Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Hadassah
Hadassah is a name borne from the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament in the Book of Esther. In fact, Hadassah is mentioned only once in passing in Esther 2:7 as Esther’s Hebrew name (Esther is her Persian name). Hadassah means “myrtle (tree)” in Hebrew, a flowering plant native to the Mediterranean region. The myrtle is known for its leaves which release their fragrance only when they are crushed. This is fitting, you see, because Esther’s true heroism was released once her fellow Hebrew people were in grave danger. It all makes sense if you’re familiar with Hadassah/Esther’s story; one of the more colorful tales from the Bible. Hadassah was a Jewess living in the capital city of Susa in Persia (having been exiled from Jerusalem during the reign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II). It is in this exile that Hadassah goes by her Persian name Esther. She would eventually become the wife of Ahasuerus, the King of Persia, in the 5th century B.C. This is how it all went down: After Ahasuerus’ first wife disobeyed him, he decided to hold a regional “beauty pageant” to find a replacement wife. All the beautiful virgins from the provinces throughout the Persian Empire were gathered in Susa, they were given cosmetics and beauty treatments for a year, and tutored in court etiquette by one of the king’s eunuchs. Esther “had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at” so she too was taken into custody where she quickly won the goodwill of the king’s eunuch. As it turned out, Esther ended up being the stand-out contestant and was crowned the new Persian Queen (after winning the King’s favors in the bedroom, that is). As Queen of the Persian Empire, Esther was forced to keep her Jewish heritage a secret. This became increasingly difficult as things began to go awry in the Persian Kingdom. You see, one of the King’s highest court officials (Haman) was hell-bent on exterminating the Jewish people throughout the kingdom. At the urging of her cousin Mordecai, Esther risked everything by appearing in the King’s chambers uninvited to thwart the efforts of the evil Haman. She used her feminine wiles, her sharp acuity and her powers of persuasion to save a large number of Jewish people throughout the Persian Empire from certain death. Her courageous acts are celebrated during the Jewish holiday known as Purim. Besides Ruth, Esther is the only Biblical Book named after a woman. Go ladies! Furthermore, it is a wonderful narrative filled with political satires, literary irony and plot twists. It’s no wonder that Esther has been a favorite name among Jews for centuries (and Gentiles alike). She was one beautiful, brilliant and brave ancient gal. Since Hadassah is the more obscure name for Esther, and the specific Hebrew form, it is more exclusively used by Jewish people. Incidentally, Hadassah is the name of the Women's Zionist Organization of America. Not surprisingly as Hadassah is a heroic figure among Jewish woman.