baby name ZoraZora recently returned to the US Top 1000, after over sixty years away.

Thanks to Laney for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


This name comes from a Slavic word meaning dawn. It’s used in the Balkans, as well as Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

American parents embraced Dawn in the 1960s, for its hopeful, sunny vibe. Gilligan’s Island made Dawn Wells a star as Mary Ann Summers in the same decade. And Frank Valli and the Four Seasons released their upbeat, mournful plea Dawn in 1964. (Listen here. Dawn, go away, I’m no good for you …)

We still love names related to the night sky, like Luna and Stella. This one fits right in. It’s also another Emma name: two-syllables, ends-with-a, and feels complete without being too elaborate.

Plenty of variations can be found, too: Zorana and Zorina, Zarja and Zorica. But it’s the simplest form that seems most likely to appeal to parents in the US, and that’s thanks to another set of names.

Nora and Friends

Nora, Cora, and Aurora appear in the current US Top 100. Other spellings and more -ora names, like Norah and Kora, Amora and Elora, rank in the Top 1000.

It’s a sound that appeals to parents, and feels very current for a daughter today.

Factor in our appreciation of the letter Z, and it’s easy to see Zora as the same … but just different enough.

Renaissance Woman

It’s also a name with impeccable literary roots, thanks to Zora Neale Hurston.

The Harlem Renaissance was underway when Zora Neale Hurston arrived in New York City in 1925. She was soon at the center of the movement, publishing the literary magazine Fire!! with Langston Hughes and several other writers we still read today.

In 1937, she penned Their Eyes Were Watching God, still considered one of the most important novels of the 20th century.

Beyond her literary achievements, Hurston studied anthropology at Barnard, collected and published African-American folk tales, and traveled to Haiti and Jamaica to study their traditions.

She was largely forgotten, only to be rediscovered in the 1970s, thanks to writer Alice Walker and others interested in the Harlem Renaissance.

By the Numbers

Maybe this name sounds modern, but it’s actually exactly right for Ms. Hurston. She was born in 1891, and Zora ranked in the US Top 1000 most years from 1880 through 1939.

Then it faded, and dwindled to almost nothing. Around a dozen girls received the name most years from the 1960s into the 1980s. Only in the 1990s did Zora slowly start to climb in use once more.

It wasn’t specific to Zora, of course. None of the -ora names fared well in those years.

But today they’re back. With an appealing meaning drawn from the natural world, a literary pedigree tied to the Harlem Renaissance, and that great first initial, Zora feels like a successor to Ava and Zoe, Aurora and Zara. If you’re after something simple, feminine, and just slightly different, but with lots of backstory, this could be the name for you.

First published on October 13, 2009, this post was revised substantially and re-published on July 10, 2019.

baby name Zora

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.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. I’ve always thought Zora would work beautifully as a nickname/short form for Zipporah.

  2. I am going to guess that a few of the girls named Zora last year were named after a character in the Star Trek Discovery short film Calypso. Zora is the name taken by the sentient ship’s computer who falls in love with a stowaway she rescues. I can see some Trekkies using it.

  3. I am fortunate to be named Zora after my grandmother ‘Zora Lee Hill.’ I really love my name. It is exotic and strong. I am always given compliments about my name from inside and outside of the USA. It is a gift to have name ZORA.

  4. I’ve been seriously considering a name change from Dawn (given name) and a very English last name, to Zora (Dawn in Serbian and other languages) and my grandmother’s Italian maiden name (Paluzzi). I constantly have issues with people confusing my name for a guy, or being weird about it, both in the US and while travelling (people seem to be aware of the name Don but not Dawn). This has actually given me a lot of professional trouble for misogynist types who think a girl can’t play a brass instrument, at least they’d know up front what they are dealing with. Other people have not hired me for the Balkan music I play because I’m obviously not “from there” by my name (well, I’m not, but can play that music…a whole other can of worms). They always give me another name anyway and Zora is one I like.

    I recently found out I qualify for Italian citizenship through the grandfolk so having an Italian last name is another reason to go ahead and change the whole thing, and Zora sounds better with the last name than my own.

    I’ve never felt an association with my name (a last minute call for my parents, who were sure a “Steven” would be popping out) so this seems like a good way to call tribute.

    Don’t forget, you can always go by Zoritsa (diminuitive ie nickname) when in Spanish-speaking countries. Might be enough to confuse ’em 😉

    1. Additional factor: There is another lady who plays the same instrument as me, but with a very different vibe (pink hair and scantily clad, though at least a decent player) and genre of music. I’ve had negative associations from people who mistake me for her which is also a pain for people to prejudge me this way. So a name change to something Slavic like this also is nice to me.

    2. Hi Zora/Dawn –

      I legally changed my name when I was 28, and I always say this: it is INCREDIBLY disorienting to change your name, even when it is the exactly right choice for all of the right reasons.

      That said, changing your name from Dawn to Zora seems really quite brilliant. It preserves the meaning, but gives you a sound that feels much more like you.

      Changing your first and last name at the same time is a lot. Of course, changing your first and last name separately would present a thicket of challenges, too.

      I think you should consider what might happen professionally if you make a complete name change, and how it might change your relationships with your family and those who have known you for a long time. I also wonder if you might keep some part of your current name as a part of a new legal name – Zora Paluzzi Smith, or Zora Dawn Paluzzi … something like that.

      What do you think?