American Girl Redux

Jan 21st 2010

In August, I wrote about the names of the American Girl doll series with a focus on their latest historical character, Rebecca Rubin. Her name, I concluded, was a reasonable choice but not really representative of the early-20th Century period. I suggested Sadie as an alternative that would "hit the quadruple-bullseye of Jewish heritage, period feel, informal style and modern appeal."

Fast forward to this week. My eight-year-old daughter just read Meet Rebecca, the doll's accompanying storybook. She eagerly related the highlights, including Rebecca's struggles with her annoying older sisters Sophie and...Sadie.

I tip my cap. You can't put anything over on those American Girl folks. In fact, the book's gallery of Rebecca's family and friends reads like a sibling set from the Baby Name Wizard book. Sophie, Sadie, Leo, Benny and Max sit right at the fashionable intersection of "Antique Charm" and "Guys and Dolls."

For girls, further options abound -- Lillie, Ruby, Lena, Lucy, Ella, Molly, Nell, and on and on. For boys, though, it's slimmer pickings. If you're looking for a dark horse candidate, there's just one more name in the Rebecca gallery: Victor. In America today, Victor is usually heard as a Spanish name. Back in fictional Rebecca Rubin's time, though, it sounded more like Sophie, a multi-ethnic classic with Mitteleuropa gravitas but a twinkle in its eye.


January 22, 2010 12:54 PM

Oh, and I just checked that baby namescape site--and it says the Crystal is the #3 name at one of the big hospitals here (in Tucson). I find this really hard to believe! Unless maybe it's trending as a Hispanic name? Does anyone know any Hispanic Crystals?

And update: here are the top 10 girl names from the hospital in the small AZ town I went to high school in (population probably about 50% Hispanic, 15% Native American, 35% Caucasian). I find the name spectrum really interesting!

1. Naomi
2. Zoey
3. Anya
4. Dayana
5. Felicity
6. Mackenzie
7. Mariana
8. Regina
9. Taraji
10. Alba

By daisy_kay (not verified)
January 22, 2010 12:51 PM

Becky, congratulations on your baby girl! I love your sons names, by the way. Here are some Old Testament/Hebrew names that I thought of.


By daisy_kay (not verified)
January 22, 2010 12:53 PM

Anne with an E,

Just curious...what name had you thought you'd settled on for a girl? I always love to hear other names that fans of Louisa like. :)

January 22, 2010 12:57 PM

i'm kind of loving zipporah. :] zippy is adorable.

i think that with michal, *most* will probably think you're giving your daughter the name michael (with creative spelling). sarai is a name i learned in sunday school, so it is familiar to my eyes, but i would mispronounce it (my instinct is to pronounce the first syllable like sarah: sair-eye).

January 22, 2010 12:59 PM

anne with an e, if i recall, is choosing between eleanor kathryn or penelope rae. i remember because i'm pulling really hard for eleanor kathryn. :]

By Air
January 22, 2010 1:03 PM

Daisy_kay: I realize I am biased, but I cannot say enough how much I love Mabel. (And Adeline!) I know the folks who dislike your child's name can't tell you so, so this is skewed I'm sure, but it feels like everyone who meets our daughter Mabel lights up and says "what a wonderful name!" It's sweet without being fragile. And like you said, it's suited for any age. Much like you, when I pictured my future little girl she just felt like a Mabel - and now that she's here I couldn't be happier with the choice.

Louisa to me is Lousia Von Trapp from the Sound of Music - that's not a negative thing at all, but it is a strong, immediate connection in my head that I can't seem to shake. :) I love, love Bess.

For your boy choices, I like Edmund the best. I don't see a problem with EdMUNd and SoloMON. I do like William as well, but it is so commonly used that I think Edmund pairs with Solomon a bit better.

Good luck!

By hyz
January 22, 2010 1:20 PM

Becky, I looove Zipporah, although it's a standout, so I think it does take a little bravery to use. Along the same lines for me is Hadassah. I just love the sound of it, although I know you said you weren't looking for H names. I think Avigal could also be a nice choice. I knew a girl named that in college who went by Ava (pronounced ah-vah, not ay-va), so that's another possible nn. The only names on your list I don't much care for are Michal (too close to Michael, I think, could cause confusion), and Shira (it makes me think of She-Ra, you know, He-Man's sister or whatever she was?). The first additional name that came to mind for you was Liora. It has a lovely meaning, and lovely sound, and I think it would fit in well with more popular names today while still standing out in a nice way.

ETA: I also really like the suggestions of Adah and Ruth, and would add Esther.

By hyz
January 22, 2010 1:18 PM

Daisy_kay, I think you have to go with what feels right to you. I truly think both Mabel Adeline and Louisa Bess are sweet, pretty, wonderful names, but I see them as very different. Mabel is more sweet and spunky and cute to me, while Louisa is more sweet and serious and studious. If it were me, as much as I love the name, I don't think I could really imagine *my* child as being a Mabel, while I could definitely see having a Louisa. It sounds like the opposite is true for you. If Mabel just *feels* like your child, then I think that says a lot. I really like the advice of picking one name and calling the baby that for a day (before she's born, I mean), and then using the other name the next day. Imagine using them in different situations, when she's 1, 5, 15, and 40 years old, etc. Go back and forth--which feels more right? That's what I did at the end, and it helped me get a little clarity.

By EVie
January 22, 2010 1:20 PM

Becky - I really like Sarai a lot, and wish it were used more. You might get some pronunciation confusion, but I think it will be the kind that is easily solved with one correction. Michal, however, I think you will have constant issues with, both in terms of pronunciation and gender confusion, so I would stay away from that one. Avigail I think will also have issues - people will read it as AV-ih-gale or they will hear it as Abigail. Have you considered Avital or Aviva? Avital in particular is very close to the pronunciation you want for Avigail, but isn't so close to a more popular version. I don't see any major matching problem with Shira.

Other Hebrew names I've always really loved are Talia and Mara - just wanted to throw those out there. Also, have you considered Shoshana/Susannah? And I second the names that another Laura suggested.

January 22, 2010 1:23 PM

Anne with an E: we considered Dinah but it seems to be used a lot in the jewish community, despite it's backstory, in a variety of spellings (Dina, Deanna, Deannah).

Daisy-kay: i liked Tirzah when i was pregnant with our first son! i'll have to re-present it to my husband and see what he thinks!

I'm starting to really lean towards Zipporah/Zippy the more i think about it. Some people spell it Tzipporah, but I like Zipporah more for some reason. I love the name Hadassah, especially when i was growing up, because it's a well known name but not often used, but i think the repetitive H sound is too much, especially bc our last name starts with "Ha".

By EVie
January 22, 2010 1:26 PM

Oh, also - I want to second hyz's suggestion of Liora. I actually knew a girl whose name was just Lior - I think I remember someone saying awhile back that a lot of modern Hebrew names are gender-neutral? I think just Lior is really striking (pronounced lee-OR).

By another Laura (not verified)
January 22, 2010 1:28 PM

Becky - yeah, I guess Rebekah isn't a great suggestion for you guys. Another nice name is Mara.

By Guest (not verified)
January 22, 2010 1:30 PM

Re: Ruby

At my children's school of 300 students there are 4 Rubys! It's an elementary school so they range in age from 5 to 10. I also work with an adult Ruby, in her mid-30's. We are in the SF Bay Area.

I love the name Ruby, but it's way too common here for my taste!

January 22, 2010 1:31 PM

also EVie: i totally forgot about Shoshana, we have a niece named Susannah (prounoced sus-AH-na), but i think Shoshana is different enough that its not too confusing. In Israel, Shoshana is seen as an "old-lady" name, but i think it fits with up and coming names here like sophie and sadie.

By hyz
January 22, 2010 1:32 PM

EVie, so did the Lior you know rhyme with (Christian) Dior? That's kind of nice. I know a male Lior, and people pronounce his name to rhyme with Eeyore, which isn't quite so melodic. It still works on him, and it's a nice name, but I wouldn't care for it as much on a girl.

January 22, 2010 1:34 PM

a lot of modern hebrew names are gender neutral, such as Lior, Yuval, Noa, Gal, while some are made female by adding an "a" to the end, like Lior/Liora (Lior can be male or female tho), Aviv/Aviva, Chai/Chaia, Hadar/Hadara.

January 22, 2010 1:42 PM

Yes emilyrae is correct, we are trying to choose between Eleanor Kathryn (currently in 1st place) and Penelope Rae. I just emailed "Louisa?" to my husband and got a resounding no though, so maybe I'm not widening my options after all!

By Amy3
January 22, 2010 2:22 PM

@Becky, I like Zipporah best of your choices. I agree that Michal will present too much confusion with Michael. I also like the suggestions of Tirzah and Avital.

By daisy_kay (not verified)
January 22, 2010 2:29 PM

Anne with an E, I LOVE Eleanor Kathryn. I'm reading Sense and Sensibility right now, and it's making me love the name more and more. :)

By Jillc (not verified)
January 22, 2010 3:38 PM

Becky, my votes are for Zipporah and Shira from your list.

I'm interested in the Alice conversation -- it's a name on my short list (although not DH's), but I had the same concerns about popularity. It will be interesting to see what happened to the name in 2009...

By hyz
January 22, 2010 3:49 PM

I personally see more chart topping potential for Ruby than Alice. I feel like I'm seeing a bunch of Rubies now, especially on the west coast and progressive/hip pockets elsewhere. I agree with the grouping of Alice with Mary, Margaret, Elizabeth, Sarah, etc.--a solid classic that would have a hard time becoming trendy no matter how popular it became.

By Tirzah, not logged in (not verified)
January 22, 2010 3:52 PM

I have to vote for Tirzah, of course! It has a wonderful Biblical meaning and story. I always get complements on my name.

The only Alices I know are Asian adults. I don't think it has it the general child population yet. On the other hand, Ruby is everywhere in California. Plus, we have a chain of 40's styled restaurants called Ruby's that is really popular among families.

By Jane, Mother of Five (not verified)
January 22, 2010 4:25 PM

I really like Tirzah! I also like Noa, Leah, Lior, and Tamar (has that one been mentioned?)

Bue: Who knew about all the little girls named Lois? That's awesome. I'm really rooting for that name. I think if you can separate it from the elderly ladies at church, it has a really pretty, romantic sound. It's also Biblical.

January 22, 2010 4:26 PM

if it makes you feel better, ruby is nowhere in my area.

By sarah smile (not verified)
January 22, 2010 4:29 PM

A few more Hebrew girls names for Becky:


Of those already suggested, I particularly like Avital, Lior(a), and Talia.

The Shira/She-ra thing was an issue in my generation, but I doubt kids today know who He-man is. I agree that Michal, Sarai, and Avigail might be a bit confusing. And I like Zipporah, but it does feel a bit further afield than your boys names (which isn't a problem, just something to be aware of).

January 22, 2010 4:50 PM

@daisy_kay--thanks! The Austenish sound is what I love about Eleanor.

Oh, and I asked my husband what he didn't like about Louisa, and he replied "worked with 2 different balding, fat men named Lou, don't want that association for my daughter."

I found that hilarious--usually he can't really explain why he doesn't like a name, but obviously he had a very specific reasoning this time!! ;)

By daisy_kay (not verified)
January 22, 2010 5:09 PM

Anne with an E, that's hilarious! I'm hoping we don't have to deal with that. My husband and I want to avoid using nicknames with our children (even though we're quite fond of the nn Sol). But who knows what will happen when our kids are in least I don't really mind the nn Lou, but it does sound boring and sporty in contrast with beautiful Louisa. :)

Becky, here are a few more names I found. Sorry for any repeats.

January 22, 2010 5:13 PM

Becky-You have a lot of interesting choices wow! Congrats on your pending arrival! I agree that Avigail to me is Av-ih-gail (to match with Abigail). Also, Michal is a bit confusing to me but I have heard Micah on a girl and it is rather nice. My first thought to match your son's names was Rebecca lol. I guess that won't work though :) I like the Shira, Sharai, and Shoshana ideas though. Talia and Zipporah seem off with your son's names though. I went to Nymbler and it made the following suggestions:
Keren; Ruth
Miriam; Naomi
Delilah; Amira
Judith; Rachael
Jerusha; Leah
Tamsin; Elisha
Maris; Ardith
Keziah; Nava
Forgive me if some of these are not very Jewish as I am not very religious. I know also that some of them have been mentioned previously. Good luck.

By cileag (not verified)
January 22, 2010 5:15 PM

Ruby was on my list for my new daughter, but ultimately felt it was growing too quickly. There are two t.v. shows on right now with Ruby as the main character. It fits right in with the Antique Charm/Guys and Dolls names that are so popular and it has some cross cultural appeal to it as well. I still love the name, but after two other nurses on my unit named their daughters Ruby, I decided to go with Phoebe. Other names I was considering were:

Good luck!

Do keep in mind what Laura has said many times before and that the #1 baby names now is so much less popular numerically than it ever has been, so choosing a "popular" name now is NEVER going to be as bad as say Mary in the 50s or Jennifer in the 80s was.

I think Ruby has great appeal---strong, sassy, easy to spell and pronounce.

January 22, 2010 5:57 PM

I love Lousia, Mabel and Alice. They all seem like literary sweet but spunky names.

Old Testament girl names I like: Jerusha, Keziah, Keturah.

By Bue (not verified)
January 22, 2010 6:13 PM

becky, there was someone on here a couple of months back who was looking for a name within very, very similar naming parameters to yours. I believe Shira was one of their top picks, too.

You've got some fabulous suggestions so I won't bother with rehashing my favourites. I do love Avigail/Devorah, though, in place of the more expected B spellings. I went to school with a Devorah and always loved it.

January 22, 2010 6:19 PM

Becky - I love Zipporah! From your list I also like Shira and while I did have the She-ra association that won't be a problem with your daughters peers. From the other suggestions I am liking Liora, Tirzah, Keziah, Avital. Some of the other names on your list are going to have pronunciation and association problems as others have mentioned.

I am a big fan of Lois and have only heard of 1 baby Lois in my area. It sits in the same category as Astrid for me (spunky, fun, old lady names).

January 22, 2010 6:25 PM

@RobynT - The Tim Burton film has had a lot of hype. Tim Burton has a solid, dedicated fanbase as does Johnny Depp. It will be big, just as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a few years back.

I don't think that Alice will skyrocket to #1 or anything like that. Some people have expressed concern that Alice is a 'Twilight name' and just wanted to point out that there are stronger associations.

re: Ruby: I am so over this name. It is very popular in some circles, middle class Sydney particularly. There are multiple Rubies in every preschool class.

January 22, 2010 8:47 PM

Becky: I think all the names on your list are more unusual than your boys' names, unless you think of it as Devorah being familiar because of Deborah, Aviga(i)l because of Abigail. Maybe this is inevitable because there are less female names in the OT, as you say. I do like all the names on your list though, except maybe Michal since I think you are right that it would be misread a lot as Michael. When considered as a set with your sons' names, I like Zipporah, Aviga(i)l, and Devorah best. Maybe Shira too, but somehow I like the sound of the longer names. I also like the name Tovah that you mention. And lastly wanted to point out that Sarai rhymes with Levi (I think); not sure if this would bother you.

By EVie
January 22, 2010 9:02 PM

hyz - yes, Lior was pronounced to rhyme with (Christian) Dior. I really like it - it would be on my list, except it would run together really awkwardly with my R last name.

I have a friend named Alice (mid-20s) who told me that her parents were choosing between that and Clytemnestra. I'm generally a fan of names from Greek mythology, but that would be a very tough one to pull off.

I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to hear the name Lois again without thinking of the mom from Family Guy and her very distinctive accent.

By knp (not verified)
January 22, 2010 9:25 PM

Becky, I love Shira, Aviva, Sarai, Tirzah :), Tamar, and Zipporah (in that order). Judah, Levi and Shira sound like a fun sibset to hang out with. Although Sarai might be the best name you mentioned to "blend in" with your sons names.

Also, I have a question for you. I have always been a fan of Aviva (know a girl nearby named that). How would the Jewish community/you view this name (or any of the hebrew/israeli names we've mentioned) that are traditionally being "stolen"? Discussed this before on the board, but wanted your opinion...

By Guest (not verified)
January 22, 2010 10:00 PM

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By Rjoy (not verified)
January 22, 2010 11:39 PM

Zoerhenne- Where are you that Annalise is taking off. That is the name my husaband is voting for if we ever had another girl.

I like Louisa and Mabel! I can't decide.

By Rjoy (not verified)
January 22, 2010 11:57 PM

Your naming predicament is more of my style. My three girls have at least one Hebrew name. You have been given some great suggestions.
I just want to add these few.

Nesya-miracle of G-d
Eliora-like liora but the El puts G-d in the meaning
Gavrielle-G-d is my strength
Lirit-means musical

Out of your list I have to vote for Zipporah. I LOVE this name! I would have a little girl names Tzipporah is my husband hadn't vetoed it. I do like the T added on. I am big on originality. It does also give it a different sound.

I also vot for Shira. Beautiful meaning.

The rest of your choices would make it a bit confusing on most Americans. But if you do LOVE a name don't let that persuade you.

Yael-someone else already mentioned this name but I wanted to add that it is not that obscure to the American culture anymore thanks to Yael Naim. I have a name crush on it right now and also am loving the story behind it.

By sarah smile (not verified)
January 23, 2010 12:24 AM

knp, you do might do better to ask that question of someone from a more traditional Jewish background than mine. However, my take is that as long as you are aware of the meaning and usage of the name, I think it would be just fine for you to use a Hebrew name for a non-Jewish child.

There are a few names (like Cohen) that have specific meanings that would make them inappropriate for some or all children, and I would personally choose to respect those boundaries. But the vast majority of Hebrew names are just names, and I see no reason you couldn't use one if you liked it. And Aviva is a nature name, I think, without a strong religious background in any case? Someone please correct me if I am wrong about that.

The one warning I would give is that if I met a child named Aviva, I would assume she was Jewish until told otherwise, but that's not necessarily a big deal if you don't mind making the correction. And these things do change over time. 20 years ago I would have made the same assumption about an Ariana, which I certainly wouldn't today.

January 23, 2010 12:41 AM

Rjoy-I am in central PA and tracked my local hospital for the past year. It's not so much that Annalise is taking off but the sounds of it. These are the names in close proximity.
and there are also several Aliyah's of various spellings and Arianna's as well. Pretty much any A name except Amy I would stay away from here!

By Beth the original (not verified)
January 23, 2010 1:05 AM

Rubys. Rubies? You cannot swing a cat over here in urban-hipsterland without hitting one. Pearl, on the other hand, remains untouched, and it is actually a super-cute name on a little girl.

I know a Shira and an Orly and think these are lovely names, probably because they belong to lovely people. I flat out love the name Talia. Zipporah nn Zippy has a certain wow factor, though I hope she wouldn't turn out to be a slow-moving, studious child.

And Alice. Alice is just beautiful and timeless, no matter what. The Alyssas and Alicias and Ellises will come and go, but Alice will remain.

January 23, 2010 1:16 AM

Thanks for the great suggestions! I'm compiling a list and will present ideas to my husband to discuss. Currently I'm still liking Zipporah, though I do see how it is a bit different than my sons names, plus I'm thinking about pulling for Tirzah and Devorah (I have heard the nickname Devo, can't remember who mentioned that here, and do like it a lot).

I get asked a lot this question about whether non-Jews can use "jewish" names, and of course, I would never tell anyone not to use a name because they aren't Jewish, but there are just some things to consider. There are many names such as Jacob, Sarah, and even more hebrew sounding names like Talia and Adina/Dina that plenty non-jewish families choose for their children because they have nice meanings and sounds, just as many jewish families choose Irish, English and Italian names for their daughters and sons (I know plenty of little jewish Isabellas, Jacquelines, Jacksons, etc). Like sarah smile said though, if you meet a girl named Aviva you will probably assume she's jewish the same way you would assume a little girl named Gianna is Italian. Therefore there are many in the ultra-orthodox and more religious sects of the jewish community that tend to stay away from "mainstream" or popular jewish names and choose less recognized names (even more obscure then some on my list) to differentiate themselves. I know a lot of very religious families and to give you an idea some of their children are named Elimelech, Avinoam, Ezri, Ahavah, and Rivkye. I personally though have no problem with people who aren't jewish using jewish or hebrew names.

There's also the opposite argument that jews should always use jewish names and I've had a lot of friends who have opposed using clearly jewish names because they don't want their child "labled". We choose jewish names because we love their meanings, their sound and we want our children to forever be connected to their heritage. Sorry that was really long!

January 23, 2010 1:26 AM

Also many hebrew names are literally just hebrew words, for instance, Orly means "light" or "having light", Ari means "lion", Tovah comes from the word "Tov" which means "good", Shaina means "pretty" in yiddish. So these names have less of a religious connotation, though they sound like they are biblical, for the most part they are not.

By Melissa Love (not verified)
January 23, 2010 9:42 AM

Hi all!
For twins, which do you prefer?
Lila Christine and Ava Madeline
Lila Christine and Charlotte Olivia

middle names will be family names...some others include Emily, Estelle, Marie, Mae, Margaret, Theresa and Anna.


By Kim W (not verified)
January 23, 2010 9:48 AM

Louisa is my top choice for a girl and I love the way you describe it!! That's exactly how I feel about her. Unfortunately I don't get good reactions from people in my real life, but my husband and I adore it!

Funny, Mabel's also on our list somewhere.

Great name taste!

January 23, 2010 11:43 AM

MelissaLove-Are you having twins? What fun if so! The combo I prefer is the first:
Lila Christine and Ava Madeline. I LOVE the name Charlotte Olivia and think you can't beat its flow. However, the combo of Lila and Ava works better to match as a twin combo for me. Other options if you need them:
Lila Theresa + Ava Madeline
Ava Marie + Margaret Anna
Charlotte Estelle + Theresa Margaret
Theresa Charlotte + Ava Madeline
Emily Charlotte + Lila Estelle
Emily Theresa + Lila Mae
Madeline Olivia + Charlotte Theresa

By LaurieA-B (not verified)
January 23, 2010 11:57 AM

I was telling my mother-in-law about Rebecca, the American girl who, based on ethnicity, location, religion, and age, "could be your own grandmother," and she replied via email, "Did you know that one of my grandmothers was NAMED Rebecca?"

So it seemed very authentic to us.

The novel All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor is about five Jewish sisters growing up in New York, same time as Rebecca. Their names are Ella, Henny (Henrietta), Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie.

January 23, 2010 12:05 PM

melissa love,
for me, it's charlotte olivia, hands down. charlotte is one of my favorite girls' names of all time. and charlotte olivia is beautiful.

i like ava too, but i don't like the matching endings of lila and ava. i would want my twins to have as different sounding names from each other as possible--both for my own sake in not confusing their names and to (hopefully) promote the idea that they are individuals and not a "set," if that makes sense. it's a topic i think we've discussed on here before?

By daisy_kay (not verified)
January 23, 2010 12:18 PM

Kim W, it sounds like we might have very similar taste! :) Do you mind sharing more of your favorites (boys and girls)? Mine for girls are Louisa, Mabel, Rosalind, Marianne, and Eleanor. And for boys, it's harder, but I'd say Edmund, Ambrose, August/Augustus, Gareth, and Amos.

Melissa Love, congrats on twins! How exciting! I like Lila Christine and Charlotte Olivia best - hands down. Two beautiful names.