A reader requested a spotlight on Jael, which is a name I’m almost completely unfamiliar with. My only two associations with it are a girl I used to work with named the variant Yael (though I didn’t know her well enough to ask about her name), and the Judith spotlight I did a while ago, on which Grace left the following comment:
“Only three women in scripture have the privilege of being called “blessed among women” and it’s not who we’d expect! They are Jael, Judith, and Mary. Jael and Judith both won victories for Israel by killing the enemy leader. This is an important connection to Mary, because it shows us that when she is addressed as “blessed among women” it has a specific meaning, not just “oh, how nice, you’re blessed.” It means that Mary is the VANQUISHER of the enemy! We think of Mary as meek, which of course she is, but she is also INCREDIBLY powerful, she is the enemy’s greatest fear.”
Pretty darn awesome, right?? This is the passage from Judges where Jael is called “blessed among women,” part of the “Song of Deborah”:
“Most blessed of women is Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
blessed among tent-dwelling women!
He asked for water, she gave him milk,
in a princely bowl she brought him curds.
With her hand she reached for the peg,
with her right hand, the workman’s hammer.
She hammered Sisera, crushed his head;
she smashed, pierced his temple.
At her feet he sank down, fell, lay still;
down at her feet he sank and fell;
where he sank down, there he fell, slain.
From the window she looked down,
the mother of Sisera peered through the lattice:
“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
why are the hoofbeats of his chariots delayed?”
The wisest of her princesses answers her;
she even replies to herself,
“They must be dividing the spoil they took:
a slave woman or two for each man,
Spoil of dyed cloth for Sisera,
spoil of ornate dyed cloth,
a pair of ornate dyed cloths for my neck in the spoil.”
So perish all your enemies, O LORD!
But may those who love you be like the sun rising in its might!
And the land was at rest for forty years.” (Judges 5:24-31)
Matt Fradd did a short post pointing out the similiarities between Jael, Judith, and Mary as well, saying they “Each crushed the head of the enemy king,” and Fr. Z. pointed out a mention of Jael our Holy Father Emeritus Benedict XVI made during his papacy (and he added artwork of the murders by Jael and Judith, they were some tough women).
So all this connection between Jael and Mary and mentions by BXVI and yet I’ve only known one person in real life with the name (and a variant at that), and she was, I believe, Jewish. Why is that?
I’m guessing her gruesome story is a turn-off to parents who even know about the name, and I think it probably also comes across as a very Jewish name, similarly to how some feel about Judith. And also that it rhymes with jail. This seems kind of a big consideration to me. So maybe the variant Yael is more appeaing? Abby at Appellation Mountain spotlighted it just last month and noted that not only are there potential pronunciation issues — it actually doesn’t rhyme with Yale, sounding rather more like yah-ELL — but also that it’s currently used more for boys than for girls, and that the variant spelling Yaelle has arisen (which reminds me of the lovely Maelle). I would imagine that usage by boys would be very appealing to some parents of daughters, especially when you add in the fact that it’s a legit feminine name with a long and traditional usage. Back to Jael, usage for girls still edges out usage by boys, but only by a few.
I’ve also seen the name spelled Ja’el and Jahel, and then I just happened to notice Jaelyn somewhere today and thought huh, that could be a cool way to do Jael — more obviously feminine and a less felonious pronunciation. 😉
What do you all think of Jael, or its variants? Would you consider using one of them for your daughter, or have you? Do you know anyone with one of these names? Does she go by a nickname?