All about Martha

Martha Washington, first First Lady of the U.S., 1731–1802

Martha is one of those names which hasn’t very many variants, but there are more than just a handful. This name is English, Scandinavian, Greek, German, and Dutch. The alternate form Märtha is is Swedish.

The name means “the lady, the mistress,” from Aramaic marta (feminine form of mar, master). Despite being the name of a prominent Biblical woman, it didn’t become widespread in England till the Protestant Reformation.

Martha used to be hugely popular in the U.S., at #16 when records began being kept in 1880. Its highest rank was #14 in 1882, and it remained in the Top 20 till 1888, the Top 30 till 1945 (except for 1905 at #32, 1907 at #31, and 1908 at #32), the Top 50 till 1954, and the Top 100 till 1965.

The name gradually sank down the charts, frequently losing 20+ ranks each year. In 2019, it was #795.

Martha is currently much more popular in England and Wales. It’s been on the Top 100 since 2006, and was #95 in 2019.

Princess Marthe Bibesco (née Marta Lucia Lahovary), Romanian–French writer and socialite, 1886–1973

Other forms of the name include:

1. Marta is Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Latvian, modern Russian, Icelandic, Slovenian, Romanian, Georgian, Macedonian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Belarusian, Catalan, Polish, Slovak, Czech, Swedish, and Croatian. This name is #33 in Spain, #62 in Sweden, #52 in Portugal, #43 in Galicia, #31 in Italy, #81 in Catalonia, and #61 in Poland.

Variants include Márta (Hungarian), Mártá (Sami), and Märta (Swedish).

2. Morta is Lithuanian.

3. Maata is Maori.

4. Martta is Finnish.

5. Marthese is Maltese.

6. Marte is Norwegian.

7. Marthe is French and Norwegian. The French pronunciation has one syllable, and the Norwegian has two. This is the name of the wonderful plastic surgeon who removed my second-degree burn scars.

8. Moireach is Scottish.

9. Marfa is traditional Russian and Ukrainian. As I’ve said many times before, I’m not a fan of names where F replaces TH in the middle! It doesn’t bug me as the first letter (e.g., Fyodor), but it sounds ugly in most other instances.

10. Maleka is Hawaiian.

Finnish painter Martta Wendelin, 1893–1986

11. Mareta is Gilbertese, a Micronesian language.

12. Markva is Mordvin, a Uralic language spoken in Russia.

13. Marpa is Mansi and Khanty, Uralic languages spoken in Russia.

14. Marthey is Manx.

15. Marthi is a rare Greek form.

16. Mathiri is Malayalam, a language spoken in India.

17. Zujenia is Caló–Romani, spoken in Spain, Portugal, Southern France, and Brazil. This form makes more sense when you know the Caló word zhulyi means “lady, woman,” and thus has the same meaning as Martha.

All about Nathan and Nathaniel

18th century Russian ikon of the Biblical prophet Nathan (Natan)

The English and French name Nathan comes from the Hebrew Natan (he gave). Many people are familiar with the above-pictured Prophet Nathan, who served under King David and took him to task for cuckolding Uriah and sending him to die in battle.

Though it’s long been common in the Jewish world, this name didn’t become popular in the Christian world till the Protestant Reformation. While we think of many Biblical names as going either way today, they were once considered exclusively Jewish.

Nathan entered the U.S. Top 100 in 1972, at #79, and attained its highest rank of #20 in 2004 and 2005. In 2019, it was #55. Nathan is also popular in France (#18), Belgium (#14), Switzerland (#41), Scotland (#45), Italy (#50), Ireland (#61), New Zealand (#70), The Netherlands (#77), Northern Ireland (#83), and England and Wales (#104).

Israeli human rights activist, politician, and author Natan Sharansky (né Anatoliy Borisovich Shcharanskiy), centre, born 1948

Other forms of the name include:

1. Natan is modern Russian, Georgian, Polish, Galician, Serbian, Ukrainian, Dutch, Czech, Slovak, Scandinavian, French, Finnish, Icelandic, and Croatian. Alternate forms are Natán (Spanish), Nátan (Faroese), and Nátán (Hungarian).

2. Nafan is the traditional Russian form. I’m not exactly a big fan of Russian names where F takes the place of TH in the middle of the name!

3. Noson, or Nosson, is Yiddish. I’m also not a fan of Yiddish words and names where T is pronounced like S. Nails on a chalkboard 99% of the time! There’s a reason modern Hebrew uses Sephardic pronunciation instead of Ashkenazic.

4. Nâtat is Greenlandic.

5. Nâta is also Greenlandic.

6. Neihana is Maori.

7. Natuš is archaic Sorbian.

Nathaniel Bowditch (1773–1838), American mathematician and father of modern maritime navigation, painted by Charles Osgood

The English name Nathaniel comes from the Hebrew Netanel (God has given). The variation Nathaniël is Dutch. Like Nathan, it also was largely found in the Jewish community until the Protestant Reformation, when many Biblical names were suddenly proudly embraced by the Christian world.

Nathaniel was in the U.S. Top 100 from 1978–2015, with its highest rank of #60 in 1998.

Other forms of this name include:

1. Nathanael is an English variation. The form Nathanaël is French and Dutch.

2. Nataniel is a rare Spanish and Portuguese form.

3. Natanael is the more common Portuguese and Spanish form.

4. Natanail is Macedonian and Bulgarian.

5. Natanaele is Italian.

6. Natanayil is Quechan, an indigenous language spoken in the Andes Mountains in South America.

7. Nathanail is modern Greek.

8. Nafanail is Russian. Again, it’s nails on a chalkboard to see and hear an F in place of a TH in the middle of a name!

Female forms of both:

1. Nathana is English.

2. Natana is Hebrew.

3. Natanya, or Netanya, is Hebrew.

4. Nathanya is a rare English form.

5. Nathanielle is English and French.

6. Nathaniella is English.

7. Nathaniela is English.

8. Nathaniele is English. The variant Nathaniëla is Dutch.

9. Nathanaelle is English.

An Egyptian lotus and a Hebrew rose

U.S. suffragist and political activist Susan B. Anthony, 1820–1906

Susan, a name most popular from the 1940s–1960s, traces its etymology back to a rather unexpected source—Ancient Egypt. This is one Indo–European name that didn’t originate among the Vikings, Anglo–Saxons, Normans, Goths, Romans, or Greeks.

Sšn means “lotus” in Egyptian, and later morphed into the Ancient Hebrew word shoshan, “lily.” In Modern Hebrew, shoshan means “rose.” It gave rise to the name Shoshanah, and then was adopted by the Greeks as Sousanna.

Over time, it appeared in many European languages in various forms. In the Medieval Anglophone world, Susannah was sometimes used in honour of a woman falsely accused of adultery in the Book of Daniel, and another Biblical woman who ministers to Jesus. Only after the Protestant Reformation did it become more common, in the form of Susan.

French painter Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938) with her son Maurice

Susan was #80 when the U.S. began keeping name records in 1880, and left the Top 100 in 1885. It briefly returned in 1887, then dropped out again and gradually sank in popularity. During the 1930s, it slowly made its way back up the chart, and re-entered the Top 100 in 1937 at #97.

In 1945, it was #10, and entered the Top 5 in 1948. Apart from 1951 and 1966, when it was #6, Susan was in the Top 5 until 1968. Its all-time highest rank was #2, from 1957–60. In 1972, it fell off the Top 20, and left the Top 100 in 1985.

Susan’s last year on the Top 1000 was 2017, when it was #957.

Austrian-born painter Soshana Afroyim (née Susanne Schüller),
1927–2015

Other forms of the name include:

1. Suzanne is French, Dutch, and English.

2. Susanna is English, Dutch, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, Catalan, Swedish, Estonian, and Finnish. The alternate form Súsanna is Icelandic, Faroese, and Irish; Susánna and Susánná are Sami.

3. Susannah is English.

4. Susana is Spanish and Portuguese.

5. Suzana is Serbian, Slovenian, Macedonian, Brazilian–Portuguese, Romanian, and Croatian.

6. Susanne is German and Scandinavian.

7. Syuzanna is old-fashioned Russian.

8. Suzanna is English.

9. Shoshana, or Shoshanah, is Hebrew.

10. Sawsan is Arabic.

Hungarian Princess Zsuzsanna Lorántffy (1602–1660), who founded and sponsored several schools, including schools offering girls a modern, equal education

11. Savsan is Tajik.

12. Sosamma is Malayalam, a language spoken in India.

13. Zsuzsanna is Hungarian.

14. Zuzanna is Polish and Latvian.

15. Zuzana is Czech and Slovak.

16. Huhana is Maori.

17. Zusana is Sorbian.

18. Syzana is Albanian.

19. Siùsan is Scottish.

20. Sósanna is a rare Irish form.

Polish poet Zuzanna Ginczanka, 1917–1945

21. Susaina is a Catalan variant, usually used on Mallorca.

22. Suzannah is English.

23. Suzonne is Norman.

24. Jujen is Marshallese.

25. Siwsan is Welsh.

26. Susane is English.

27. Suusan is Inuit.

28. Suzette is a French diminutive, also used in English as a full name.

29. Suzzanna is a rare English form.

30. Shushan is Armenian.

31. Susano is a male Filipino form.

All about Ruth

U.S. anthropologist and folklorist Ruth Benedict, 1887–1948

Ruth is an English, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Scandinavian name derived from the Hebrew Re’ut (friend), which later morphed into Rut (pronounced with a long U, not like the English word “rut”). Most people are familiar with it as the title character of the Book of Ruth. She left her homeland Moab behind to follow her mother-in-law Naomi back to Israel after a famine, and became King David’s great-grandma.

On the second day of Shavuot, this short book of the Bible is read, and many conversion certificates quote the moving words Ruth tells Naomi:

“Do not entreat me to leave you, and to return from following after you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God; where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more, if anything but death part you and me.”

Latvian lawyer, writer, and politician Ruta Šaca-Marjaša (1927–2016)

Though the name has long been common in the Jewish world, it didn’t come into widespread usage in the Christian world till the Protestant Reformation. Ruth received a big boost of popularity several centuries later, from U.S. President Grover Cleveland’s firstborn child, born in 1891. She was born between his two non-consecutive terms, and sadly died of diphtheria in 1904.

Ruth was #93 in the U.S. when name popularity records began in 1880, and it jumped from #19 to #5 after the birth of Ruth Cleveland. In 1893, it was #3. The next two years, Ruth was #6, and it remained at #5 until 1907. It then was #4 for two years, then back to #5 again till 1922.

The name remained in the Top 10 till 1930, and was Top 20 till 1937. Ruth left the Top 50 in 1951, and left the Top 100 in 1962. In 2018, it was #265.

Ruth Cleveland

Other forms of the name include:

1. Ruta is Polish, Ukrainian, and Maori. The alternate form Rūta is Latvian and Lithuanian.

2. Rute is Portuguese.

3. Ruut is Finnish and Estonian.

4. Rut is Hebrew, Spanish, Icelandic, Scandinavian, Sorbian, Italian, Maltese, Indonesian, Afrikaans, and German. The alternate form Rút is Czech and Slovak.

5. Ruf is Russian. I’ve never been a fan of Russian names where TH is replaced by F in the middle of the name. It just sounds ugly to my ears.

6. Rutt is Estonian.

7. Hrut is Armenian.

8. Hirut is Amharic.

9. Luka is Hawaiian, and not to be confused with the entirely separate name with the same spelling which is several languages’ form of Luke.

10. Luti is Nyakyusa, a language spoken in Tanzania and Malawi.

11. Rutu is Maori and Yoruba.

Wildcard W names

Seeing as there are no Estonian names, either native or borrowed, starting with W, today is another wildcard day featuring a variety of other kinds of names.

Female:

Wafula means “born during the rainy season” in Luhya, a language spoken in Kenya.

Walela means “hummingbird” in Cherokee.

Wambui means “zebra” in Kikuyu, another language of Kenya.

Wangari means “leopard” in Kikuyu.

Whetū means “star” in Maori.

Wura means “gold” in Yoruba.

Male:

Wadud means “affectionate, lover” in Arabic.

Wafai means “loyalty” in Arabic.

Wahyu means “revelation” in Indonesian.

Wamalwa means “born during the brewing season” in Luhya.

Wayra means “wind” in Quechuan.

Wiranto means “warrior, hero” in Indonesian and Javanese.