She’s a supermodel and an ancient city.
Thanks to Annelise for suggesting Petra as Name of the Day.
The classic Peter has been in steady use for centuries, and was a staple in the US until quite recently. (He left the Top 100 in 1996 and today stands at #178.) But names like Henry and George, David and Andrew all rise and fall over time. Odds are that Peter will make a comeback sooner rather than later.
Petra shares her brother’s roots – from the Greek petros, or stone – but has never been nearly as popular. In the US, she ranked in the Top 1000 every year from 1880 through 1951, but rarely darted into the Top 500. She peaked at #493 in 1929. And since 1973, she’s been headed for obscurity.
And yet Petra has much to recommend her.
Thanks to the popularity of Peter, Petra also translates into most European languages. Actresses, athletes and other notables have worn the name in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Sweden and the Netherlands. She’s been in the Czech Republic’s Top Ten in recent years. Petra is solidly pan-European – the kind of highly portable name that would suit a diplomat.
Probably the most famous Petra of the moment is Czech-born model Petra Němcová. She graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s famous Swimsuit Issue in 2003. While you might not name your daughter after a pretty face, she has a solid reputation as a philanthropist, too. After a near-death experience in Thailand’s 2004 tsunami – and the loss of her boyfriend – Petra has worked on behalf of disaster relief across the globe, while also returning to her career in front of the camera.
Petra is also found on maps of the ancient world. Nearly a century before the birth of Christ, the Nabateans built Petra in the Arabah, a valley stretching from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. (That’s modern day Jordan, but I couldn’t resist all of those poetic place names.)
The city was hidden under desert sands until 1812, when explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered the site and began excavations. They’re still digging today.
Oxford academic John William Burgon’s specialized in religion, but his prize-winning poem Petra is among his best-known accomplishments. He described the Petra as “from the rock as if by magic grown” and “a rose-red city half as old as time.” Burgon was never actually there.
You’ve probably seen pictures of Petra, though – in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the hero finally puts his hand on the Holy Grail inside a Nabatean tomb often referred to as the Treasury of the Pharaoh.
The ancient world lends Petra an exotic edge, but perhaps her real strength is her similarity to current favorites like Emma and Hannah. As parents seek out new old choices like Clara and Eliza, Petra could fit right in.