I remember when I was a little girl, already a budding name nerd. I walked up to my mother and said, "I found a new name today!" She humored my excitement and asked, "What is it?" I replied, "Jezebel! Isn't it pretty?" My mother wrinkled her nose. "That's a prostitute's name." I still remember the disappointment. It took me a long time to find out that what Mom said just wasn't true. What unfair treatment Jezebel gets.
Many baby name websites and books might list the meaning of Jezebel (pronounced "JEH-zuh-behl") as "impure queen" or "wicked queen." This isn't really true either. Historians still conjecture as to what the name's true etymology is. Jezebel is an Anglicized version of the Hebrew Izabel. Depending on which combination of Hebrew words you use, Izabel could mean many different things including "no husband," "no king," "island of dung," or "Ba'al exists." The last one should be a big clue as to why Christian culture considers her morally corrupt.
The story of Jezebel actually remindes me a lot of the story of Marie Antoinette, another monarch unfairly labeled as "evil." Jezebel was a Phoenician princess before marrying King Ahab. Phoenicia was an empire that was located on the coastal region of modern day Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. Even though she became Queen of Israel, she stayed loyal to the Pagan religion she was raised in. The gods she loved the most was Ba'al, god of storms, rivers, and water, and Ba'al's wife Asherah, goddess of fertility and the family. Jezebel also convinced her husband to convert to her religion.
At the time Israel was engaged in religious tensions between the Priests of Ba'al and the Priests of Jahweh. Jezebel, of course, sided with Ba'al. On the side of the Jahweh's was the prophet Elijah. When Elijah lead a massacre against Ba'al worshipers, Jezebel swore revenge. Unluckily for her, Elijah went into hiding shortly after.
Another cause of her evil reputation was due to poor public relations and cultural differences with her subjects. Jezebel's father was an absolute monarch in Phoenicia. His word was law. But in Israel, her husband Ahab did not have the same power. Ahab needed a piece of land in order to build a palace, but the owner of the land, Naboth, would not sell. When Ahab fell into a deep depression, Jezebel decided to act. She arranged for the execution of Naboth, and thus got the land for her husband. Many of her subjects believed that she acted illegally, but according to how she was raised she was totally in the right.
After her husband died, Jezebel's son Ahaziah became king. He reigned for two years until he died under suspicious circumstances, falling from a high balcony. And so her second son Joram took the throne, only to be murdered in a coup lead by the sinister Jehu. It was during this coup that Jezebel was killed as well. Whe she realized that Jehu has come to kill her, she dressed in all her finery, putting on make-up and jewelry. After that she, too, was thrown from a high balcony. She shouted curses and her murderers all the while. When the fall failed to kill her immediately, Jehu ran his chariot back and forth over her body. The majority of her body was then eaten by the palace dogs. Jehu's coup was supported by the prophets whose side of the story the Bible preserves.
A lot of people will say that this name has the same problem that Vixen has. In modern culture, the name Jezebel has become synonymous with sexually promiscuous and controlling women. The reason for this is due to a common interpretation of her final acts. According to this interpretation, the reason she dresses up is in order to try to convince Jehu to take her into his harem and save her own life. The more feminist version says that she is donning the feminine version of armor in order to die with dignity, as a Queen.
If you're still saying, "But no one would ever name their daughter Jezebel!" repeat after me: everything's been done. Other "fallen" Biblical women have shed their cursed reputations. Delilah, Magdalen, Eve, Salome, Vashti, Lillith (okay, Lillith's not actually in the Bible, but come on), they're all used and no one bats an eye. In 2009, there were born in the United States 24 Jezebels, 25 Jezabels, 8 Jezabells, 11 Jezebelles, 11 Jezabelles, and 5 Jezabellas. It even has the fashionable Bella nickname that everyone's going for! It's definitely time to give Jezebel a new identity.
Jezebel did us Neo-Pagans proud. She honored her culture, she was strong for her husband, and she faced a horrifying death with dignity. She wasn't a perfect woman, but then again no woman is. If you love this name but the opinions of the Christian majority are still holding you back, consider what kind of naming story that you want for yourself or your child. Do you want the story to be about honoring a strong woman, or do you want it to be about catering to stupid people who didn't study their own religion? It's your choice. What would Jezebel do?