How did Oprah Winfrey get her name?

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

We all know who Oprah Winfrey is. But do you know how she got her name?

Here’s the story, as told by Oprah herself:

I was born, as I said, in rural Mississippi in 1954. I was born at home. There were not a lot of educated people around and my name had been chosen from the Bible. My Aunt Ida had chosen the name, but nobody really knew how to spell it, so it went down as “Orpah” on my birth certificate, but people didn’t know how to pronounce it, so they put the “P” before the “R” in every place else other than the birth certificate. On the birth certificate it is Orpah, but then it got translated to Oprah, so here we are.

I’m not sure if she ever legally changed her named to Oprah.

The biblical character Orpah is mentioned in the Book of Ruth. Many sources agree that her name signifies the “nape” or the “back of the neck,” as Orpah turned her back on her mother-in-law, Naomi, when she decided to return to her family in Moab.*

Oprah’s very popular Oprah Winfrey Show debuted in 1986. As you’d expect, that’s the same year the baby name Oprah appeared on the SSA’s list for the very first time:

  • 1988: 17 baby girls named Oprah
  • 1987: 37 baby girls named Oprah
  • 1986: 12 baby girls named Oprah [debut]
  • 1985: unlisted
  • 1984: unlisted

The name dropped off the list after 1990, but has managed to return twice–in 2006 and 2007.

*Some Rabbinic interpretations of the name Orpah are much less complimentary.

Source: Oprah Winfrey Interview (1991)

P.S. Two more posts featuring Oprah-related names: Stedman, Canaan.

4 thoughts on “How did Oprah Winfrey get her name?

  1. The name Canaan got quite a boost in 2015 thanks to Oprah, who announced toward the end of the year that she’d symbolically chosen the name Canaan for the son she had/lost at the age of 14.

  2. I met an Oprah today! It was all I could do not to say anything about it, but I figured she probably gets tired of people commenting on her name.

    But I do get to say that I got vaccinated by Oprah!

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