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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why “Aliyah” is one of the hottest baby names in America

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Here’s one fact that maybe you didn’t know about aliyah:  it’s an incredibly popular baby name in the U.S.

Since this blog is dedicated to covering All Things Aliyah, I thought I’d explore this phenomenon.  Maybe I’ll inspire someone to choose the name for their baby!

In the year 2011, “Aliyah” was actually the 133rd most popular name in the U.S.  It beat out far more common and predictable names, like – um – Jennifer.  And also classics like Mckenzie, Haley, Michelle and Stephanie.

Here’s the name Aliyah in Hebrew letters:

עֲלִיָּה

When writing it without vowels, people often include two lettter “yuds,” like this:

עלייה

The Hebrew meaning of the name is absolutely beautiful.  It means “going up,” “ascent” or “rising” (though here in Israel, this could refer to a spiritual ascent or just gas prices!). 

The main meaning of the word, for Jews all over the world is the “going up” involved in moving to the Land of Israel.  Which is, in fact, what this blog is all about.  A secondary meaning is “going up” for an honour in the synagogue, such as when people are called to read from the Torah.

But mainly, those are not the reason that people are giving the name Aliyah and related names to their babies in record numbers.

Most people are still naming their babies in tribute to the dead superstar singer Aaliyah Dana Houghton, better known just as Aaliyah (with two A’s at the beginning). 

But now that it has been a few years since her death, many more people are picking the name simply for its beautiful sound or meaning. 

This is a name with quite a few variants.  Some other common variations are Aliya, without the H on the end, Aleah, and the Hawaiian Alia, who apparently was a princess, and which means “great joy.” 

In Arabic, the same name is pronounced with an emphasis on the guttural “ayin” sound at the beginning (hence the double-A in the singer’s name), and means “exalted,” or “high place.”

Here’s a chart of four common variants from the province of British Columbia over the last 10 years…

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So you can see that – in BC, at least – the spelling Aaliyah is the clear winner, with Aliyah coming in second.

However, before the singer Aaliyah died in 2001, none of these names was very popular.  The most evergreen seems to be “Alia,” which has experienced several upticks since the mid-70s.

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For no reason whatsoever except curiosity, here’s a graph of some popular “evergreen” Hebrew boys’ names over the last 100 years:

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(Pay with this graphing tool yourself over at this site!)

On baby naming sites, opinions seemed divided over which spelling was best. 

Many people adored the name Aaliyah, but others said that a simpler spelling was better if it wasn’t going to affect the pronunciation.

However, quite a few comments suggested that no matter how many A’s you put in or take out, it’s going to sound terribly “ghetto.”  Because of the recent history of the name’s demographics, people are going to make assumptions about your child’s race if they see it at the top of her CV in 18 years’ time. 

If I were offering advice at this point, I’d suggest “Alia” as an evergreen variant that looks different enough on paper, but still sounds pretty when you say it out loud.

But if you want to offer a nod to the most authentic Hebrew spelling and meaning, I’d say go with “Aliyah” and to heck with it.

Why do I recommend the single A and the H on the end?

In Hebrew, the word also starts with a guttural “ayin,” as it does in Arabic.  However, even most Israelis don’t pronounce the ayin, so leaving it as a single “A” is probably the easiest thing to do.  As for the silent “H” at the end, I’ve done a 180 on that.  I used to be opposed to it, but these days, I like the way it reflects the silent “hay” letter at the end of the Hebrew word.  The name looks naked without it.

Weirdly, “Aliyah” has never been a popular name among Jews. 

I haven’t known a single Jewish person named “Aliya,” although this guy says  he gave his daughter that name last year, so perhaps there will be a slight uptick now that its popularity seems to have crested (“jumped the shark”) in non-Jewish circles.

Though I haven’t heard the name here in Israel, and I think it would raise eyebrows, here is one Hebrew baby-naming site that suggests the name (warning: it is sponsored by the formula manufacturer, Materna).  According to the site,  the name Aliyah (they spell it in English without the H), “expresses parents’ desire that their daughter will be ambitious [constantly “going up”] and will have great progress and accomplishments in all spheres of life.”

That site also suggests that as a name, it comes from the Tanach (Jewish Bible), but I really doubt it. 

Have you ever met anyone named Aliyah?  I’d love to hear about people who were either given the name or chose it for themselves.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


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