The once popular Tammy feels rather insubstantial circa 2008, but her original form retains quite a bit of strength and style.

Thanks to Another for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Tamar.

We all know that many of our most beloved Biblical monikers were used sparingly until after the Protestant Reformation, when parents shed saints’ names in favor of choices like Nathan, Joshua and Rebecca. A similar phenomenon happened among Jewish families in the 20th century, especially in Israel, as they sought names that could be considered appropriate for their faith, but different from those favored by their ancestors.

A trio of Tamars appear in the Old Testament: Judah’s daughter-in-law; King David’s daughter and Absalom’s daughter. Because one is raped, and another referred to as a prostitute, the names were long considered taboo. But the three are actually rather virtuous characters, and their travails are less likely to deter parents in our more enlightened times.

Tamar carries an appealing meaning – it’s Hebrew for date palm or palm tree – so there’s a nice nature twist for parents unwilling to go as far as Willow.

A mythological Tamar surfaces in the tales of the Georgian people. We couldn’t verify whether Tamar, the serpent-riding sky goddess, has distinct etymological roots; much of Georgian mythology fused with Christianity and other traditions over the years. But it was the name of one of Georgia’s most famous rulers, Queen Tamar.

Queen Tamar presided over Georgia’s Golden Age, ruling from 1184 to 1213. She’s remembered in poetry, folk songs and is even considered a saint by the Georgian Orthodox Church. Her tale was especially popular in the late 19th century, when Georgia was considered far enough east to be romantically exotic. Characters based on the queen appear in a variety of forms from that era, including a ballet, but their historical accuracy is minimal.

While Tamar has never charted in the US Top 1000, she has inspired two names common in the 20th century: the aforementioned Tammy and the slightly more sophisticated Russian version, Tamara. The names have done well, but are on the decline today:

  • Tamara regularly appeared in the Top 100 in the 1970s. Today she ranks #702;
  • Tammy spent most of the 1960s in the Top Ten, but left the rankings after 1999;
  • Tammie, Tammi and Tami all charted from the 1950s through the 1980s, but today are even less powerful choices than Tammy. Don’t go there!

Tamsin, while sharing the same first syllable, is unrelated. Instead, she’s a contracted form of Thomasina.

While the religious vibe of Tamar might put some parents off, if Abigail and Naomi can be worn by non-religious types, then Tamar is fair game, too. We like her frills-free style (in fact, she’s included on our 25 Frills-Free Names for Girls list) and find her both current and historic.

Just don’t call her Tami.

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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  1. So bummed to see Tami, my childhood nickname, so thoroughly dismissed. As a kid, I rather liked it, it was pretty unique without being too out-there. I also liked even then that it stood on it’s own as a name in Japan – a multi-cultural name way before that was popular! In Japan, Tami means something like “Benefit of the people.” And it can also be used as a diminutive of the name Tamiko. Depending on where you look, that means “born in the spring”, “child of the people”, or “beautiful child.” Tami may be dated here, but supposedly it’s still popular over there, and why shouldn’t it be, with meanings like that?

    I was given my name specifically because my dad was never given a nickname and always wanted one when he was a boy. So when he and my mom went researching names for my siblings and I, he was adamant that we be given formal names that had recognized nicknames, so we would go by an nn as a child, but as an adult use either as we preferred. Now I also go by Tamra. Not as common as Tamara, and a little softer sounding than Tamar. Tami is still used by my family almost as an endearment (if that makes sense). Thanks at least for the history of the Georgian queen (and she’s a saint too- who knew!?)