We’ve stumbled across this one before, but admit that we knew nothing about her until Christina was good enough to nominate her as our exotic, Eastern-leaning Name of the Day: Zenaida.

You probably wouldn’t name your little boy Zeus. Who wants a thunderbolt-tossing, swan-seducing son? Nonetheless, the Greek feminine name Zenais traces her roots to the traditional chief Olympian.

While Zenais is all but extinct these days, she’s generated a quartet of slightly more wearable, slightly more common monikers: Zenaida, Zinaida, Zenobia and the French Zénaïde.

We don’t know how many ancients wore a version of the name, but around the year 100, a pair of highly educated Jewish sisters called Zenaida and Philonella became Christians and physicians. They set up shop near Thessaly, caring for the sick without regard for their ability to pay. Some reports say they lived long lives; others tell us they were stoned to death by pagans. In any case, both became saints in Eastern Orthodox tradition.

The spelling Zinaida is the preferred translation from Russian, and you’ll find plenty of Slavic bearers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Should you travel to Moscow, you’ll hear it given a four-syllable sound: zee nah EE dah. Among English speakers, the shorter zay NAY dah or ze NAY dah is the norm. We think the latter is heard more often, but with rarities, that’s always a tough call.

The French version is even less common, but we mention her because of Zénaïde Bonaparte, a sometime princess who married an ornithologist. When her husband discovered a new type of dove, he named it in her honor. Today, they’re known as Zenaida doves.

Another graceful bearer of the name is the Royal Ballet of London’s Zenaida Yanowsky.

As for Zenobia, while she shares the same roots, she has a very different vibe. The most famous Zenobia was a third century Syrian queen. Following her husband’s death, she took control and went on to conquer Egypt. The Emperor Aurelian defeated her, but was so impressed by her skills, he let her live happily ever after in Tivoli.

Despite her ancient origins, Zenobia has a decidedly American spirit. Nathaniel Hawthorne used the name for his feminist character in his 1852 The Blithedale Romance. The name sometimes appeared in the US Top 1000 in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today she’s visible because of Tina Fey’s starbaby Alice Zenobia.

Zenaida and company could appeal to parents who crave the exotic and the historic. If you’re heartbroken to learn that Sophia is a Top Ten pick and fear that even Claudia and Cordelia are too familiar, a choice like this might satisfy.

Of course, with her bright “ay” sound and vibrant Z at the top, she manages to sound crisp and modern, too. We can see Zenaida substituting for Mikayla.

If you’re looking for unusual, you can’t do much better than Zenaida.

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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What do you think?


  1. Hey! I’ve been doing some research on Zenaida, and I think it’s a wonderful name. While you’re correct about the meaning in Greek, ‘Life of Zeus’, it has a second, less heard of meaning: Zenaida Macroura is the Latin name for the Mourning Dove. A much prettier and a little more tragic meaning, I think.

    By the way, I frequent this namesite every day. Love it and you!

  2. Hello! It’s nice to see a compiled & lengthy historical account to my name. I go by Zeneida though, a name I inherited from my Spanish great grandmother, she was the one who raised my mother you see. Anyway, I’m from the Philippines, & the name Zenaida is or was more common here, though not Ze-ney-dah, the one I go by. Perhaps you can add that to your list of Zenaida name versions?

  3. Zenaida was my grandmother’s name – thank you Verity for this wonderful post! Like Erica’s aunt, she used the Spanish zeh-NYE-da pronunciation.

    My dd is in her 20s and has Zenaida on her list for her future babies. I know of one who goes by Zeni (ZEH-nee), and agree with Laney that Zaida would be a great nickname.

    I’m glad that you added the related names, and what wonderful stories you’ve included! Brilliant to offer her as an alternative to Sophia, Claudia, Cordelia and Mikayla. All great names, but always good to toss in some “new” old ones.

    Lola – absolutely LOVE Zenaida Ruby Frances!

  4. Zenaida is a great name! I’ve never even heard of it until I read your post, but now I’m adding it to my favorites list. I love Zaida for a nickname. I would pronounce Zenaida as Za-nay-da.

    I think you just gave me a name for one of my story characters too. lol

  5. Oh, been there, done that! On the bright side, it does get better, I told you when she was little Josephine was indeed a Fifi, complete, right? 😆 And think of this, typing one-handed? new skill! 😀

  6. Zee Zee – that is a great nickname! Ida is appealing, too, though I think Ida/EYE dah is catching on as an independent name – there’s a new one in our ‘hood. That’s the second I’ve met recently.

    I like Zaida, too and Lola, that’s an interesting point about the embedded operatic link – I hadn’t thought of it.

    Clio is fabulous, but she refuses to let me put her down. Oh MY does she have lungs. I’m learning to type one-handed!

  7. Hi. I’m a longtime lurker, but I just had to post. Zenaida is my aunt’s name. She pronounces it ze-NYE-da, but no one calls her that. She uses Ida (EE-da) instead. It’s somewhat common in the Philippines (where we’re from), though mostly for older people.
    My cousin named her daughter after her two grandmothers, Zenaida Helen. Everyone in our family calls her Zee Zee but at school she goes by Zenaida. She’s 9 now and really likes her name, but I think she especially likes that she has the same name as her grandma 🙂

  8. Wow! What an awesome NotD! I automatically use the default 4 syllable pronunciation, not because I’ve heard it that way before (I’ve never run across someone with this name at all, family or not!) but I am familiar with Aida (eye-EE-da), the Opera, and that element in is the name Zinaida, hence my default pronuncation! 😀 If I considered this, I’d go with Zenaida, but shhh… he’s stuck on Zuleika and I’m almost there myself. (I used to work with an Aida, and she siad I was the only one who said her name right from the start!)

    Zenaida is GORGEOUS. Lyrical, lovely to say and most definitely a standout, looks wise. The dove connection makes it even more appealing to me, even. Thinking: How outr