Vashti: Baby Name of the Day

English: Vashti Refuses the King's Summons, pa...

She’s another bad girl name ready for reinvention.

Thanks to Taylorluia for suggesting Vashti as our Baby Name of the Day.

Vashti feels like a daring name, a modern import from a foreign land, or possibly an invention.  But that’s not so – she’s there in the Old Testament, as storied as Jerusha or Eve.

When we meet her, she’s the wife of King Ahasuerus of Persia, known for her beauty.  Some accounts make her the daughter of a king, kidnapped to Persia after her father’s defeat.

The royal couple is hosting a banquet over many days, with the men in one room and the women in another.  Ahasuerus has a little too much to drink, and orders Vashti to make an appearance in the boys’ club, to prove that the king’s bride is a looker.

Vashti refuses.

Some say Ahasuerus was asking his wife to appear undressed.  Others point out that well-born women didn’t mix with men – so forget what Vashti wore, or failed to wear.  Just entering the room would be scandalous.

One gets the impression that Old Testament kings weren’t often denied, especially by their wives.

Humiliated by her refusal, the king asks his advisers what to do.  They suggest Vashti be put aside.  Queen Esther is chosen as her replacement.

Interpretations of the former queen’s actions vary.  In some tellings, Vashti is vain and disobedient.  In others, she’s a heroine, a strong-willed woman who refuses to be compromise her dignity.

Did Vashti actually live?  Maybe.  Ahasuerus is usually identified with King Xerxes I, and his first wife was Amestris.  History is unkind to Amestris, but it was written by the Greeks – so Amestris may have been unhinged, or she may have been vilified by her enemies.  Either way, it adds little to Vashti’s appeal.

The name could mean:

  • Beauty, goodness, excellence – from Old Persian, and the meaning widely accepted today.
  • Others have argued for Hebrew roots, and the meaning thread.  But this seems to have been first suggested in the nineteenth century.
  • It could be borrowed from the name of an Elamite goddess.

Despite her obscurity and tarnished reputation, Vashti has seen sparing use over the years:

  • In Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, Lucy Snowe uses the name for the actress she admires on stage.  Vashti is usually assumed to be Rachel, a French actress and major international star in the 1840s and 50s.
  • E.M. Forster wrote a cautionary tale about man’s dependence on technology called “The Machine Stops.”  One of the main characters is Vashti.
  • In 1956’s Giant, a tale of a Texas family, Vashti is a minor character, the BFF to Elizabeth Taylor‘s future matriarch.  It was based on Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel.
  • Born Jennifer Vashti Bunyan, but known only by her unusual middle, the folk singer-songwriter had a brief career in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  She found little success and left music.  Over the course of thirty years, Vashti became a cult sensation.  She came out of retirement, and now has a thriving career.

As a given name in the US, Vashti has held steady.  19 girls received the name in 2012, and 23 in 1912.  The numbers vary in between, but between ten and three dozen girls receive the name most years.

If you’re after a daring rarity with rich history, Vashti might be one to consider.

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8 Comments

I was just hearing about the soon to be Olympic high-jumper Vashti Cunningham, which led me to look up the name and this website. My great-aunt (my grandmother’s sister) was named Vashti. She was born sometime in the 1905-1915 range. She pronounced it “Vashta”.

Several years ago, I discovered the unusual name of Vashti in my family tree. Upon looking for a meaning I was surprised to learn that it came from the story of Esther in Bible. I remembered the story but didn’t remember ever hearing or learning the name of the Queen whom Esther replaced. It’s quite a nice name.

Vashti, great choice. Memorable and spelt how it sounds. Vashti Whitfield has a very touching blog WW. Maybemcqueen.com she is great woman bringing up 2 kuds after losing her talented and ridiculously handsome husband who was a rising star in the acting field. Take a look. Vashti Whitfield!

Vashti was always a goodie in my mom’s telling of the Purim story. I dressed up as her more than one year.* If Vashti had less dignity/bravery/stubbornness, she would have just conceded to his demands, she’d say, and there’d have been no Queen Esther and the Jews of Persia would have been wiped out.

I’ve always kind of liked the name Vashti. Not as much as some Biblical names but I’d certainly not say it’s unusable.

I always wondered, as a kid, if Vashti wasn’t her real name – Esther being a Hadassah, was Vashti something else at home, or after being put aside?

*Of course my mom had TWO little girls to dress up as queens for the holiday, which might have something to do with it…

A friend from HS used Vashti for their daughter’s middle name. All of their kids have NT first names and OT middle names, but Vashti is probably the most unusual of the bunch.

Vashti is an interesting sound and story! My grandmother (the Lota whose name you profiled) was born in Vashti, Texas, in 1923. The town is pronounced Vash-tie (long I sound), but I suspect that most people would say Vash-tee (long E sound). I prefer the latter myself.