YaelLooking for a Biblical rarity less popular than Rachel, but not as elaborate as Zipporah?

Today’s choice might be one to consider. Thanks to Kenneth for suggesting Yael as our Baby Name of the Day.

Yael: Warrior Woman

The Bible is filled with strong names for girls.

In the Old Testmaent, Sisera is the captain of the Canaanite army, serving under King Jabin. They ruthlessly oppressed the Israelites for years.

Then, Barak and Deborah defeated Sisera’s army in a huge upset. Sisera fled, and found himself at the tent of Yael and her husband.

She extended hospitality to the captain, feeding him well and inviting him to sleep.

While he was sleeping, she hammered a tent peg into his skull with a mallet.

And that was the decisive end of the oppression.

Her gory story is told in The Song of Deborah, often considered one of the oldest parts of the Bible and an early example of Hebrew poetry.

Both Deborah and Yael were fierce, strong women, but while Deborah has been in steady use over the centuries, her sister-in-arms has always been quite rare.

Yael: Creature Feature

Nubian Ibex in NegevThe meaning of this name is usually listed as goat – not necessarily negative, but less appealing than some bird names, or others like Tabitha – gazelle – or Ursula – bear.

Dig a little deeper, and the creature identified with this name is a Nubian ibex.

They’re rather lovely, desert-dwelling goats native to the Middle East, graceful on rocky terrain.

If gazelles are fair game for naming girls, the ibex is at least as worthy.

Yael: Like the Ivy?

The first thought you might have isn’t from the animal kingdom, but the world of higher education.

Yale University is named after founder Elihu Yale. The surname comes from a Welsh word meaning fertile land – no Biblical heroines here.

But Yale does confuse the pronunciation, because just as Cael rhymes with Kale, Yael is often assumed to rhyme with Yale.

The name is pronounced yah ELLE. Respelling Yaelle could make it clearer that the name isn’t a creative respelling of Yale – but sacrifices some authenticity.

Speaking of spelling, this name is often spelled with a J: Jael. But if Yael is rhymed with the university, then Jael is rhymed with jail – making the Y spelling seem like a safer bet.

Yael: Modern Use

Yael is still in use as a girl’s name in Israel.  It’s listed in the Kveller database. Herman Wouk used the name for a character in his 1993 historical novel The Hope, set in Israel in the mid-twentieth century. There’s also a Yael in Alice Hoffman’s 2011 novel, The Dovekeepers, set in 70 BC.

Would you find a Yael or a Jael in the US?

Yes – but there’s a twist.

  • In 2013, 96 girls were named Yael – but so were 243 boys.
  • Jael was given to 174 girls and 161 boys.
  • 7 girls were called Yaelle in 2013.

Despite history galore linking this name to a Biblical heroine, and a longer history of use for girls than boys, Yael seems to be leaning boy in the 21st century. In fact, the name ranked #867 for boys in 2013.

Proof that name borrowing goes both ways? Maybe. But Israeli baby names are often unisex. I couldn’t find a great explanation of why that’s so, but there’s definitely discussion of the phenomenon. A hint comes in this articlegirls’ names which become boys’ names are grammatically masculine.

Overall, Yael remains an underused gem – but it’s worth noting that your daughter Yael might meet boys with the same name.

What do you think of Yael? Is it ready for wider use in the US, or does this one seem too obscure to consider?

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. I love this name.
    I wish your poll would have included the choice:
    Love Yael, because it’s unisex and not gender specific.

    Great post!

  2. I am a Yael and I was just wondering if there is any link between Yael and Gael or Gaelle. When I was a child, in France, everybody was asking me if I was coming from Britain. Hence my question, now.

    1. Hi Yael – It’s an intriguing thought, but I can’t see how they might connect. Gael is a relatively young word, ultimately from the Latin Gallus, but really first used in Scottish Gaelic, not much before the 1700s. (It was Goidelic or maybe Gathelik before that …) Meanwhile, Yael has been around in Hebrew since ancient days. So I think this one is just coincidence. Best, Abby

  3. I’m a non-Jewish, Black Briton called Yael and I believe I was named after Yael Dayan. I have only ever met two other Yaels – both British and only one Jewish. For my sins, I pronounce my name as though it rhymed with Yale (as in the university). I find the British tongue is way too lazy to pronounce two syllables when it can get away with one. I do introduce myself with two syllables though, but find the ensuing half hour of mangled pronounciations, tedious.

    I enjoy being a Yael, and think the name is beautiful but I’m not sure I’d saddle anyone else with it … unless they were to live somewhere where ‘Yael’ was not so unusual/rare and could be pronounced.

  4. Love this name; the Yael/Jael of the Bible was a strong, independent woman, and to me the name carries the connotation of a hardy and fearless determination and beauty. Jael is interestingly exotic but not outlandish, and it is one of those rare Biblical female names that is short and relatively normal-sounding without being overused. I have also heard the original Hebrew version (Yael) translated as “Yahweh is God.” I prefer the sound of Jael to Yael (seems liked the J sound would be more accepted in American culture), and would love to give the name to a future daughter. My one pet peeve would be people assuming her name was JL when they heard it without seeing the spelling.

  5. I’ve met a few Yaels and they’re always really strong, beautiful women. I love this and many Hebrew and modern Israeli names but they just don’t go with my husband’s Scandinavian last name.

  6. I also know of a female Yael and I can’t imagine it being used on a boy. She’s Venezuelan, but was born in Israel when her family fled because of political unrest.

  7. I’ve known a couple Yaels and one Jael… the Jael was also a 2-syllable name with a y- sound in that case, which is how I had through my (Jewish) childhood thought “everyone” would “of course” say it.

    I have always loved this name (for a girl) but I admit in retrospect Jael would probably get wrecked all the time. Yael seems quite usable though.

    I wouldn’t have thought it that rare though.

  8. Lovely name! There’s also actress Yael Stone from Orange is the New Black, who might be bringing the name to greater attention.

  9. As a Jew, I know several Yaels and think it’s a beautiful name. The thought of it on a boy is just totally absurd to me! I would be very curious if it’s Jews or gentiles using the name on a boy. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a strange re-appropriation, similar to what happened with Cohen.

    1. I’m stumped on this one, too, MR! It might be a coincidence – I’m inclined to think that Yael must have some other origin I’m missing that makes it feel more appropriately male, kind of like Gael – which is definitely masculine.