The Coming of Kerith

literature, 1960s, kerith, baby name

In 1967, the baby name Kerith debuted in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1970: 18 baby girls named Kerith
  • 1969: 15 baby girls named Kerith
  • 1968: 20 baby girls named Kerith
  • 1967: 12 baby girls named Kerith [debut]
  • 1966: unlisted

The source? The Source — a 1965 novel set in ancient Israel. It was written by James Michener, who had written Sayonara about a decade earlier.

Kerith was a character featured in the early chapter “Psalm of the Hoopoe Bird,” which was set during the reign of King David specifically. Kerith was the wife of the chapter’s central character, an engineer named Jabaal (but nicknamed Hoopoe, after the bird). Jabaal worshiped Baal, but Kerith, who was Hebrew, worshiped Yahweh. By the end of the chapter, she had given up her husband and children in order to live in Jerusalem.

“Kerith” is also found in the Hebrew Bible as a place name (sometimes spelled “Cherith”). It’s a wadi where the prophet Elijah hid during a drought. The word can be traced back to a Hebrew root meaning “cut.”

What are your thoughts on the baby name Kerith?

4 thoughts on “The Coming of Kerith

  1. Interesting! I went to high school with a Cherith (born around ’77), and I always wondered where the name came from. She pronounced it like share-ith, so I suspect in her case it was Biblical rather than from the novel.

  2. Michener writes about this in his autobiography. The Brook Kerith is a novel by the Irish writer George Moore. How it came to be a name in The Source is a bit convoluted, but it certainly inspired baby names.

  3. Thanks so much for letting me know about that, Tom!

    The 1991 memoir is called The World is My Home and, in it, Michener said:

    I received so many such inquiries [about the name Kerith] that I had to draft a form reply that went out to the parents of scores of little Keriths.

    In the letter I said: “Years ago somewhere in the New Testament I came upon the phrase ‘the Brook of Kerith’ and obviously it stuck in my mind, for I went back to it when I needed a resonant name for my character. So your daughter is named after a beautiful flowing brook in the Holy Land.”

    But my memory was poor and each word of my explanation was wrong. Nowhere in the Bible does the phrase “the Brook Kerith” appear.

    […]

    Embarrassed that I had misled my correspondents, I began to cast about as to how I had come upon that phrase I cherished, but to no avail. Finally, however, someone to whom I told the story informed me that the highly regarded Irish novelist George Moore, whose novel Esther Waters I had read with relish, had written a later novel, The Brook Kerith, dealing with the times of Jesus. I had looked into it after having liked Esther Waters so much; Kerith did not hold me, so I did not finish it. I then learned that Moore had stumbled upon the passage in Kings about the Brook Cherith, had liked the sound of the words and changed the ch to k, and so mysterious is the power of words that I have often wondered: would either Moore or I have lingered over this dried-up little rivulet had it been called Cherith Brook or even Cherith Stream? I doubt it. Half of the charm of the name comes from the inversion of words and the other half from the unusual spelling; obviously Moore did not like Cherith, but spelled with a K it had caught both his imagination and mine.

    I trust that any of the Keriths frolicking about as a result of my novel will paste this correction to the erroneous letters I send to their mothers and fathers.

    Here are some online copies (in various formats) of George Moore’s 1916 novel The Brook Kerith: A Syrian Story in case anyone wants to check it out.

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