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.