Geofroy Tory's Zed (Baltimore, MD)
Geofroy Tory's Zed, from takomabibelot via Flickr

Today’s choice combines a zippy Z and a vibrant V, plus a great meaning.

Thanks to Tara for suggesting Ziva as our Baby Name of the Day.

Americans borrow baby names from the British, but I wonder if we’d be really jazzed to get our mitts on a book of baby names from Israel. There’s Ayelet, Lior, Noa, Tamar, Amir, Talia, Lev … the list goes on and on.

Chances are you first heard Ziva on NCIS. Played by Chilean-born actress Cote de Pablo, Ziva David was introduced in Season 3, initially an Israeli Mossad agent working as a liaison with NCIS. By season 7, she’d resigned from Mossad, become a US citizen, and joined NCIS as a permanent employee.

Ziva rhymes with diva, and is the feminine form of Ziv.

The Hebrew meaning is straightforward: bright or light. That’s fitting, as Ziv corresponded to April or May on the old Hebrew ecclesiastical calendar. (Today, it’s known as Iyar.)

But here’s a curious fact: Živa is popular in Slovenia.

The two Zivas are unrelated. While one is akin to the English Mae, the second has more in common with the goddess Venus.

And while Ziva begins with our familiar Z sound, Živa’s z is more like the s in treasure. Think of Dr. Zhivago.

Živa is described as a goddess of love and fertility, and the harvest, too, worshiped in Eastern and Southern Europe in the pre-Christian era. The best I can figure is that her name comes from a word for living, which brings to mind current starbaby favorite Vita.

It also fits with other popular picks in Slovenia, like:

  • Zala
  • Eva
  • Neža
  • Zoja

There’s not a ton of Slovenian references in English, but I did find one notable Živa that might explain the name’s current fashion – Živa Vadnov, Miss Slovenia 2004.

What I can’t puzzle out is why Ziva was used for men. While the name has never charted in the US Top 1000, there are women and men called Ziva in US Census records.

I’ll put that mystery aside and say this: Ziva succeeds on two fronts. On the off chance that you’re looking for a name that comes his Slovenian roots with your Israeli heritage, well, search finished.

But Ziva could also satisfy parents seeking something that feels fresh and modern. She splits the difference between Ava and Zoe, and she’s far less common. You’re more likely to meet a Zara.

There’s much to recommend Ziva.

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. I know a Ziva, born in the Yishuv in the 1940s when the Jews of Mandate Palestine were struggling to achieve Israeli statehood. I believe that period was the heyday of this name.
    Incidentally, this is what it says about this name on my favourite website for information about Hebrew names

  2. I can confirm that it’s a granny name but unlike hazel, it’s not trendy at all. The equivalent in the US would be more like Ethel or Frieda, names that are unheard of for babies.

    1. Thanks, Amy. I think Ziva would feel like Zelda or Vita in the US right now – quirky and vintage, but wearable. Interesting to know that’s not the case everywhere!

  3. I love it! Great thinking about NCIS!!! Ziva sounds exotic and straight-forward at the same time, that’s a really hard task to accomplish.

  4. Love the NCIS character and the name! If we were going for a more exotic vibe with our kids’ names (and if I weren’t so opposed to using names that I originally discovered through pop culture references), then Ziva might be on the list.

  5. We actually have pizza nights with another family who have a 20 month old daughter named Ziva. It’s a perfect fit for her and just a really unique and beautiful name. I’ve never heard it before our daughters started playing together. I love your point about the name being a combination of Ava and Zoe.

    Currently expecting my second daughter, I’d love to see a post on the name, Sela.

    Love this blog!

  6. Eeee! I love Ziva, and Aviva, too. I think they are simple enough that they don’t seem to foreign, and they are both easily pronouncable. I would love to meet a little girl with either of those names.

  7. NCIS is one of the few television shows that I actually follow. In a fairly recent episode, a guest starring character asserted that Ziva is the name of grandmothers in Israel. Ever since then I’ve been wondering if that’s true or not. It could have just been made up by the show’s writers to underscore the tension between two characters, but on other hand, the line could have been inspired by fans who wrote to state that they found it strange a young character was given the name of a previous generation.

    1. I don’t follow NCIS, but I had that same question. It’s really difficult to gauge style across different cultures. There is a message board devoted to Israeli baby names, but I couldn’t find Ziva mentioned … which could mean the taunt was accurate, or not. Of course, an American character could tell a woman named Hazel that she had a granny name. She’d be right, but she’d be missing the trend in favor of fashionable granny names these days.

  8. It’s interesting how one letter often changes the way we feel about a name. With Neva, I don’t feel like it sounds too much like the word diva. But Ziva? All I hear is diva. I find myself loving Neva but feeling lukewarm about Ziva.

    I don’t dislike it, but Ziva is not my favorite Israeli name. I much prefer names like Talia and Aviva. And the Slovenian pronunciation of Ziva sounds a bit close to the Hindu name Shiva.

  9. I really like the name Ziva. It’s a good name for people who don’t like nicknames (probably because it’s so short, but I guess you could use Zee or something like that), and it’s also feminine.

  10. I actually really love the sound of this name even though it falls squarely outside of my “naming style.” It is simple and exotic and very pretty.

    Unrelated, but I think I need to email you for some middle name advice. We have named given each of our older girls a family name (one from each side of family) and as this is likely our final child, we feel strange about picking a name from either side and hence upsetting the balance. Certainly don’t want to hijack this Ziva post, so will email you!

    1. @Aidan – I know combined names aren’t everyone’s style, but would it be possible for you to use a combined name to honor a member of both sides of the family, like Marianna for Mary and Anne? I don’t know what style you use for middle names, but that might work. Otherwise, maybe something from a birth month or flower would work, if two people were born in the same month? Or, maybe it’s time to honor you and your husband – you could use something relating to where you met, where you were married, when you were married. You get the point…

      Anyway, I think Ziva is great! It’s a more accessible version of Diva, and it has all the style and spunk of Aviva and Zara, which I also think are fabulous.

    2. I like the idea of using a name with significance to you or your husband. That way between them your kids have a name from their mother’s family, their father’s family and your own little family.