Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every Saturday, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.
We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!
I’m sure you’ve heard this a zillion times before, but my husband and I cannot agree on a name.
We are expecting our second, a girl, in January. Our first is a boy, named Tom Lev after my grandmother Tmima Liberman. It means ‘pure hearted’ in Hebrew.
I am Jewish with an Israeli background. My husband has Irish roots and is from the Midwest. Ideally, we would find a name that has meaning in both Hebrew and Gaelic.
So far we have come up with:
- Aden. I like the name, but it sounds so trendy and androgynous. I was hoping for a more feminine name.
- Another name we both agree on (but neither of us love) is Ava. I like that it is a classic name and is very feminine, but I wish it had a deeper meaning to us.
- We both like Isobel as well, but in Hebrew it translates to Jezebel … so that’s a no.
Please read on for my response, and leave your helpful suggestions in the comments!
Congratulations on baby #2!
Choosing a name that works in more than one language and culture presents a certain set of challenges. On the flip side, it’s an opportunity to find a name that is uniquely meaningful for your family – just like your son’s name!
Let’s take a look at your preferences for a daughter’s name:
- Something that combines Hebrew/Israeli roots and Irish heritage, too.
- A name that is more conventionally feminine.
Sometimes parents are hoping to find a name that is nearly identical in two separate languages. That’s not impossible, but it can be limiting. I think you’re right to look for something that works for both heritages, but are taking a more flexible approach.
Here are my suggestions:
Ada – You seem to have a preference for shorter names – Ava, Tom, Lev. And so I wonder if you’d consider Ada? In Hebrew, it means adornment, and reminds me of several names used for girls in modern Israel: Adira, Adina. Strictly speaking, it isn’t an Irish name. Ada’s other roots are Germanic, where it means noble. But it should be familiar in Irish, and I found a mid-nineteenth century actress called Ada Dyas, who found success on the stage in London and New York. There’s also Ada Lovelace, who makes a pretty fabulous namesake.
Anya – It’s a possible phonetic spelling of Áine, which means radiant. In myth, Áine was queen of the fairies. Anya and Áine are also considered forms of Anne. Anya makes me think of Enya, as in the singer. Altogether, it’s a definite Irish heritage choice. While it isn’t expressly Hebrew, I suspect it would be reasonably familiar in Israel today, if only because it is so widely used in Europe.
Atara – Is this a little bit too out there for you? It caught my eye because I think of Tara as so very Irish – though, of course, that’s more to do with Gone With the Wind! Still, Tara has been popular in Ireland as well as the US. But Atara is a Hebrew name meaning crown.
Dara – Dara is a truly international name, with several possible origins and meanings. Some of those origins are Irish – and one is Hebrew! Tom and Dara sound like siblings, and while Dara has never been common in the US, it’s certainly recognized as a given name.
Dinah – Dinah is a Hebrew name, given to the daughter of Jacob and Leah in the Book of Genesis. I don’t know how common it is in Ireland, but there’s a strong Irish heritage connection. The traditional folksong “The Holy Ground” begins with these lines: Fare thee well, my lovely Dinah. A thousand times adieu. We are bound away from the Holy Ground and the girls we love so true.
Lea, Leah – Another name from Genesis is Leah. It’s not common in Ireland, but it’s not unknown. It’s written without the final ‘h’ in Irish versions of the Bible. Singer Leah McFall is at least one Irish woman with the name.
Lily – Lily is quite popular in Ireland today, and while it isn’t familiar as a given name in Hebrew, a name with the same meaning is: Shoshana. I love Shoshana, or even better, Shoshannah. But with a short, nature-related name for your son, I think Lily would be the better choice.
Molly – You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I found Molly listed in Kveller’s Baby Name Finder. Molly seems like the ultimate Irish girl name to me – blame James Joyce, I suppose. But it was also used by many Jewish immigrants to the US, probably through a process like this one, transforming Rywka to Becky. I’m not sure if that makes Molly an acceptable name from your family’s perspective, but I think it’s worth consideration. Other short
Mira, Mara – If you’re looking for something slightly less common, how about Mira? It has roots in Hebrew, where it means rising water. But it also comes from the Slavic element miru – peace. Mara is a little more conventionally Irish – the surname O’Mara is familiar. But I think either name makes for a culture-spanning possibility.
Rachel – Because you have Isobel on your list, I was tempted to find another ends-in-l option. The only one that seemed well-used in Ireland, while having definitely Hebrew roots was Rachel. The name means ewe, which gives both of your children’s name reference to animals – the lion and the lamb! That’s rather poetic. I do think Rachel is one of those frills-free names that isn’t exactly exciting or style-forward. But that’s it’s strength. Without being as classic as Katherine, Rachel is an enduring choice.
I think Ada is my favorite. It’s less common than Ava, and there’s lots of history and meaning layered on the name. It’s feminine, and pairs well Tom. The meaning – noble – is great, too. Ada Lily, maybe?
Readers, what would you suggest as a sister for Tom Lev? Are there some great Hebrew-Irish crossover names I’ve overlooked?
My daughter and son-in-law are the same mix of backgrounds, so I often take a look at possible names. On a list of Irish names from a site called “BabyNameGuide.com,” I came across the name Leila coming from Hebrew origins and having the meaning dark beauty.
I’d be wary of sites like that — Leila isn’t an Irish name, and in Hebrew [as a transliteration of לַיְלָה] it means “night”.
Hi, I hope I’m not too late to help.
About the suggestions, Atara is used in Modern Hebrew to refer to part of the penis. Similarly, Nora means terrible in Modern Hebrew. Not necessarily relevant if you are living in an English speaking country, but worth knowing before you make a decision.
My first thought was Orla. A classic Irish name that sounds like the common Hebrew names Or (light) and Orli (my light). Orla, nicknamed Orli/ Orly would be very sweet.
More generally, here are some Israeli names that work well in English. I’ve excluded biblical names with long history of use in English (Sara, Ruth, Naomi.. etc. ) but they are also a possibility.
Lielle (Liel, or Lee-Elle)
I think there can be some beautiful pairings of both heritage choices. I’m picking some of my favorite Hebrew names and my favorite gaelic names.
Perhaps hubs could write a list of his favorite Hebrew names, you could write out your favorite irish heritage name list and then make interesting combos.
Edna and Amaris come to mind.
Eden, Adva means “seafoam” in hebrew, Uma means “the nation” in hebrew,
I met a little two year old Rachel at work the other day and she really made me rethink the name. I only know Rachels my own age, and it was surprisingly fresh on a little girl! It does strike a lot of the same cords as Isobel.
My suggestion is Maeve for its similarities to Ava, and its spare, Irish vibe. I can picture it with a more recognizably Hebrew middle name (Liora perhaps).
C in DC says
I know a handful of Rachels under the age of 5. Strangely, they all have one older sister.
I think Eve, Nora, and Ona are all AMAZING beautiful suggestions.
I love that Tom Lev means ‘pure hearted’, and perhaps Natalie could combine two short names to come up with another beautiful meaning. As with Latin and Greek names, Hebrew names tend to transcend their roots and are used in many, if not all, Judeo-Christian cultures. So for a name of Hebrew origin that is used in Irish culture, such as Rachel, there is a very generous pool of names to choose from. But for a name to be both Hebrew and Gaelic on their own terms is far more tricky.
Although Natalie was not that specific in her request, there are nonetheless some names that have different meanings in Hebrew and Gaelic. Please keep in mind that I don’t speak either language, and as we know, the meanings of names are often incorrectly translated online. I also don’t know how to differentiate between Irish and Scottish Gaelic. So I apologize in advance for any terrible mistakes!
Cara – ‘Beloved friend’ in Gaelic, and ‘cold’ in Hebrew, not sure if it’s used as a name though.
Nora – in Gaelic it typically derives from Honora/Honor, and in Hebrew it means ‘light’.
Tara – Already mentioned before. Meaning ‘hill’ in Gaelic. Besides Atara, could it also be a diminutive for Tamara ‘palm tree’ in Hebrew?
Mor/Mora – ‘Myrrh’ in Hebrew, perhaps also a diminutive of Moriah ‘God teaches’ and in Gaelic ‘mor’ means ‘great’. I’m not sure if Mor is unisex in Hebrew, or just a girl’s name.
Beth/Betha – In Scottish Gaelic, it means ‘life’. In Hebrew it means ‘house’ or is a diminutive of Elizabeth ‘oath/pledge to God’.
Barra – A place name for an island in Scotland with many Gaelic speakers either named for Saint Barr and Saint Finnbarr, both from Ireland, and in Hebrew Barra means ‘To select’.
Fina – diminutive of Fiona ‘white, fair’ and in Hebrew a diminutive of Fifna ‘He shall add’.
Ona – Hebrew ‘graceful’ and an ancient Irish name also written as Una and Oona meaning both ‘lamb’ and the
‘personification of beauty and truth’.
Anya – A variation of the Hebrew Hannah ‘gracious’ and a phonetic spelling of Aine, ancient Irish goddess of summer.
Zena Eve says
I think Eve would be a great choice!
I would also like to offer the suggestion of Doveva as a potential middle name.
I love the name suggestions! I especially like Rachel, since it connects your kids names through meaning.
Since you like Ava so much, how about Eva? Or even Eve?
Another suggestion is Abigail, which is Hebrew and ends in “L” like Isobel.
Dinah, a great suggestion! Love the heritage connections. A sweet spot name–underused but recognizable. Feminine but frills free. Yes, please!
What great suggestions. Never would have thought of Leah, and Rachel is such a classic!