Posts Tagged ‘Ishtar’

Vashti — a name it seems everyone loves, but few actually use!

I’ve met more than one person who have said they set their heart on Vashti, but when it came to crunch time, settled on something else. Something less distinctive.

Why is that?

After all, Vashti’s not exactly a new creation. It’s found in the Bible.

The biblical Vashti was the name of the first wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus — better known to history as Xerxes, though it is unclear which Xerxes he is supposed to be. He is popularly identified with Xerxes I — whose known named wife was called Amestris in Greek sources.

And, actually, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Vashti and Amestris share the same source — just as Ahasuerus and Xerxes do; the one traveling from the original via Hebrew, the other by Greek.

Indeed, according to one theory, it may be that another name closely linked to Vashti’s tale also stem from the name of this queen — none other than Esther.

In the biblical Book of Esther, the story goes that Ahasuerus banised Vashti because she refused to come before him “to show her beauty to the people and nobles.”

He was “in high spirits from wine” at the time.

Reading between the lines, it was considered improper for Vashti to be at the party, and in summoning her in such as way, Ahasuerus would have dishonored her — and himself.

As king, of course, he was used to being obeyed, whether his commands were reasonable or not. He couldn’t be seen to allow her to disobey him.

So Vashti was shown the door, and Ahasuerus married Esther instead.

For standing up to her bully of a husband, Vashti is now regarded as a bit of a feminist icon, though she’s had more than her fair share of flack in past centuries. The Midrash is particularly unflattering.

Which is kind of ironic really, as it is possible that the historic Vashti and Esther were actually the same person, the two emerging from different interpretations of the real name of the wife of King Xerxes.

I’ve mentioned before that Esther might derive from Ishtar, but have only recently come across the interesting theory that both Amestris and Esther come from the Akkadian Ummu-Ishtar “Ishtar is (my) mother” or Ammu-Ishtar.

Ammu is more difficult — it may be the same as the Hammu of Hamurabi, which is thought to be an Amorite name, with (H)ammu a divine name.

That Amestris and Esther might come from either of these is perfectly plausible; and the same is true of Vashti, with the loss of the initial vowel and mutation of the “m” to a “v.”

Other theories keep it simpler, and suggest Vashti derives directly from an Old Persian word meaning “beautiful” or “best.”

Another plausible option is a derivation from the Old Persian vas “to desire.”

Like many biblical names, Vashti came into use after the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century; it appealed particularly to the Romani, and by the nineteenth century had come to be regarded as very much a Gypsy name.

Augusta Jane Evans used it in her 1869 novel Vashti.

Nowadays, its best known bearer is the English singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan, whose 1970 album Just Another Diamond Day is a cult classic.

A bit like the name Vashti!

In 2010, only 29 little girls were called Vashti in America, and less than three in Britain.

Isn’t it time this diamond of a name got to sparkle?

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As 2011 draws to a close, I thought I’d take a look back at my top pick of names here at the Nook and elsewhere in Baby Name Blogland.

Today it’s the turn of  girls’ names at the Nook:

  • Amanita – I featured Amanita back in late August, and I still love it; it’s feminine, quirky, and very witchy. While some might be put off the thought of naming a child after a mushroom, Amanita muscaria is one of the most beautiful and evocative, and perhaps associated with fairies more than any other…
  • Betony – Betony was another of my August loves; it’s such a lovely herb, and as a name has a great contemporary ring to it.
  • CirceIjust love Circe, the mythological witch-Goddess and the name.
  • Elvy – Elvy only got a brief mention as a little used surname-as-first name, but I think it’s got a lot going for it. With the variants Elvey and Elvie, it slips in comfortably alongside all those lovely resurrected Victorian -ie names, many of which are already in favor in the UK (such as Evie, Millie, Maisie, etc) and others like Elsie and Edie on the rise. Unlike many of these, however, though it has the ring of a pet-form about it, and certainly can be used as a nickname for names such as Elvina and Elvira, Elvy is a bona fide name in her own right.
  • Fuchsia – Fuchsia’s such a stunning name, it has that same bright, slightly rebellious edge as names like Ruby and Scarlett
  • Guinevere – Queen Guinevere, Arthur’s May Queen is such a magnificent character with a name to match; why oh why isn’t it seen more?
  • Hermione – ah, Hermione, Hermione, Hermione! Probably my number one of the year; I can’t champion Hermione enough. I suggested her as a possible sibling for Peregrine in early December, and tipped her as the number one girl’s name in America in 2035. Grab her now, while she’s still such a rarity!
  • Hesper – another of my Harry Potter picks, but much less known, Hesper’s a step away from the familiar Hester, and only a couple of steps away from uber-voguish Harper. A discerning but contemporary choice.
  • Ishtar – Ishtar is another of those names which has had a number of mentions, but hasn’t really been properly featured in her own right yet. Ishtar is probably the most famous of the Goddesses of Mesopotamia—equated with Aphrodite and Ashtoreth, and it may be her name which lies behind Esther. In Egyptian texts, she appears as ‘Astar-Ḫūru. The etymology is unknown for certain; many theories abound, ranging from (rather far-fetched) connections with Eostre (see Easter) to a shared root with Aster, but evidence is too flimsy to say anything with absolute conviction. What can be said is that it is a most beautiful and evocative name.
  • Leveret – I love this unusual word-name, the little heard name for a baby hare. It oozes Pagan, witchy, Wiccan charm, and is one the source of the surname Leverett, which makes a nice variant.
  • Lilou – one of my Provençal finds, I think it gives a fetching, zingy twist on the ubiquitous Lily.
  • Merewen – A very soft, attractive Old English name.
  • Tigerlily – I just adore Tigerlily; it is a name bursting with life and color, and has considerable versatility. Would be a travesty for her not to make this baker’s dozen of mine!

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I end this second week of sneak peeks with something a bit different. My Small Child saw the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, London (yes, I know it’s really meant to be Anteros, but everyone calls him Eros!), which is the reason for today’s final choice — along with his mom… or is she?


The Greek God of (sexual) love. He is usually regarded now as the son of Aphrodite by Ares, and familiar to all as a cuddly little cherub with wings and a bow and arrow — but the ancients perceived him very differently. In some early sources, such as Hesiod, he was considered to be one of the three original deities to emerge from Chaos, along with Gaia and Tartarus. The Greeks and Romans recognized and embraced — in a way the Abrahamic religions like to brush pink-cheeked under the carpet — the cardinal importance of sex in the perpetuation of human life and as a generative force. Thus Eros to the Greeks was a handsome, virile, dimple-free young man. It is quite probable that an obscure 4th Century saint, Erotis, is an outright adoption into the saintly fold of a God whom the Church struggled to suppress from the start. Since a major part of its doctrine rests upon sex being classed as a ‘sin’, containing the God of sexual love was always going to be a sticky problem – and slapping a ‘St’ in front may have been one way they dealt with this troublesome Pagan deity that wouldn’t just vanish into a puff of air. Encountered as a genuine given name since the 19th Century.


The Greek Goddess of love needs little introduction. Known to the Romans as Venus, she was identified by the ancients with native Goddesses across the known world, including the Mesopotamian Ishtar, Phoenician Astarte and Egyptian Hathor. Her association with the Evening and Morning Star is likewise very ancient. The traditional etymology of her name is Greek: aphros ‘foam’, considered a reference to her birth from the foam of the sea. However, this is likely to be Greek wishful thinking again when the name was Hellenized. Its true origin is likely to be pre-Greek or to lie in Asia Minor or Mesopotamia. A possible candidate is the Assyrian Bariritu, a Goddess whose name derives from the Akkadian: barārītu ‘dusk’ and ‘twilight’. She is a known manifestation of Ishtar. 19th Century.

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Two Sumerian Warriors from the Royal Standard of Ur, c.2600-2400 BCE. Found at Ur by the British Archaeologist Leonard Woolley, it now resides in the British Musueum.

Let me take you to ancient Mesopotamia, to the roots of Civilization, and to the people who invented writing – the Sumerians…

Here is a selection of genuine Sumerian names which have not been included in the book. They all occur on clay tablets, dating from the early 2nd Millennium or earler, found in the Temple School of Nippur, an ancient and important Sumerian city.

Amardamu ♂ – ‘calf of Damu’ < amar ‘young animal’ and ‘calf’ + Damu. Damu is a variant of Damuzid, an older form of Dumuzi, known in later times as Tammuz. He is a God of new life, fertility, agriculture and vegetation in general. His annual ritual marriage with the Goddess Ishtar, and – later in the year – ritual death, funeral and resurrection were such major festivals in Babylon that Tammuz survives today as the name of a month in the Hebrew Calendar as well as to translate ‘July’ in some parts of the Arab world.

Aradegi ♂ – ‘servant of the princess’ < arad ‘servant’ + egi ‘princess’.

Aradlugal ♂ – ‘servant of the king’ < arad ‘servant’ + lugal ‘king’.

Bauninsheg ♂ ♀– ‘Bau is a favorite lady’ < Bau + nin ‘lady’ + sheg(a) ‘favorite’. Bau is one of the names of the Godess Ninisina ‘lady of (the city) Isin. She is also known as Ninkarrak, Gula and Ninnibru. She is a healing Goddess, with strong associations with dogs – hinting perhaps that the Sumerians held the common folk-belief throughout the ages that dog saliva had healing properties.

Elutil ♀– ‘the temple (which gives) life to man’ < é ‘house’ and ‘temple’ + ‘man’ + tìl ‘life’.

Gemekala ♀ – ‘strong woman’ < géme ‘woman’ + kala ‘strong’ and ‘swift’.

Gemenanna ♀– ‘woman of Nanna’ < géme ‘woman’ + Nanna. Nanna is a God of the Moon, and father of great Goddess Ishtar.

Gemeshega ♀– ‘favorite woman’ < géme ‘woman’ + sheg(a) ‘favorite’.

Ludari ♂ – ‘eternal man’ < ‘man’ + darí ‘eternal’.

Lunanna ♂ – ‘man of Nanna’ < ‘man’ + Nanna.

Luninni ♂ – ‘man of Ninni’ < ‘man’ + Ninni. Ninni is another name of the Goddess Ishtar.

Mageshgetil ♂ – ‘may he live for my sake’.

Meania ♂ ♀ – ‘oracle of Anu’ < me ‘oracle’ + Anu. Anu is the Sumerian sky-God, the supreme deity of the Sumerian pantheon.

Meduranki ♂ ♀ – ‘oracle of Duranki’. Duranki was a sacred precinct of the city of Nippur. Its name was also Sumerian < dur ‘bond’, ‘amulet’ and ‘umbilical cord’ + an ‘sky’ + ki ‘earth’.

Nigbau ♀ – ‘lioness of Bau’ < nig ‘lioness’ and ‘bitch’ + Bau.

Ninniursag ♂ ♀ – ‘Ninni is a heroine’ < Ninni + ur-sag ‘hero’ and ‘warrior’.

Nintuda ♀ – ‘child-bearing lady’ < nin ‘lady’ + tu ‘child’ + da ‘to beget’.

Sheshkala ♂ ♀ – ‘the brother is strong’ < shesh ‘brother’ + kala ‘strong’ and ‘swift’.

Urusilim ♂ ♀ – ‘city of peace’ < uru ‘city’ + silim ‘peace’.

More Sumerian names to follow!

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This week is ‘Sneak Peek Week’ at Nook of Names. Each day, I shall be previewing the entry or entries for the names of five friends who first ‘put their hands up’ when I announced it on Facebook.

So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Estelle. It’s a good name to start with, as it demonstrates very well how one entry often leads to another — a name in capitals indicates that name has an entry of its own. And Estelle leads us on a journey that takes us to Rome and beyond…


A French name. It may be from an old form of French: étoile ‘star’ < STELLA. A comparative development of how the word étoile arose from stella can be seen in the development of Étienne from Stephen. However, another plausible option is that Estelle developed as a variant of ESTHER. The -er ending sits awkwardly in French, and the linguistics involved in a shift to -elle in French are slight. Certainly, the resemblance to the Latin stella, if not an archaic form of étoile (no coincidence, as stella and Esther are probably cognate anyway), may have encouraged the development. The name was rare in France before the 19th Century, being found only in Les Charentes and Provence – another hint that its origins lie in Esther; Provence was where Isabella developed from Elizabeth. Although it had become more widespread by the 2nd half of the 19th Century, Estelle’s use in France still largely postdates the publication of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1860-61), the heroine of which is Estella – which naturally became Estelle in the French version. Bearers: Estelle Masterson, a (shrewish mortal) character in the US film I Married a Witch (1942).


Latin: stella ‘star’. Stella was used by Sir Philip Sidney in his Astrophel and Stella (1591). Stella Maris meaning ‘star of the sea’ is now considered a title of the Virgin Mary, but it is likely that the title was originally bestowed upon the Goddess Isis. 17th Century. Bearers: Stella Mayfair, a character in Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches series (1990-94).


In The Bible, Esther was the name given to Hadassah when she entered the harem of King Ahaseurus. It is widely believed to have derived from the Old Persian stāra ‘star’. However, it may actually be from ISHTAR. Esthêr was the Greek form used in The Bible; the Latin forms were Esthera and Hestera, with Esther deriving from the former and HESTER from the latter. Both came into use in the 16th Century and quickly became confused with EASTER and each other. Variant: Esta (modern). Diminutive: ESSIE. Czech, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Portuguese: Ester, Finnish: Esteri, Dutch, French, German, Spanish: Esther, Hungarian: Eszter; Eszti (diminutive). Bearers: Esther Vanhomrigh (c.1688-1723), probably the inspiration for Jonathan Swift’s VANESSA; Esther Forbes (1891-1967), the US writer among whose works was A Mirror for Witches (1928) about the Salem Witch trials. Esther (1689) is a play by Racine.

As you can see, Estelle’s journey doesn’t end with Stella and Esther – but that’s quite enough for today :).

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