Today’s exotic moniker comes to us courtesy of Lola. Thanks for challenging us with the enchanting Zuleika.

We’ll admit it: we’re suckers for Zora, Zara, Zahara, Zelda, Zenobia and even the over-exposed Zoe. A name that starts with a Z has a little extra flair, even – dare we say it – zip.

Zuleika manages to be not only vibrant, but also legendary and clever, too.

The name’s meaning is often given as “brilliant lady” or “brilliant beauty” and said to be Persian, but that’s difficult to substantiate. In her most famous tale, she went nameless for centuries.

In both Jewish and Muslim legend, Potiphar’s wife was a beautiful noblewoman who fell hard for her handsome young manservant Joseph. Friends mocked her, but she had the last laugh. She invited them over for refreshments, passed out oranges and peeling knives and then summoned her crush into the assembly. Apparently, Joseph was such a dish that the women’s hands trembled and slipped. By the time they departed with bandaged hands, their sympathy for their friend was assured.

History’s first cougar became known as Zuleika sometime in the 700s and the name was set in stone by the 15th century Persian poet Jami’s classic work Yusuf and Zuleika.

Writers have been borrowing the couple’s appellations ever since.

Rudyard Kipling attached the surname Cubbins and penned an 1886 poem casting Zuleika Cubbins as a philandering wife whose affairs led to her husband Potiphar’s advancement.

In 1911, Max Beerbohm authored a critical look at college life at Oxford entitled Zuleika Dobson. His enchantress is the granddaughter of a college official who comes to visit. She makes waves from the first moment she alights at the train station:

All the youths, under her spell, were now quite oblivious of the relatives they had come to meet. Parents, sisters, cousins, ran unclaimed about the platform. Undutiful, all the youths were forming a serried suite to their enchantress. In silence they followed her. They saw her leap into the Warden’s landau … Nor was it until the landau was lost to sight that they turned – how slowly, and with how bad a grace – to look for their relatives.

Zuleika goes on to make all the young men fall in love with her and leaves behind a wave of heartbroken suicides as she departs by train … headed for Cambridge.

With these stories in mind, some might class Zuleika with Jezebel – too much of a temptress’ name to bestow upon a daughter. But this one is far more obscure than that Biblical bad girl, and Zuleika comes across as clever and sharp, even if she’s no innocent.

While Zuleika has never appeared in the US Top 1000, the name has been worn by at least a handful of women in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Zuleika appears in US census records, as well as on the Australian voting rolls.

We’ve assumed that the name is pronounced zoo LIE kah, but it’s the only possible interpretation – at least some favor zoo LAY kah, too. What we love about the name is the nickname option Zuzu. While it’s usually derived from Suzanne or Susan – think of Zuzu Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life – we think it makes Zuleika wearable for a child, too.

It could be a great middle name, reminiscent of Tina Fey’s Alice Zenobia.

Lastly, should you choose this appealing name for your darling daughter, you can fieldtrip to the Brooklyn Museum to see John Singer Sargent’s painting by the name. That’s something that Kaylie and Rylee won’t share.

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. My name is Zuleika also yay !!.. thx mom!!
    I’m having a baby girl and i am goin to name her “Umi Zuleika ” aww … ;P

  2. I’m a Zuleika too. My family pronounces it Zul-ee-ka (I’ve met several others on Facebook who pronounce it this way as well) .but nearly everyone calls me Zulie (like Julie but with a Z)

  3. also like the pron. zu-lee-kah…lei could be the long e sound….i like zainob or zenobia better, but zuleikah is surely lovely and cool/unique, in this part of the world. [US]

  4. I am a Zuleika, with the pronounciation Zoo-lie-ka.

    I used to hate my name, as noone can pronounce it and noone else is called it, but it has grown on me. there are so many nicknames that i have been called, when i was a baby my parents called me ‘leiky’, my sister calls me ‘zu’, friends ‘zuey’, the list is endless!

    I think what makes the name so special is that noone else is called it, and i like that about the name, at least i do now i am old enough to appreciate it!

  5. Hello, I thought Id put in a bit about my name! I am a Zuleika, all though my mum chose the pronunciation Zoo-l-ca with the middle lei sounding like the phonetic L.
    I have loved growing up with this name, I was a Zuzu as a young child a Zu as a teen and now a Zuleika, it is a name that grows with you. Whilst travelling in the middle east I met a few girls with the same name but the pronunciation there is Zoo-Lay-ha with the last syllable being soft and breathy, in Egyptian children’s stories Zuleika is a fairy princess.
    Its nice to have a name with such history, Im a Zuleika Madeline I think there are so many choices of second name that fit with it, all I can say is Thankyou Mum!

  6. Zephyr seems like a stretch, but the nickname Zef feels promising. I’ll give it a try – he’s NotD on August 30.

  7. I have to say, I would have dismissed this as a made up name before now. I love Zuzu as a nickname, but this is a bit much for my personal taste. I wouldn’t mind meeting a Zuleika, though!

  8. I think I’d pair Zuleika with Octavia- it’s a pretty name, and it’s definitely dfferent but I think it just wouldn’t work that well on a child. Just like Octavia though, I love the possible nickname choice of Zuzu. Zuzu is just so cute! I don’t know about using Zuleika as a first name, but it would make such a cool middle name.

    Speaking of Z-names, how about Zephyr as a NotD?

  9. That painting is exactly why the name is so loved in my family! Thanks Verity, for tackling this one. 🙂 We favor zoo-LAY-ka ourselves but know a few folks who’d say zoo-LIE-ka. either way, it’s a very appealing choice. Long his favorite, she’s grown on me as well. I love he sound and her look is lovely! Zuzu is what won me over, initially, it’s an easy nickname to love, but I’ve rapidly fallen in love with the whle package. She’s stunning!

    Again, thanks a million for Zuleika, she’s gorgeous!