I’ve met more than one person who have said they set their heart on Vashti, but when it came to crunch time, settled on something else. Something less distinctive.
Why is that?
After all, Vashti’s not exactly a new creation. It’s found in the Bible.
The biblical Vashti was the name of the first wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus — better known to history as Xerxes, though it is unclear which Xerxes he is supposed to be. He is popularly identified with Xerxes I — whose known named wife was called Amestris in Greek sources.
And, actually, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Vashti and Amestris share the same source — just as Ahasuerus and Xerxes do; the one traveling from the original via Hebrew, the other by Greek.
Indeed, according to one theory, it may be that another name closely linked to Vashti’s tale also stem from the name of this queen — none other than Esther.
In the biblical Book of Esther, the story goes that Ahasuerus banised Vashti because she refused to come before him “to show her beauty to the people and nobles.”
He was “in high spirits from wine” at the time.
Reading between the lines, it was considered improper for Vashti to be at the party, and in summoning her in such as way, Ahasuerus would have dishonored her — and himself.
As king, of course, he was used to being obeyed, whether his commands were reasonable or not. He couldn’t be seen to allow her to disobey him.
So Vashti was shown the door, and Ahasuerus married Esther instead.
For standing up to her bully of a husband, Vashti is now regarded as a bit of a feminist icon, though she’s had more than her fair share of flack in past centuries. The Midrash is particularly unflattering.
Which is kind of ironic really, as it is possible that the historic Vashti and Esther were actually the same person, the two emerging from different interpretations of the real name of the wife of King Xerxes.
I’ve mentioned before that Esther might derive from Ishtar, but have only recently come across the interesting theory that both Amestris and Esther come from the Akkadian Ummu-Ishtar “Ishtar is (my) mother” or Ammu-Ishtar.
Ammu is more difficult — it may be the same as the Hammu of Hamurabi, which is thought to be an Amorite name, with (H)ammu a divine name.
That Amestris and Esther might come from either of these is perfectly plausible; and the same is true of Vashti, with the loss of the initial vowel and mutation of the “m” to a “v.”
Other theories keep it simpler, and suggest Vashti derives directly from an Old Persian word meaning “beautiful” or “best.”
Another plausible option is a derivation from the Old Persian vas “to desire.”
Like many biblical names, Vashti came into use after the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century; it appealed particularly to the Romani, and by the nineteenth century had come to be regarded as very much a Gypsy name.
Augusta Jane Evans used it in her 1869 novel Vashti.
Nowadays, its best known bearer is the English singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan, whose 1970 album Just Another Diamond Day is a cult classic.
A bit like the name Vashti!
In 2010, only 29 little girls were called Vashti in America, and less than three in Britain.
Isn’t it time this diamond of a name got to sparkle?