She’s an Old Testament matriarch and a twentieth century staple.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Rebecca as Name of the Day.
Choose your fictional Rebecca. From Vanity Fair’s opportunistic Becky Sharp to the buoyantly optimistic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the name has been worn by dozens of characters.
Real life Rebeccas are equally plentiful. In the US, the name peaked at #10 in the 1970s, but has never truly fallen out of favor. Even in her least popular year – 1926 – Rebecca ranked #185. In 2008, she was #119 – past her moment, but still in steady use. She’s also in the Top 100s in Italy and Denmark, Canada and the UK.
And why not? The Old Testament Rivkah was wife to Isaac and mother of Esau and Jacob. She’s considered a compassionate and loyal character. Along with Isaac, Abraham and Sarah and Jacob and Leah, she is believed to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs near Hebron, south of Jerusalem. It’s among the holiest sites in the Ancient World for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Some link the name to the word for noose or binding, while others suggest that it actually means connected – a similar word, but with a very different spirit.
Rivka became Rhebekka in Greek. During the early seventeenth century creation of the King James Bible, the Rebekah was favored. Both names were in amongst medieval Jews.
Rebecca is generally considered the Latin form, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman using the spelling much before the 1600s. That’s around the time she caught on with Puritan parents and came to the American colonies. Unlike fellow Biblical picks Keziah and Jemima, Rebecca has remained.
Besides the two literary characters mentioned earlier, there’s:
- Television’s Becky Conner, one of the daughters on Roseanne and Rebecca Howe, Kirstie Alley’s character on Cheers;
- More recently there’s Becky Bloomwood, heroine of the Shopaholic chic-lit series turned movie;
- Similarly, Rebecca Dopplemeyer graduated from the pages of the Ghost World graphic novels for a big screen adaptation;
- Actresses wearing the name include Rebecca Romijn, Rebecca de Mornay and Rebecca Gayheart;
- “Rebecca Came Back from Mecca” was a popular song in the 1920s.
But the most memorable Rebecca might be the one we never see. Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca was a hit and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Oscar-winning adaptation remains a classic. Despite the fact that Rebecca is unseen – and not blameless – the name benefits from the romance and drama of the story.
Just like Damien was boosted by The Omen, Rebecca’s ascent was helped along by the book and film. In 1937, Rebecca ranked #166. By 1941, she was #86 and would climb every year into the 1970s. A German-language musical version debuted in Vienna in 2006, and it is said to be headed for Broadway.
As for Rebekah, she’s a valid variant, but far less common in recent years. She reached the 140s in the 1980s and 90s, and stands at #354 today.
There’s nothing unusual about Rebecca, but she remains a solid choice – steadfast but with a touch of romance. For parents today, she might strike that elusive balance of familiarity without being shared – at least not by other girls in her class.