There’s Zoe and Zachary, Zadie and Zane. But this Z-name has been overlooked.

Thanks to Charlotte for suggesting the name of her niece as Baby Name of the Day: Zipporah. (Great minds think alike: Kelly suggested it just a few days later!)

Zipporah appears in the Old Testament. One of the seven daughters of Jethro, she and her sisters went to draw water from the well. They ran into some trouble, and Moses came to their aid. He was new in town, having gotten on the wrong side of the pharaoh in Egypt. Jethro was impressed that the stranger had intervened on his girls’ behalf, and invited him to come stay in their home. Eventually, Zipporah and Moses tied the knot.

We don’t know very much about her, though she’s described as quite beautiful and admirably pious. Her name comes from the Hebrew word for bird: tsipor or tzippor. It gives her a glimmer of a nature link, but that’s more of a bonus than a reason to choose the name. Tzipporah is the most traditional spelling of the name, still used by Jewish families of the more traditional persuasion.

There’s also an archeological element. Tzippori was the name of an ancient settlement that flourished during the time of Jesus’ life. Some suggest that Jesus’ grandparents, Mary’s mom and dad, were born there. It’s part of modern-day Israel, but the excavations have uncovered ruins from multiple settlements over the ages, including some spectacular Roman mosaics.

Zipporah lost her T in English, but even more simplified versions of her name have been used: Tzipora, Sephora, Seffora, and Saffurah are just a few. Sephora would have real possibility as a girls’ name in the US, as she’s close to the feminissa, starbaby Seraphina, and also close to the Greek word for beauty: sephos. Except, of course, that French cosmetic stores found in every local shopping mall have already embraced Sephora as their name.

In the pre-Shopping Mall era, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments used Sephora for the name of Moses’ wife. She was played by a young Yvonne DeCarlo, years before she donned her bat-wing gown as TV’s Lily Munster.

US Census records confirm that Zipporah has long been in sparing use, and not just among Jewish families. (Though that accounts for some of her success, and there’s at least one Israeli politician by the name, known as Tzipi Livni.) Bob Marley has a granddaughter named Zipporah.

But mostly, Zipporah in all of her spellings, is one of those intriguing rarities that pops up throughout the English-speaking world for centuries. Fleeting references come from eighteenth-century England and seventeenth-century America. Parents seeking an unusual name have sometimes landed on this one.

Head to Ocean City, Maryland, and you might find yourself looking at a portrait of one such Zipporah, better known as Zippy Lewis. (It hangs in the Dunes Manor Hotel.) The widowed Lewis kept faithful watch for her husband, hoping he’d return, living in a shack on the beach. It’s said she made her living by scavenging the treasures washed ashore from shipwrecks. Zippy became a local legend.

That brings to mind Haven Kimmel’s memoir A Girl Called Zippy – but that really was just a nickname.

If you’re seeking an unusual, sparky, Biblical name just on the right side of daring, Zipporah could be for you.

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. Personally I think Zipporah is pretty bad. It goes in one of those completely unusable Biblical names categories. So many lovely ones, so why use one that either has zipper in it or calls you poor? Fwiw, our kids all have biblical names and we do like more uncommon ones, but this one sounds like a cartoon character.

    I’m a big name nerd so I will acknowledge it at least has some history, but it does not sound attractive at all. I just prefer girl names that sound or bring to mind something pretty. Zipporah does neither.