Where did the baby name Haya come from in 1960?

Actress Haya Harareet as Esther in the movie "Ben-Hur" (1959).
Haya Harareet in “Ben-Hur

The novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) by Lewis “Lew” Wallace told the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince who sought revenge upon the Romans after a period of enslavement. The book was extremely successful, remaining on the best-seller list for decades.

The best-known film adaptation of the book was Ben Hur (1959), which starred Charlton Heston as Judah and Israeli actress Haya Harareet as his love interest, Esther. The movie cost more money and featured more crew and extras than any other movie that had been made up to that point. In April of 1960, it won a record 11 Oscars.

Also in 1960, the baby name Haya appeared in the U.S. baby name data for the very first time:

  • 1962: unlisted
  • 1961: unlisted
  • 1960: 5 baby girls named Haya [debut]
  • 1959: unlisted
  • 1958: unlisted

The name Haya is a form of Chaya, which is a feminine form of Chayyim, which means “life.”

A much more recent adaptation of the story was the 2-episode miniseries Ben Hur, which aired on American TV during the 2010 Easter season. It didn’t have the cultural impact of the 1959 film, but it did nudge the usage of baby name Ben Hur upward — just enough for the name to appear for the first and (so far) only time in the data:

  • 2012: unlisted
  • 2011: unlisted
  • 2010: 8 baby boys named Benhur [debut]
  • 2009: unlisted
  • 2008: unlisted

The surname Ben-Hur means “son of white linen.” Lew Wallace said that it was chosen for the lead character “because it [was] Biblical, and easily spelled, printed, and pronounced.”


Image: Screenshot of Ben-Hur (1959)

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