Eli, Noah, Ethan, Jonah, Asher - what do these names all have in common? They’re Old Testament boys’ names that have reached their peak popularity in the last decade. Though name trends indicate that more and more unique choices are being recorded on birth certificates, many parents are deciding against modern inventions in favor of ancient finds.
However, now that Noah has reigned supreme for the past three years, choosing a name that offers Biblical substance and simplicity without feeling faddish can be difficult. Here are fifteen unassuming boys’ names outside of the top 1000 that feature in the Old Testament.
Boaz. Though Beau and Bo are both rising through the ranks, some parents worry about finding a longer name for birth certificates (and resumes). If Bodhi and Bowen aren’t your style, why not Boaz? The second syllable adds more oomph, and the Biblical figure is known for his strength and purpose. While the name is well-used in Israel, it has yet to migrate to our shores.
Rei. A name with multiple origins, Rei in the Old Testament refers to a friend of David (the name comes from a Hebrew word for “friend”, in fact). The name and its multiple spellings are far from uncommon - 750 babies last year were given a form of the name Rei (Ray, Rae, Rey, etc). Still, the sleekness and simplicity of the name is unparalleled.
Job. The epitome of patience and faith, Job has long been associated with the terrible trials of the figure in the Book of Job. These days, however, mentioning the name among millennial parents may result in an Arrested Development reference (with Gob, pronounced similarly, as a main character). With its Puritan history and recent rise in eponyms, Job may soon move away from its struggles in favor of its strengths.
Oren. An accessible name with a natural derivation - it’s from the Hebrew for “pine tree” - Oren is an excellent alternative to popular Owen or cosmic Orion. Many kids will recognize the name via the character on The Odd Squad, and grandparents will like the simplicity and historical significance. In the United States last year, 128 baby boys were named Oren.
Adlai. While the name briefly ranked on the top 1000 in the 1890’s, it’s most associated with mid-century politician Adlai Stevenson, a onetime presidential hopeful. Though the name and its namesakes have faded into history, it may be time to bring back this resolute choice. Adlai comes from the Hebrew for “God is just,” and has a sound unlike many trendy choices today.
Ira. Popular in Jewish communities throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this concise moniker once ranked at #57. But it hasn’t been on the top 1000 since 1992 - with Ezra and Asa on the rise, Ira might fit right in today. Dozens of wearers have permeated pop culture, from Ira Gershwin to Ira Glass, and the name has the poignant meaning of “the watchful one.
Gad. The name of one of the twelve sons of Jacob, Gad’s descendants became their own tribe. The name comes from the Hebrew word for “good fortune,” and despite its ancient history, it’s only been recorded in American name records in the past few decades. Gad is short and sweet, concise and compelling; longer form Gadiel is another attractive option.
Hiram. Pronounced in English as “Hy-rahm” and in Spanish as “Hee-rahm,” Hiram is a classic Biblical name with a long history in the United States. It once had a more old-South image, perpetuated by Hiram “Hank” Williams, but it’s been off the radar long enough to rejuvenate its appeal. If you’re looking for a quirky name with multiple nickname choices, Hiram might be right for you.
Jorah. This melodic name with a pleasant meaning - “autumn rain” - could be a great alternative to other Hebrew favorites Jonah and Jordan. The name gained attention recently, when it was used in both the Game of Thrones books and television series. Jorah is also similar to popular feminine names like Cora or Norah, but it stands well on its own for boys.
Abiel. Though it sounds like a mix of Abel and Gabriel, Abiel is an historical choice - it was used fairly frequently by Puritan families. It reappeared in the US starting in the 1970’s, and last year reached its highest population of boys born with the name: seventy-one. Abiel’s meaning is “God is my father,” and it shares a sound and origin with popular Abigail.
Esau. Like Job, the name Esau comes with a bit of a warning - many will associate the name with a negative figure in the Bible. However, Cain and Judas are also in use (with the former already ranking in the top 1000), so perhaps Esau could experience more popularity. It’s close to rising Ezra and darling Ezio, and already has a few famous namesakes all over the globe.
Aram. Though the origin of this name is Hebrew, from the word for “exalted,” Aram has been more prominently used in Armenian communities in recent decades. The name is used for multiple individuals in both the Old and New Testament, and also refers to a central region of now-Syria. Aram works well cross-culturally, maintaining friendliness with strength.
Javan. Pronounced “Jay-ven,” this name belonged to a grandson of Noah and (as legend has it) the ancestor of the people of Greece. In fact, the name means “Greece” in Hebrew. Javan fits in with current name fashions, but offers a bit more excitement than the “-ayden” names do.
Dara. Another name with multiple origins, Dara has been recorded in the United States since the late nineteenth century. In Irish, it means “oak tree”; in Sanskrit, “star”; in Persian, “wealthy”; and in Hebrew, “bearer”. Though it sounds like feminine Sarah or Tara, Dara joins Joshua and Ezra in the category of “historically male names that end in A.”Eliam. Euphonic and rhythmic, Eliam sounds like many names already popular in the states - Elias, Elliot, and Liam among them. Yet its religious background and rare usage help it emphasize uniqueness over trendiness. If you’re looking for a name with modern style and ancient substance, Eliam would be a fantastic choice.
Each year I turn to YOU with a name question: What name is a time capsule of the year just past? What was the Name of the Year?
The Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year isn't necessarily the most popular baby name. It's a name that changed in usage or significance during the year, and points to more changes around us. It highlights the way names connect to our world, shaping the meaning and texture of events.
Past NOTYs have come from realms ranging from entertainment to politics to technology. They've represented babies (like Blue Ivy), adults (Pope Francis), fictional characters (Renesmeee) and concepts (Joe). Feel free to cast your net wide, from silly to serious. But in these eventful times, please keep in mind that the target is a name of the year, not a person or story of the year. The name itself should be at the heart of the story.
In the comments section below, please share your Name of the Year nominations and reasoning. As you're thinking about the year in names, keep a lookout for these criteria:
- A dramatic change in the name's usage or social meaning
- A reflection of a broader cultural theme, or influence on broader style trends
- The "naminess" of a story or issue. How essential is the name to the event? Is it clearly a name, reflecting something about names and how they're used and perceived, and not a "term"?
And remember that your comments themselves count, too! The number of nominations factors into in the NOTY choice, and compelling arguments in support of your candidate count most of all.
Queen Victoria reigned in Britain, not America. That's hardly news, but when we talk about Victorian style — in architecture, or in baby names — we tend to let geography slide. In fact, some of the names that we associate with the "Victorian period," like Cora and Pearl, were mostly American hits.
What was the unique baby name style of Victorian England? Can we capture the world that encompassed Charles Dickens, the Crystal Palace, Jack the Ripper and Oscar Wilde in names? Down to the statistics mines we go!
I've identified a group of names that were significantly more popular in England than the United States in the latter half of the 19th Century. Today we'll focus on the boys' side. [Read about the girls' names of Victorian England]
The distinctive styles of English male names included surnames like Hartley and Wright; echoes of a much earlier England in names like Lancelot and Ethelbert; and a distinctly British formality in names like Algernon and Eustace. Reading through the list you'll also notice Biblical names of every stripe, including Dickensian choices like Uriah and Ebenezer.
Take them altogether and I think you'll feel both their time and their place: the land of Her Majesty Victoria, long may she reign.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
VICTORIAN BOYS' NAMES