Depending on your age and interests, the letters I-R-A might signify a retirement account, the Irish Republican Army or a Colombian punk band. But it’s also a boy’s name, and one that’s seldom heard in the US circa 2008.

Thanks to Katharine for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Ira.

Ira is a name with no margin for error. With just three letters, it’s completely nickname-proof. For some parents, that’s part of his appeal.

Pronounced EYE rah, he was once a staple. In the late 19th century, he was as common as Oliver, Theodore or Alexander – a top 100 choice. But he’s slipped a little with every passing decade, until he left the ranking entirely after 1992.

But Ira fits in with a group of unlikely names that are gaining in popularity – the Biblical boys. In the Old Testament, Ira was a priest and advisor to King David. While there’s limited etymological information, the consensus is that the name means “watchful” and comes from the Hebrew. If Eli and Gideon can be rediscovered, Ira starts to sound he’s due for a rebirth, too.

In fact, Ira came into common use during the Protestant Reformation, when parents sought to avoid saints’ names in favor of monikers they discovered in the pages of the Good Book.

There have been a flock of notable Iras:

  • Ira Glass can be heard hosting NPR’s This American Life.
  • Along with brother George, Ira Gershwin contributed to some of the most memorable Broadway tunes – I Got Rhythm and Someone to Watch Over Me are among his hits.
  • Ira Allen, brother to Ethan, was a founder of Vermont and the driving force behind the establishment of the University of Vermont. He donated the original 50 acres that are part of the campus at Burlington today.
  • Writer Ira Levin penned such memorable suspense novels as The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby.

Ira also pops up as a feminine moniker from time to time. It’s an established nickname for the Slavic Irina and the Indian Indira.

Vowel names are hot and ends-in-a for boys is a growing category, too. So for parents who find Noah overexposed, and feel that Ezra hasn’t gone far enough, Ira might be the logical choice – extremely uncommon, but still familiar.

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’ve got a pretty big crush on Ira Glass and have totally fallen in love with the name. Seth Rogen plays Ira Wright in the 2009 movie Funny People. Ira is definitely in my top 5. 🙂

  2. I like Ira, but it also reminds me of the Johnny Cash song, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” lol Yes, I am a hick.

  3. I think I have to agree with Another on this one. It sounds a bit old and dated to me, certainly not fresh at all. I also have to add that for some reason or another, I feel Ira sounds a bit feminine.

    Don’t get me wrong though, I do like Ezra, Noah, Elijah and other ending in -a boys’ names bit I happen to know a little girl named Ira. She was in my younger daughter’s grade 1 class.

    Yeah, I think this name does need to hibernate for a bit longer before it gets revived.

  4. The only Ira I’ve ever met is Israeli – and about my age, 30-something. But I take your point, Another. Names do need to hibernate for them sound fresh again. So if you knew a lot of aged Iras in your youth, there’s no way he’d sound like a good option now.

    Then again, I once felt that way about Charlie, and now it seems like every small boy I know is called Charlie.

    Personally, I’d probably use Ezra before Ira, but only because I have an affection for the letter “Z.” I love boys’ names that end in vowels.

    BTW, my brother probably would’ve been Ethan had my mother had her way – but my father campaigned hard for a “junior” instead and after three daughters, well, my mother caved. It’s another great name, common or not, that suits a small child as well as a grown man.

  5. ‘Undiscovered gem of a name’ hits the nail on the head! There is something so bold and untouchable about Ira.

  6. Ira Gershwin was my first thought! Wasn’t there an Ira on some 80’s show? (Mad About You, I think) And I didn’t know Ethan Allen had a brother… it’s not something we really studied in school, apparently. I knew one as a kid, too. of course he was an old man then. My folks made my brother & I go around the neighborhood raking leaves, shoveling snow or weeding for the older couples in the neighborhood, Ira and Izzy [Isidore] were the guys, Helen & Henrietta were their wives (Ira & Helen, Izzy & Henrietta). Great people, really sweet to us kids, so I have nothing but good memories tied to these 4 names (in particular).

    Back to Ira. Simple to spell (great for a three year old learning to spell, hmm?), strong and handsome. The IRA connections (both money & militant) don’t really bother me much at all (but then, my front runner is Cosmo, so who am I to judge?). So I say Ira’s an undiscovered gem of a name. I think he’d make a great brother to Ezra, even!

  7. Well, being a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, this name says only one thing to me, and that’s OLD JEWISH MAN. While I have known and liked many an Ira, they were all elderly gentlemen. I don’t know if this name fits in with my idea of “fresh, new”. Allen’s brother Ethan, however, is a favorite of mine. Not only do I love the furniture, but I named my son Ethan. At the time I had no idea how popular it was, but it just appealed to me. For me, Ira is on the Jedediah, Josiah, Ezra list: too Jewish. I know a lot of people will argue that everyone uses Biblical names, but in the end I’m a product of my environment.