Name Mystery: Jeremiah

I’ve never considered Jeremiah popular. I haven‘t seen it suggested on naming websites or forums, or ever encountered it in the wild.

Yet, it was ranked at #58 in 2016. Its soundalike, Jedidiah, was #756 (variant Jedediah has never ranked). 

Checking some other -iah names gives me #55 for Josiah (to me this is an understandable ranking, perhaps an honour/alternative to Joseph) and #439 for Zachariah.

Straying from the -iahs, Jeremiah outpaces seemingly “more popular” Biblical names like Ezra (#85) and Asher (#71).

The BNW book preview lists one of its styles as “African American,” so I’m thinking the popularity might be coming from that community. Though, I’ve never met a black Jeremiah (or Jer) so I’m skeptical.

I could see Jeremiah being popular among certain faith denominations, but they don’t seem like a significant percentage of the population. (Oh, and faith’s synonymous r-word is apparently spam).

Any guesses?

 

Replies

1
January 5, 2018 2:09 PM

The name ranks I listed come from the SSA stats, to be clear. 

2
January 5, 2018 4:44 PM

no idea,  but I grew up with a couple of Jeremiahs - they were Christian, in Australia

3
January 6, 2018 2:56 PM

Interesting! I wonder how the stats differ in Australia.

4
January 6, 2018 3:20 PM

no idea,  but I havent come across a Jedidiah here

 

I know a few Josiahs and Ezra and Jeremy and heaps of Zachary,  I havent come across an Asher

 

I just looked up the top 100 from last year and I'll list the Biblical ones

Noah no 4

James no 5

Thomas no 6

Ethan no 7

Lucas no 8

Alexander no 12

Samuel no 19

Jacob 21, Isaac 22, Benjamin 22, Levi 27, Joshua 29, Elijah 31, Daniel 39, Eli 47, Jordan 53, Michael 58, Zachary 59, Joseph 65, Luke 66, Matthew 69, Caleb 78, Nathaniel 82, Felix 83, Nathan 85, Gabriel 92, John 94, Marcus 97

 

5
January 5, 2018 7:18 PM

Of the names you mentioned, I've met one younger Jeremiah (about 10) and a couple of Ezras (both under 10).  I've never met any of the others IRL.

Jeremy is a bit dated to my generation I think, so I can see some parents using Jeremiah as an updated version of Jeremy.  However, I agree Jeremiah seems faith-based in a way that Jeremy does not.  Those "iah" endings have that vibe for me in general.  FWIW, the only Jeremiah I know is from a devout Catholic family & the Ezras I know are both from devout evangelical families, so my experience would appear to reinforce the faith-based associations.  All 3 were White, so I'm not sure about the African American association.

I wondered how much of it is regional.  The "iah" names also have a frontier/cowboy/Western feel to me, so I thought maybe they get more use where that style of name is more popular.  I admit I was surprised by the results.  Jeremiah does not rank at all in Wyoming, Idaho or Montana-places where cowboy culture exists.  However, it is 56 in my state (midwest), 70 in California, 80 in Hawaii and 59 in New York. Either it isn't as Western/cowboy to everyone else, or Western/cowboy names aren't actually popular in places where one would expect to find real cowboys.

6
January 6, 2018 8:58 PM

I know 1 Ezra and no Ashers, and I think the former is somewhat religious. I picked those names based on what I’ve seen to be popular online. I couldn't think of any popular Biblical names in my area besides the ones in the Top 10, which wouldn’t really illustrate my point.

I agree Jeremiah seems like an updated Jeremy, and although I wouldn’t personally use it, I see the appeal. The African American association is lost on me too, but then I’m not Laura, and I’m inclined to trust her name judgement better than my own. ;)

7
January 5, 2018 9:42 PM

I'm unclear on what the mystery is! It has always seemed like a sort of classic biblical name to me...I've known a few Jeremiah's. It doesn't surprise me at all that it would be ranked #58. Maybe it's more a regional thing, that you aren't encountering them but there are a lot out there.

Jedediah sounds to me very different than Jeremiah and has a much more strong biblical feel. Asher strikes me as one of the "newer" old names that is returning and sounds fresh again. Same with Ezra to some degree. Jeremiah seems like it has been around for a long time and just a sort of slow and steady name that will always be relatively popular. I think because it sounds similar to Jeremy, it sounds a lot less bold than some of the other bible names.

8
January 6, 2018 3:10 PM

I guess the mystery to me is just how high Jeremiah ranks, which I really didn’t expect. I think it’s definately a regional thing, because my name encounters have varied a lot from the SSA stats in general, not just in this case.

I personally see Jeremiah as quite similar to Jedidiah, although if I was around a couple Jeremiahs and no Jedidiahs, I might feel differently. 

9
January 6, 2018 6:58 PM

Some of this is presumably about the relative importance of the respective biblical figures? I'm not Christian or a theologian, but the Wikipedia tells me that Jeremiah was a major prophet of the Old Testament, with a book named after him and a couple others he is believed to have authored, who played "a foundational role in Christian thought". Name-powerhouses Noah and Isaiah are likewise both important figures in Christianity (even I had heard of Noah's Ark as a child). But Zachariah and Josiah seem to be less central biblical figures (and might also be more commonly known by a different name--Nathan and Zechariah, respectively). Some biblical names are given purely for style's sake, but I would expect that folks who are religiously motivated might find Jeremiah more compelling than these stylistically-similar names for these "content" reasons. From this point of view, Ezra and Josiah are the real surprises on the list.

However, I'm pretty sure at least some of the popularity of Jeremiah is in honor of the hospitable bullfrog immortalized in the Three Dog Night song. If you look at the name's history in the US, it chugged along at a low, somewhat steady usage for about the first century of records--always in the top-1000, but not higher than about #250 between 1880–1970. In that period it's generally a little less popular than Noah, a little more popular than Zachariah and Josiah, fairly comparable to Isaiah, and far outstrips Jedediah, which wasn't on the charts. This matches their current popularity, too: in 2016 Noah was the #1 boy name, Zachariah was down at #483, Isaiah was barely ahead of Jeremiah at #47, and Jedediah is again off the charts (after charting). Josiah is the only outlier, in the group, as its relative popularity now was not at all predicted by its virtual absence from the top-1000 for much of the list's existence. 

Both Noah and Isaiah had their big surge in popularity beginning in the mid-1990s (and Zachariah hasn't really had a noticeable surge). Jeremiah did have a rise in popularity in the same period, but this follows a slightly smaller surge beginning in the early 1970s and peaking in 1977. This earlier surge corresponds to the release of the song in 1970/71. Notably, it appears not to be very connected to the popularity of the other currently-popular biblical -ah names. Noah et al did begin a slow resurgence around the same period (and Jedediah only ever made it into the top-1000 for about a decade in the late 70s-early 80s in the lower half of the list) but that biblical-trend was on a much smaller, slower scale: In 1977, Jeremiah was  all the way up at #68 while Noah was still down at #285 and Isaiah wasn't even in the top-500.

That earlier trend for Jeremiah also had a very long tail, which eventually fed back into the resurgence of the name a couple of decades later but may also have kept it from being adopted as enthusiastically as its brother-names: In 1993, Jeremiah was at a two-decade nadir of popularity at #166, but it still edged out Noah and Isaiah, which had only gradually made it up to #203 and #204, respectively. But by 1998, just five years later, Noah and Isaiah had zoomed up the list to #29 and #59, while Jeremiah had just drifted up to #114. It seems possible that its earlier popularity made it feel a little less "fresh" than Noah and Isaiah, although the fashion for Old Testament(-ish) names was eventually enough to overcome this drawback (and also enough to overcome the relative lack of Christian-significance for Josiah and Ezra).

As for the African-American tag, I wonder if the low-level 70s-80s trend in Old Testament names was more a Black thing than a White thing. I certainly know more Isaiahs my age who are Black than who are White (I'm not sure I know any who are White, actually). I would say by now this trend easily extends to non-Black populations, though.

10
January 6, 2018 7:12 PM

all the ones I know are non-black

11
January 6, 2018 7:14 PM

In their forties? It must be a regional thing, then.

12
January 6, 2018 8:21 PM

Jeremiah was a prominent enough biblical figure that he has his own common noun jeremiad.

Old school Old Testament names have been favored in the African-American community since slavery times and Reconstruction and still are today. My grandson's original middle name was...Jeremiah. His original first name, now his surname, is one of the less used biblical names (think Solomon but not Solomon). There are many African-American men of all ages with names like Isaac Hayes, Isaiah Thomas, and Elijah Cummings. Not long ago I was standing in line at Starbucks when an adorably tiny little African-American boy came up to me, introduced himself as Ezekiel and gave me a little bible study lesson on his namesake's story.

In England the Old Testament names became popular during the Reformation. During my childhood, the popular Old Testament names were Michael, Joseph, and David. Then in my son's cohort came Adam, Seth, Benjamin, Jonathan, Joshua. Following along came all the Jacobs and Noahs. In the last twenty years Eli, Elijah, Isaiah, Josiah have become mainstream. In the list above starting with Adam, I did not know a single person with any of those names of my age when I was growing up. Of course I am Jewish, so I did know Yaakov and Yonoson and Eliyahu and Binyamin from Hebrew school, but these names were all hidden behind non-biblical English names.

13
January 6, 2018 9:05 PM

I would consider it a popular biblical name (though I'm not sure if parents use it for that reason or because they like the sound).

The reason I know that I've encountered several Jeremiahs is because I always break out into the song when meeting one - of course getting an eye-roll every time!

I think most have been white, but because I only remember one of them, I could have been introduced to a Black Jeremiah or other ethnicity.

The one I remember is a clerk at a store I frequent. He is a 20-something white guy. If I had to guess, he's middle-class and not particularly religious.

In fact, I don't believe I've ever met anyone with the other names you mention. I'm from Texas - regional?

14
January 12, 2018 10:15 AM

Just yesterday there was  a Jeremiah at the preschool storytime.  He was not African American.  The area I live in his very Evangelical Christian so a lot of the Old Testament names mentioned up-thread are popular in our area.