Thanks to Katharine for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Even if you’ve never been to church, you know the story.
Noah and his family gathered the animals two by two and weathered the Biblical deluge. After the Great Flood receded, they re-populated the known world.
Puritan parents loved the story, and used his name for their sons. Modern parents are fans, too, and Noah became the #1 name in the US from 2013 to 2016.
But there’s a similar sounding name i the Bible, and it belongs to a girl.
The boy’s name, with the ‘h’ at the end, comes from a word meaning rest. Take away the ‘h’, and this is a feminine name, meaning movement.
In Hebrew, the ‘h’ is pronounced, making the names even more different. (It sounds a little like Noach.) But in English, they sound exactly the same.
There’s a second bearer of the name in the Old Testament.
She’s one of the five daughters of Zelophehad.
Noa and her sisters inherited Zelophehad’s property despite custom dictating that women could not inherit. The young women petitioned Moses and their community leaders to make their case – and won.
It’s an interesting story, and one much-discussed amongst Biblical scholars.
While the Hebrew roots of this girl’s name seem most familiar in an American context, it’s not the only potential Noa origin story.
In Japan, the meaning of Noa can be “love,” based on the kanji used to write the name.
Some sites list an Arabic origin. The Old Testament Noah is considered a prophet in Islam, so it’s reasonable to expect to hear Noah – or Nuh – in the Arabic and Islamic worlds.
However, there’s apparently an Arabic word nowa, which means nucleus – or, perhaps more broadly, center. It seems like a stretch.
It’s also sometimes listed as Hawaiian, though it does not appear to be a given name, but a word meaning commoner.
Regardless of other possible origins for Noa, it’s caught on across Europe.
It’s been popular in Spain, Portugal, and Belgium. Noa has held the #1 spot in the Netherlands, and it’s also been the most popular name for girls in Israel in recent years.
Of course, it’s also – in several languages – simply the preferred masculine spelling of Noah.
Characters by the name have appeared in Japanese animated series Fullmetal Alchemist, and the extended Star Wars universe – though the Star Wars character is male.
The most famous women are almost all Israeli – there’s a singer who has represented Israel in the EuroVision Song Contest, as well as actress Noa Tishby, who has guest starred on many a prime time drama in the US.
Fun fact for weather watchers: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – home of the National Weather Service, among other functions – is abbreviated NOAA, and commonly pronounced just like Noah/Noa.
That’s not quite enough to make the baby name Noa a household name. But it’s caught on nevertheless.
BY THE NUMBERS
The baby name Noa was nearly unknown in the US until the 1990s.
What explains the increased popularity of the name Noa?
Odds are that it’s down to two factors: first, as the name caught on internationally, some American parents would take notice. But chances are it also appealed to parents who liked Noah for a boy.
The combination of factors led to a slow, steady increase in the popularity of Noa.
By the year 2000, over 100 girls a year received the name.
In 2014, Noa debuted in the US Top 1000 at #935.
As of 2021, it reached a respectable #330. That’s not quite common, but neither is it rare.
ENERGETIC MINI NAME
The baby name Noa fits with more than one trend.
It’s a mini name, like baby girl names Mia and Ava. Despite separate roots from the Book of Genesis’ Noah, it feels borrowed from the boys, a style that puts it in the company of Harper and Quinn.
The meaning – movement – is another bonus.
If you’re looking for an energetic mini name that feels nicely international and just a little bit unexpected in the US, then the baby name Noa might be just right for you.
What do you think of the baby name Noa?
This post was originally published on September 20, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on March 24, 2016 and again on January 3, 2022.