Would you dare use this on-trend but off-putting name for a daughter?
Thanks to Night for suggesting Jezebel as our Baby Name of the Day.
First, a rule: names with on-trend sounds will be used, regardless of connotations. Because some parents will always listen to your “but Braxton just makes me think of contractions” comments and dismiss it with a conversation-ending “I just like the sound.” And really, there’s no comeback to that. 22 girls were named Jezebel in 2012, with another handful called Jezebelle. Odds are strong that none of their parents were trying to torture their child.
In fact, it is possible – maybe even likely – that the Biblical Jezebel got a bad rap. The meaning usually given to her name is “not exalted,” but others have suggested that her name might honor Ba’al, as in the major god of ancient Phoenicia.
Which would track – Jezebel’s dad was Ethbaal, a Phoenician king. Like many a princess, she was packed off to marry a reasonably-aged partner for political reasons. That’s how she ends up King Ahab of Israel’s wife, and the subject of a story in the Old Testament Books of Kings.
The royal couple encouraged the worship of Baal in their kingdom. Jezebel squared off against the prophet Elijah over whose god was supreme. Elijah performed miracles on Mount Carmel, and used his success in the name of Yahweh as an excuse to murder the priests of Baal.
The religious wars continued, amping up until Elijah was responsible for putting Jehu on the throne after the death of Ahab. That’s when Jezebel meets her death. She’s pitched out a palace window by Jehu’s supporters and eaten by dogs – just as Elijah had foretold.
Even as Jezebel was defenestrated, Jehu was ordering the death of all of Ahab’s descendants, possible rivals for the throne. And yet he’s the hero and Jezebel the villain.
It’s easy to make a case that Jezebel was behaving no worse than any other bloodthirsty would-be ruler in ancient times.
But forget the good book. It’s what Jezebel has come to mean over the years that is truly problematic. A jezebel is a schemer, a temptress, a woman bent on getting her way. She’s wicked, evil. Bad to the bone.
The 1938 Bette Davis movie casts Davis as Julie, a spoiled, arrogant New Orleans debutante. The film is titled Jezebel, but maybe that’s a bit too strong. Julie is a brat, but her biggest crime is showing up in a red dress when all the other girls are wearing white. Things go downhill from there, but Julie ultimately grows up and makes a noble sacrifice.
By 1930s standards, a jezebel was a hussy.
Doubtless that’s why the website Jezebel has reclaimed the name, making it a feminist statement.
Indie darlings Iron & Wine recorded a lovely song called “Jezebel,” though it references windows and dogs, too.
But websites and song lyrics do not have to introduce themselves to new classmates and co-workers.
If the sound attracts you, respelling might be an option. Jessabel, maybe?
Or do you just charge forward and use Jezebel, assuming that, like Delilah, her bad girl roots are fading into ancient days?
While I admire the spirit behind reclaiming a name, I have a tough time with Jezebel. The lyrics to “Stay With Me” float through my brain: red lips, hair, and fingernails … I hear you’re a mean old jezebel.
She’s not unthinkable in 2013, but Jezebel remains an eye-popping, jaw-dropping daring choice for a daughter.