Sarah is a sensible name, worn by the perpetual good girl, found in enduring young adult novels . But the Biblical original started out as a far more glamorous appellation.
Thanks to Heather for suggesting the shimmering Sarai as our Baby Name of the Day.
Plenty of Biblical choices have changed over the centuries, morphing into forms almost unrecognizable from the original. Both James and Jacob share the same root, and there are more than a few families than include a Jim and a Jake without confusion.
Sarai and Sarah were worn by the same woman, but they may be two distinct names. Just like Paul the Apostle started out life as Saul, Sarah was born Sarai.
Flip open to Genesis to read her story. Sarai was beautiful, so much so that she drove men mad. Her husband Abraham despaired when they couldn’t have children. And then a miracle happened – even though Sarai was well past child-bearing years, the couple had a son, Isaac.
The pronunciation changes, too, from SAHR ah to sah RYE.
You’ll often find Sarai’s meaning given as princess, just like Sarah. But there’s some suggestion that she comes from a similar-sounding name with a different meaning: contentious. Given the amount of angsting Abraham did over her good looks – which landed her in the pharaoh’s harem at one point – it is not an unreasonable choice. Of course, Abraham had his faults, too. He went ahead and had a son with Hagar, his wife’s maid. Various religious leaders have read a lot into the name change from the contentious Sarai to the regal Sarah, a change that was part of the fulfillment of God’s covenant and Isaac’s miraculous birth.
If all that puts you off, another use might appeal. Sarai was the name of the capital city of the Mongol Empire in the 1200s and 1300s. There were actually two cities – Old Sarai and New Sarai. The name is thought to derive from a Persian word meaning palace, inn, or home, which may relate to the word sarar – to rule. It was once a major metropolis, but by the 1500s, it was gone.
Speaking of gone, Sarai has been little used over the generations. She appears in US Census records but never cracked the Top 1000 until the 1980s. She reached #399 in 2009, just a few paces off from her peak of #397 in 2007.
Sarah, on the other hand, is evergreen. You could meet a Sarah in Medieval England or Colonial America. She occupied the US Top Ten from 1978 through 2002, and stood at #21 in 2009. The sans-h Sara has always lagged a few steps behind, charting at #109 in 2009.
All of this makes Sarai an appealing options for parents seeking something exotic, but not extreme. Just like sweet Sarah, a little Sarai could answer to Sari or Sary. She’s simple, complete, and glamorous without being too much for a real girl.