Spanish take on Sarai

The name seems to have succeeded on sound alone.


Overall, the baby name Sarai shimmers with an unexpected sound. In the Old Testament, God’s name change transformed Sarai to the wildly popular Sarah and we’ve been using that name ever since. But Sarai’s moment has arrived, and it’s been in steady use for several generations.

It’s the perfect name for parents after something fresh and modern with ancient roots.

What do you think of the baby name Sarai?

First published on March 16, 2011, this post was revised on April 16, 2024.

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. Sarai is beautiful, and I like it far better than Sarah, but it often feels a little bit strange to use the “pre-conversion” name of a biblical character. Usually in the Bible when God renames a person, it signifies the person has undergone a significant change for the better (e.g., began following God instead of persecuting Christians, as was the case with Saul/Paul, or began having faith in one of God’s promises, as is the case with Abram/Abraham). If the names we choose for our children are supposed to somehow express our hopes and aspirations for them, what does it mean to call a child Saul (the persecutor) or Sarai (“contentious”) instead of Paul or Sarah?

    That being said, though, Jacob is a FAR more common name than Israel (the name Jacob was given after he wrestled with God). It’s certainly not a hard-and-fast rule. But those who balk at calling a child Cain or Delilah might also balk at Saul, Sarai, or even Abram.

    1. That’s really interesting — I never thought about it that way. As an adult who practices a different religion than the one in which I was raised, all of the first names on my short list are deliberately non-religious. I want my children to be able to choose their own religion, as I did, and not feel uncomfortable about their names should they convert/change their minds later. 🙂

    2. Well said Emmy Jo, I completely agree.

      I really prefer my own name to names like Sarai, Saira, etc. precisely because it’s so evergreen. Sarai is beautiful, but if I were ever vain enough to name a child after myself, I’d go with Zara 🙂

    3. I agree, Emmy Jo. But I think a lot of people don’t even really think about the story anymore. Just the name. Either “Oh, that’s in the Bible. Perfect, let’s use it” or with complete disregard for it being anything more than a nice name.

      That said, I find Sarai always sits awkwardly in my mouth. I love the simple beauty of Sarah, particularly in the middle name position. It somehow seems more unexpected there.

  2. I like Sarai. My aunt’s name is Sara, though, so I’d never use it. I think I like Sarah and Soraya a bit better, but it’s still very pretty.

  3. While I’ve never been a huge fan of Sarah, I’ve always preferred it to Sarai, which somehow seems awkward and choppy to me. I much prefer the longer Saraya (and its variant spellings). Sarai ends so abruptly and sounds like an off pronunciation of either sari or sorry — or a mumbled, “Sir, I. . .”

  4. I really like Sarai. She has an exotic, yet tailored feel. Many exotic names can feel a bit over the top, but not Sarai.

  5. This would be a great way to use a Sar name without the more popular Sarah.
    I wonder if you could still do Sadie and Sally with Sarai?

  6. I like Sarai! When I was a Catholic school kid, I remember wondering *why* she had to change *her* name to boring Sarah, Abraham didn’t! I’ve liked Sarai at least since then. I’ve found my family dislikes the ‘sah’ sound in general, so no Sarai for me. (No Sara(h) (i) for anyone else, either). But I do like both Sarai’s looks and sound. I wish I’d meet a few of them at least, she’s so pretty!

    1. His name was changed too, from Abram to Abraham, when he was circumcised. [Genesis 17:5 – Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee.]

      My thought has always been that the “contentious” meaning had to do with Sarai’s treatment of Hagar. Since after Sarai told Abram to get Hagar pregnant, Sarai and Hagar didn’t get along. [Genesis 16:2, 5-6 – And Sarai said unto Abram: ‘Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be builded up through her.’ And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. … And Sarai said unto Abram: ‘My wrong be upon thee: I gave my handmaid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee.’ But Abram said unto Sarai: ‘Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her that which is good in thine eyes.’ And Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her face.]

      Then, her name was changed to the “princess” meaning because she was becoming a ‘mother of kings.’ [Genesis 17:15-16 – And God said unto Abraham: ‘As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and moreover I will give thee a son of her; yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be of her.’]

      1. Thanks for that Panya! It’s been almost 30 years since I’ve been to church or read the Bible, so my memory’s a bit off, apparently!

      2. It’s one of those stories that feels both incredibly ancient and inaccessible and painfully modern at once. Thank you for the quotes!