She’s an Old Testament appellation with a modern sound.
Thanks to Charlotte for suggesting Tirzah as our Baby Name of the Day.
Is there any doubt that Agatha Christie was a name nerd? Sure, she had oodles of characters to name. And some, like the towering Hercule Poirot, demand a larger-than-life choice. But she was thoughtful about even minor figures, and in real life, named her only child Rosalind. There’s even a thread featuring her character names on Nameberry. I mention Ms. Christie because Charlotte originally asked about Thyrza, which is a Dutch version of Tirzah – a name from The Pale Horse, one of those famous mysteries.
But how do you pronounce Tirzah? I suspect some of it is regional, but I’ve heard everything from teer zah to teer tsah to teer shah. I suspect that the first one is most comfortable for most English speakers, though I’ll admit that the middle one strikes me as very pretty.
Christie’s fictional Thyrza was a witch, or at least was willing to play at the dark arts to cover up murder for hire. The original Tirzah was an Old Testament figure, the youngest of Zelophehad’s five daughters – Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, and Milcah. Back in the day, women couldn’t inherit, but Zelophehad had no sons. The girls appealed to Moses, and while they had to promise not to marry outside of their tribe, they were able to inherit their father’s property. I rather like that story.
The name has a nice meaning, too – delight. She’s a joyful choice.
Tirzah is also a powerful literary appellation, thanks to:
- Swiss author Solomon Gessner penned “The Death of Abel” in 1758. The poem was widely translated, and he included a Thirza. I can’t find enough about it to know if that’s the reason Thirza and Thyrza entered use in English, but I suspect that’s the case.
- William Blake’s poem “To Tirzah” appears in his 1789 Songs of Innocence and Experience. It is neither a love song nor a criticism, but it doesn’t feel like the kind of work that inspires parents to choose a name;
- Lew Wallace gave the name to Judah Ben-Hur’s sister in his blockbuster 1880 novel, a novel that would become the smash hit 1959 film Ben-Hur. When the family falls on hard times, Judah is sent into slavery, while his mother and sister are imprisoned. The women contract leprosy in jail, and try to hide their condition from their brother, faking their deaths instead. Then there’s a chariot race, and a happy ending – at least for the Ben-Hurs, with mother and sister miraculously healed and everyone reunited. I can’t find a clip where they say her name, but I seem to remember it was teer zah.
Tirzah conjures up the ancient world for yet another reason. It was the name of a settlement mentioned in the Bible several times.
All together, Tirzah is the kind of rarity that parents can consider in 2011. You’ll have to spell it and say it several times, but the explanation that you’ve taken Tirzah from the Bible is straightforward.