Name of the Day: Petra

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 Nฤ›mcovรก. 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.

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14 Comments

There’s a British (Welsh) actress called Petra Davis who must be over 80 now. Seeing her in a television play was my first introduction to the name Petra and I really liked it. It’s only recently that I made the connection to “petrified” and now all I hear (and fear) when I think of the name is playground teasing. Shame, as I still like the name.

If only I could talk my husband in to Petra….I love it!
We visited Petra, Jordan a few years ago, so that definitely adds to the appeal.
I love the meaning, sense of culture, and uniqueness. I’ll keep trying. ๐Ÿ™‚

I have to say I’m rather impartial to Petra – I’d rather hear her on someone else’s daughter than Sienna, Olivia or Mia, but she’s not for me. I dislike Emma, Hannah and Eliza, but I adore Clara. She does match Eliza’s feel to me, not that it’s mentioned!

She just sounds rather harsh to my ear, and I don’t get much femininity from her, as she reminds me a lot of Peta. In general I prefer softer, freer feminine names!

I’ve got the Ender’s Game association too, but that doesn’t deter me! At one point I think she was at number 3 in my top, now she’s slipped down a bit. Perhaps time for a revival? Only problem is nicknames- “Pet” is, of course, a little demeaning! ๐Ÿ˜›

I think Petra is so cool, and would love to use it, but Erik says it reminds him of the band too much. He did give Petronel an enthusiastic two-thumbs-up, so I am think Petra and Petal would make adorable nicknames for that!

I love love Petra. Love this name.

My husband won’t go for it because of the former rock band and also because he associates it with one of his favorite books (and therefore finds it a bit exotic) – a character in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.

Not for me – I have negative associations with Petra. Emmy Jo, I think it was mainly because of that band that my dh used petrameansrock a long time ago as a User Name.

This is one of those names that doesn’t work for me because of association. In the 1980’s, there was a very well-known Christian rock band called Petra. Though they had some great songs, they completely ruined Petra as a girls’ name for me: I hear the name and all I can think of are mullets.

Aside from that association, I’m not sure I would like Petra’s sounds. They’re rather hard and sharp (kind of like rocks, come to think about it). Emma, Hannah, and Clara are much softer in feel — even Eliza’s snazzy Z doesn’t have the hard edge of Petra’s P and T.

I am charmed by Petra. I thoroughly like it and find it simple & sweet. I don’t like the lack of nicknames but styll like it. I liked it enough to briefly consider it when I was pregnant with Josephine. All I git from him on Petra was “fied” And that was that. ๐Ÿ™

I still like Petra and wish she were used a bit more. I so want to see Petra used!

Love Petra! It has a lovely sound and history. I could see using it, but it doesn’t have much in the way of great nicknames – its main downfall for me. I asked my (British) husband about Petra and his impression is pretty much the opposite of mine – while it reads distinguished, refined, and elegant to me, his take is salt of the earth and low class due to a character on a soap in the UK. He rarely goes for the feminized male names anyway. But from me – an enthusiastic “yes”!

I really like Petra. I kept mis-remembering and thinking Ani DiFranco had named her daughter that, but she actually went with Petah Lucia.

I like it. I wouldn’t use it – but I know a few who would. It’s a bit too cutting edge for me (even though its history would argue it’s a classic).