The official list of the year’s most popular names from the Social Security Administration may still be months away, but two things are already clear: This year’s crop of American parents love names with a maximalist twist and a vintage flair. And with its strong consonants and old-world feel, what better place could there be to look than Yiddish?
Here are some classic and lesser-known Yiddish names designed to appeal to the parents and trends of 2023, whether you’re looking to expand your list, honor your bubbe or just make sure that no one else on the playground will have the same name as your kid.
Last year saw an explosion of names with utopian and celestial meanings (think Nova, Luna, Aurora and Dream) and this year would appear to be no different. If you like the sunshine-y, light-filled sound of names like Iris, Apollo and Elio, consider these auspicious Yiddish options:
Anshel: A strong boy’s name meaning happy, and an unexpected alternative to its more popular Hebrew counterpart, Asher (ranked 19th in the US in 2022).
Feivel: A soft masculine name meaning bright. Some sources say that Feivel is the Yiddish form of Phoebus, the Greek god of the sun, but it is more likely a variant of the Latin word vivus, meaning life.
Golda: An established option for parents who like the sounds of trendy Goldie, Golden or Marigold, meaning exactly what it sounds like.
Liba (or Leeba): This name comes from the German word liebe, meaning beloved.
Raina: A wearable girl’s name that means pure or clean. Alternate spelling options include Rayna or Reina, with connections to the Spanish name meaning queen.
Zelda: More than just the video game character or the Jazz Age novelist, Zelda and its masculine counterparts (Zelig, Zelman) have a strong feel and a cheerful meaning (happy or blessed).
Names related to nature are still going strong, with Olivia, Willow, Rowan and Leo topping the charts and non-traditional, short names like Sky, Sage, Posy and Wren rising in popularity. Here are some of the many Yiddish names relating to plants, animals and the natural world.
Ber: Ber, a vernacular form of the Hebrew name Dov, is a masculine name meaning bear. Use it as is or as a nickname for one of its traditional diminutives like Beryl or Berko.
Bina: Used as a translation of the Hebrew name Devorah, Bina is a poppy girl’s name that comes from the Yiddish word bin, meaning bee.
Bluma: A feminine name meaning flower, and a sweet counterpart to other popular flower names like Lily, Violet and Daisy.
Hershel: A diminutive of the Yiddish name Hersch, meaning deer.
Lieb: A short masculine name derived from the Yiddish word leyb, meaning lion, with a similar sound as the top 10 names Liam, Leo and Levi.
Raisa: Another flower name, meaning rose. Consider its traditional diminutive, Raisel, as an alternative or a nickname.
Toiba: A rare feminine name meaning dove.
While longer names with more syllables are gaining in popularity, parents in 2023 are also looking to names that would have traditionally been given as a nickname, like Evie, Charlie, Archie and Scout. Yiddish has its own conventions for nicknames, which are often longer than the original name itself, but it also has a rich tradition of adapting names from other languages in a shortened form. Consider these shortened variations of other names for a modern sounding name with deep roots.
Etta: An ambiguous nickname for either Esther or Yehudith (Judith), and a wonderful homage to singer Etta James.
Haskel: A shortened form of Yechezkel (Ezekiel), meaning God will strengthen, or wisdom.
Lazer: A variation of Eliezer, meaning God is my help, with the potential for cool nicknames like Laz.
Sender: A shortened form of Alexander, meaning defender of men, that sounds surprisingly contemporary.
Shaya: A nickname for Yeshaya (Isaiah) that sounds like a ‘90s surfer, meaning God is salvation.
Suri: Like Katie Holmes’ daughter, many Yiddish-speaking women went by nicknames like this one for Sarah as their legal name.
As Rebecca Jennings writes for Vox, no trend is currently as significant in the world of baby names as the trend towards uniqueness. While the odds are high that any child with a Yiddish name will be the only one with their name in their class (unless you live in a few select areas of the country), these names offer the chance to have a non-traditional route to a popular nickname or an unexpected twist on a top 10 name.
Ariam: A diminutive of Ari, from the Hebrew Arieh, meaning lion. Yiddish nicknames were not traditionally used as legal names for men, but you can use this name today as an alternative to the number 1 boys name in the U.S., Liam.
Bayla: A variation of the Hebrew name Bilhah, meaning white, and an unexpected alterative to the ever-popular Bella, Haley or Kayla (also a Yiddish name!).
Eidel: A rare girl’s name meaning delicate or gentle with similar sounds as Ava, Ella and Alele. Pronounce it as ay-del (like the beginning of edelweiss) or ai-dell and consider the nicknames Del, Della or Eida.
Elya: Another play on Eliezer, and a fun twist on the soft sounds that are making names like Leo, Olliver and Ellis so popular with parents right now.
Sora: A Yiddish variant of Sarah that was once one of the most popular names among Jews in Eastern Europe.
Tema: The popularity of Tamar in Israel continues, but this Yiddish variant (also meaning palm tree) would fit right in in the United States.
Zofia: Sofia has topped the charts of names for baby girls for the last 20 years. This Yiddish alternative preserves the soft sounds of Sofia or Sophie with the addition of a trendy Z.