If your name is Rachel (and since this is a Jewish publication, that’s fairly likely), I’d like to personally wish you a very happy National Rachel Day!
Yes, January 4 is a national day in which we celebrate all people, fictional and real, named Rachel. Why? I’m not exactly sure. Some say it’s because of Rachel Green of “Friends,” but January 4 is neither hers, nor Jennifer Aniston’s, birthday. In fact, it turns out that Rachel Green has multiple different birthdays in the show.
Either way, Rachel Day has been a thing for at least a couple of years, though it’s hard to pinpoint who is behind it (Big Rachel? A secret Rachel Carson fan club that keeps preaching about the marine biologist’s national importance in every article about the day? It’s a mystery). We’re still happy to take any opportunity to celebrate one of our favorite Jewish names.
Rachel has always been a popular name in the U.S., ranking in the top 200 names according to Social Security since the country’s founding. It started rising in popularity in the 1970s, when it rose from 146th most popular name in the 1960s to a very respectable 33rd place. In the ’80s and ’90s it soared even higher, ranking in the top 20 names.
And yet its popularity has been in steady decline since the 2000s. It went from 21st most popular name at the turn of the century to the 244th most popular name in 2022. It’s hard to say why that decline happened, but it’s probably because the name feels a bit more dated now thanks to its earlier boom in popularity.
Rachel has been a popular name among non-Jews since the Protestant Reformation — so for hundreds of years — and it’s still a fairly popular name world wide.
For those who need a biblical refresher, Rachel, whose name means “ewe,” a female sheep, was one of the four biblical matriarchs. She was Jacob’s second wife, the one he thought he fell in love with, and who he thought he was marrying, when her father Lavan tricked him into marrying her older sister Leah instead. Rachel, like other matriarchs Sarah and Rebecca, suffered from infertility, but ended up giving birth to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son and the subject of your favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
Rachel is also a very popular name among American Jews, according to the results of this fascinating survey about American Jewish names based on over 11,000 American Jews across the country.
In the survey, Rachel ranked as the second most popular Jewish name among female respondents and their children. Rachel was the top most popular name among survey takers, spouses and family members born in the 1970s and 1990s, the second most popular name among those born in the 1980s, and the third most popular among those born in the 1960s. The name didn’t rank in the top 10 among respondents and their relations born in 1950s, the 2000s, or the 2010s.
There are, of course, a ton of famous Rachels, both real and invented. Rachel Green may be the best example — her Judaism was confirmed by the show’s creators, but never explicitly stated in the show. Rachel Berry of “Glee,” played by Lea Michele, was very much overtly Jewish. And there’s Rachel Menken, later Rachel Katz, from “Mad Men,” a Jewish client of Don Draper’s advertising firm and one of his more memorable love interests.
In real life, there’s Jewish actress Rachel Weisz, who starred as Rachel in the movie “My Cousin Rachel” and played across Rachel McAdams in the very Jewish film “Disobedience.” (Her character in the cult classic “About a Boy” was also named Rachel.) Rachel Bloom gave her neurotic Jewish character in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” another matriarch’s name, Rebecca. Jewish comedian and actress Rachel Dratch remains one of the most beloved “Saturday Night Live” cast members.
Outside of TV and film, there’s Rachel the poetess, who you can see on Israel’s 20 shekels bill. Rachel Sassoon Beer was the first woman to edit a national newspaper. Assistant health secretary Rachel Levine is the nation’s highest ranking transgender official. Gifted designers Rachel Zoe and Rachel Antonoff fill our world with color. Most recently, a woman named Rachel from Israel distracted Hamas terrorists with her famous cookie recipe. And that’s just the tip of the Rachel iceberg.
Truly, there are so many reason to be proud to be a Rachel. Rachels, we salute you all, and if we’re really being honest? Every day is Rachel day where we are.