Welcome to Zion

Luciana Berger has called her baby boy Zion. For those wondering what name she was going to choose, this announcement has raised more questions than it answered

March 13, 2019 11:52

Mazeltov to Luciana Berger and husband Alistair Goldsmith! And well done on picking a name for your child that has knocked everyone sideways. After all, what kind of a name is Zion for a Jewish boy?

I’ve heard a variety of responses to the name Zion Benjamin Manny. Some of us are punching the air, and saying well done, you’ve really stuck it to the antisemites AND the anti-Zionists. And others are just a teensiest bit worried about your boy once he gets into a school playground.
Let’s face it, every Jewish parent naming their  baby  has to decide how far to ‘out’ their child. Do you go for neutral and English (Harry, Amy), or Jewish in disguise (David, Sarah)? Are you Very Jewish Indeed (Shmuel, Rivka) or Jewish but only Jews would realise (Ilan, Eliana). The days of picking names that are Jews in Heavy Disguise (Mary, Christopher) are pretty much over, but some people do go for Perversely Un-Jewish names (Eoin, Siobhan) instead. 

My own parents ran the whole gamut with Keren (people think it’s Celtic or a groovy mis-spelling, it’s actually biblical and popular in Israel), Alun (yes, Dad comes from Wales) and Deborah (Jewish, but popular too).

The whole question has been complicated in recent years by a non-Jewish trend for hitherto Very Jewish names. My non-Jewish neighbours, a pair of delightful posh hipsters, shocked their conventional, Home Counties parents when they named their son Elijah. You can’t go to a café in Crouch End without encountering noisy toddlers called Isaac, Levi or Esther.

This was definitely in my mind when I mooted the Beyond Extremely Jewish, but  Very Hip name Judah for my son. I definitely thought my husband would veto it. But he didn’t. When we announced it some friends took it upon themselves to tell him (not me) that we’d gone Too Jewish, and our child would be persecuted in the playground. Others muttered “Judas? Really?”  But I’m glad to say that none of this came to pass, he has got to the age of 19 reasonably unscathed by his name, people tend to think we chose to honour Yoda from Star Wars rather than Jesus’s dodgy disciple. The only namesake he’s ever met was a boy from an Ethiopian family. The only time it seriously embarrassed him was when Lady Gaga released Judas, with its chorus that sounds like ‘Judah, Judah, Judah…’

Zion (is it Zee-on or Zi-on, by the way?) is actually growing in popularity in the UK. In 1996 only four baby boys were given it, but by 2017 that had grown to 162, which placed it at 308th most popular boys’ name. That’s virtually mainstream. (Judah, by contrast, languishes at 572nd). Zion is way more popular than Manny (just 10 babies in 2017), so if young Z ever decides that his name is just too much, Benjamin (33rd) is perfect.  (All of these statistics come from a website called which I can recommend as the perfect time sucker)

I’m not sure where those other Zions are hiding, because I’ve never come across one. The only ‘celebrity’ called Zion seems to be an American baketball player Zion Williamson. Zion is a tricky concept politically right now, but as a name it has massive potential.  It (just about) passes the News at Ten test (“This is Zion Goldsmith, reporting from Brussels”), the High Court test (‘The Honourable Mr Justice Zion Goldsmith’) and the rock star test (‘Zion Goldsmith headlines Glastonbury’).  It has an easy nickname, Zee, and an unusual initial.

Just don’t let anyone drop that final ‘n’.

March 13, 2019 11:52

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