Concerning the Names
Bethany, Beathag, Bethán, and Bethia

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

©1997 by Josh Mittleman. All rights reserved

Last updated 25 Mar 1999

Bethany is a place name mentioned in several places in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 21:17, Mark 14:3). As a result of its scriptural appearance and probably because of its similarity to the common pet name Beth, it became popular as a given name in the United States in the late 1960s [1]. We know no evidence of its use as a given name before the 18th century [4].

The name is sometimes confused with several similarly-spelled names. Most often, it is incorrectly associated with the Scottish Gaelic names Beathán and Beathag. Beathán is a period Scottish masculine name, derived from the Gaelic betha or beatha 'life', and recorded as Beoanus (Life of S. Cadroe), Bean (1210), Beanus (1357). Beathag is a feminine of Beathán. It is recorded as Beathog, Behag (temp. Somerled), Bethoc (1200, 1291), Betow (Wyntoun MS), Bahag (1438), Beak (1577) [2]. All of these names were pronounced as two syllables, e.g. Beak \BAY-ahk\.

Bethia or Bithiah is an Old Testament name (1 Chronicles 4:18) which was used in Britain in the 17th century when Old Testament names generally were in vogue. It was most popular in Scotland, where it appears as early as 1593 [2] and may have been associated with the Gaelic name Beathag [1, 3]. In the 19th century, the names Bethena and Bethia were occasionally used in the United States [4].

Finally, Betune is recorded in England c.1440 as a pet form of Beatrice. It is apparently a variant spelling of Beton, which is itself formed from Bet + -on, a common diminutive ending in English names of this period [5].


Pronunciation guides appear between backslash brackets, \ \, and are intended to be read as if they were modern standard American English with the emphasis placed on the capitalized syllable.


[1] Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling, The New American Dictionary of First Names (New York: Signet, 1983).

[2] Black, George F. The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History. New York: New York Public Library, 1986. Original edition, 1946.
Entries Bean, Beathag, and Bethia.

[3] E. G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).

[4] Virgina Easley DeMarce, private correspondance based on a list of converts to Christianity in 1765, compiled by Edward Deake, missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, in Charlestown Rhode Island. Several 19th century examples are reported by Ben Buckner, Analysis of occurrence of feminine given names in the 1850 US Census.

[5] Talan Gwynek, Feminine Given Names in A Dictionary of English Surnames (SCA: KWHS Proceedings, 1994; WWW: J. Mittleman, 1997).