WatchtowerOrigin: Hebrew; Finnish; Russian; Sanskrit
Hebrew Meaning: fear of God; watchful; making bare; pointing out
Sanskrit Meaning: various
Finnish meaning: a diminutive offshoot of Irene.
Russian meaning: a diminutive offshoot of Irenej/Irina
Pronunciation: I-rah; EE-rah
Gender: Hebrew: Male; Russian: unisex; Sanskrit: Unisex; Finnish: Female

The name is cross-cultural and can either be male or female depending on the language it stems from.

It is found in the Old Testament/Torah as the name of 2 minor characters. It was the name of King David’s High Priest or chief minister, and also the name of one of King David’s mighty warriors. In its Hebrew context, Ira’s meaning is debated. I mostly found sources stating the name means “watchful,” but there have been no Hebrew sources I could find establishing this. A modern Hebrew dictionary lists the word ירא (ira) as meaning “fearful” and also “a person who fears the lord,” as well as “respectful;” and “venerating.” Hitchcock Bible Names listed several other possible meanings as listed above. Wikipedia has listed the name as also possibly meaning “wild ass,” but again, I could find no other sources supporting the latter claim.

Its use as male given name in the English-speaking world started to sporadically occur both in England and in the United States in the 17th-century. The name has always been mainly used by Russian-Jewish families, and not until the late 1800s when the U.S. and England experienced mass immigration of Russian-Jews. The few records that do occur in the 17th-century were mostly likely of Protestant Christians.

As for other Jewish communities, it doesn’t seem to have ever been popular. There is some record for Ira’s use among Medieval Middle Eastern Jews, but among Medieval Western and Southern European Jews, there is no record of it ever being used, or at least none that I can find. It seems to have become common in the late 19th-century, specifically among Russian and Polish-Jews, possibly due to its similarity to the Polish diminutive male name Irek (dim. of Ireneusz) and the Russian male diminutive Ira (dim. of Irenej). Early Russian-American Jews often anglicized the name as Irving, though these two names have no etymological relation.

The name can also be a Finnish female name (pronounced EE-rah), which is a diminutive form of Iriina, and has long been in use as an independent name.

In Sanskrit, depending on the script used, the name can be associated with the Sanskrit word ईर (wind) (masculine), and is associated with the Hindu god, Vayu.

According to Hindu legend, Ira is the name of one of the 62 daughters of Daksha and was married to the sage Kashyaba. It is uncertain which Sanskrit source this particular name relates to.

It is also used as another name for the Goddess Sarasvati and is perhaps related to the Sanskrit feminine word इरा (earth).

A notable bearer of the name was American lyricist, Ira Gershwin, whose birth name was actually Israel.

In the United States, the name has been in and of the U.S. Top 1000 Most Popular Male Names since the 1900s. It peaked at 101 in 1900 and fell off the charts in 1992. It recently re-emerged and is currently the 950th most popular male name in the United States.




Gender: Feminine
Origin: Old Norse

The name is a feminine form of the Old Norse, Arni, meaning, (eagle).

The name also appears in Russia, and is often listed as a form of Irina, but is most likely a borrowing from the Old Norse. The name was popularized in Russia by Alexander Pushkin, who had a grandmother of the same name.

As of 2010, Arina was the 4th most popular female name in both the Faroe Islands and in Estonia.

Eira, Eirwen, Gwyneira

Gender: Feminine
Origins: Welsh/Old Norse
Meaning: “snow; snow white; white as snow; or “protection; mercy; help.”
(Ay-rah South Wales; I-rah North Wales; AYR-wen South Wales; IRE-wen North Wales. Swedish/Finnish I-rah)

Eira can be of two different etymologies and origins, in Welsh, it is related to the word eir, meaning “snow”, the offshoot of Eirwen is composed of the elements eir and gwen, (which either means fair, blessed or white), in which case, Eirwen would roughly translate as “white as snow”, “snow white” or “white snow.” A reverse of Eirwen, is Gwyneira, which virtually means the same thing, pronounced (gwyn-AY-rah) South Wales, and (gwyn-EYE-rah) North Wales.

Eira can also be connected to an Old Norse element. It is believed to be a variation of the Old Norse female name, Eir, which was the name of the Norse goddess of healing. Eir means, “protection; mercy; help.”

It is also the name of a neighborhood in Helsinki which its name from a hospital. Its designated name-day in all Scandinavian countries, including Finland, is August 9. Other forms of this version include

  • Eiri (Faroese)
  • Eira (Finnish/Norwegian/Swedish)
  • Eir (Old Norse: used in Iceland and on the Faroe Islands)
  • Eirin (Norwegian: possibly also a Norwegian phonetic spelling of the English pronunciation for Irene).

Irene, Irena, Eirene

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Greek
Meaning: “peace.”
Eng (i-REEN); Eng archaic (i-REE-nee)

The name is derived from the Greek eirene, (i-RAY-nee), meaning “peace.”

The Ancient Greeks personified the idea of peace in form of a goddess by the name of Eirene. She was considered a Horai.

The name was also borne by a Byzantine Empress.

The name has always been popular among Eastern Christians and its usage did not become popular in the English speaking world till about the 19th-century, no doubt, due to the popular folk song, Good Night Irena.

A more elaborate form of this name is the Latin Aerenia, pronounced (ay-RAY-nee-uh).

Irene is also used in Catalan, Dutch, Estonia, German, Finnish, Italian, Latvian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.

Irene is currently the 636th most popular female name in the United States. In Spain, she ranked in at # 6 for 2006.

Other forms include:

  • Erja (Finnish: AIR-yah)
  • Irène (French: ee-HREN)
  • Irenée
  • Irén (Hungarian)
  • Irena/Irina/Irinea (Italian)
  • Irena (Polish/Czech/Croatian/Dutch/Lithuanian/Serbian/Slovak: Polish diminutive forms are Renia, and Irenka. Ena is the Croatian diminutive)
  • Iria (Portuguese/Galician)
  • Irina (Romanian/Slovene)
  • Arina Арина (Russian)
  • Irina Ирина (Russian/Bulgarian/Macedonian: Russian diminutive forms are Arisha and Irinushka)
  • Iryna Ірина (Ukrainian)

Italian masculine forms are Ireno, Irenio and Ireneo.

The designated name-days are: April 3 (Germany); April 5 (Estonia/Finland/France), April 15 (Sweden), May 5 (Greece) and May 15 (Latvia).