By Pamela Redmond Satran for Namberry
Biblical names have always been popular for boys, and their influence has only risen in recent years. The dozen boys’ names here all stand below the Top 20. Eight derive from the Old Testament, three from the New, with one -- Michael -- figuring in both. A half century ago, there were fewer biblical names on the boys' Top 20 and more of those were from the New Testament. What hasn't changed is that all these names are well liked and have deep roots, and will serve any boy well. The most popular biblical names for boys today are:
Jacob, the Number 1 boys’ name in the US for over a decade, is the name of one of the most important biblical patriarchs, with the 12 tribes of Israel evolving from his 12 sons. In the Old Testament, Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebecca, the twin brother of Esau, and the husband of both Rachel and Leah.
Ethan has risen to Number 3 on the boys’ popularity list more on the strength of Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible character than on that of any biblical Ethan. The most prominent Old Testament Ethan -- there were several -- was praised for his wisdom. He authored Psalm 89 and may have been a cymbal player in King David’s court, pictured here. Meaning strong, Ethan is now the Number 3 name in the U.S.
Noah, the builder of the ark who is among the most familiar biblical figures to children, is a surprise baby name hit of recent years. Noah was hand-picked by God to survive the flood thanks to his righteousness, an upstanding namesake. Noah was said to have fathered three sons at the age of 100, impressive until you know he lived to be nearly 1000.
Michael the Archangel figures in the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic religions. In the Book of Daniel, he’s mentioned as a defender of the Jewish people, and in The New Testament, he leads God’s armies in defeating Satan. Michael and Gabriel (or Mikhail and Jibreel) are the only archangels mentioned in the Quran. Michael has been a Top 10 name in the U.S. for over 70 years, including a long reign at Number 1.
The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is one of the most familiar Biblical stories to children. A visionary and a prophet, Daniel has his own book of the bible and is honored in the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths. As a boys’ name, Daniel manages to feel eternally youthful and traditional at the same time. Widely used for boys throughout American history, Daniel now sits just outside the Top 10.
Matthew is another biblical name that strikes the golden classic-yet-stylish balance. The Gospel of Matthew is the first book of the New Testament. Matthew was one of the four evangelists and 12 disciples, and was also a witness to the resurrection and ascension of Christ. In the Top 10 since the early 1970s, meaning there are lots of dads out there with the name, Matthew has now slipped to Number 12.
The Old Testament Elijah is a relative newcomer to the ranks of popular biblical names for boys, having climbed to its current standing at Number 13 from a low of 689 in the late 1960s. Far more popular in the U.S. than in Europe, Elijah’s new fashion currency may derive something from its stylish sister name Eliza. Elijah in the Book of Kings was a miracle worker who raised the dead, rained fire from the sky, and ascended in a whirlwind.
There are two major figures called James in the New Testament: James the Just, who is said to be a brother or stepbrother or cousin of Jesus, and James the Great, an apostle who is a son of Zebedee and became the patron saint of Spain. There was a second apostle named James, called James the Less and seldom mentioned in the Bible. James is one of the most fashionable classic boys’ names these days and a relative of Number 1 Jacob.
The biblical Benjamin was a founder of one of the 12 tribes of Israel, the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel. A favorite since the 1970s, Benjamin’s antecedents also include Benjamin Franklin and baby guru Dr. Benjamin Spock. Superstar couples Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady as well as John Travolta and Kelly Preston are just a few of the modern parents who’ve recently chosen Benjamin with its friendly nickname Ben for their sons.
Joshua, an important Old Testament figure who led the Israelites to win the Battle of Jericho and reach the Promised Land, is among the first wave of biblical boys’ names rediscovered in the 1960s and 70s. There’s many a young dad named Josh, but Joshua is still Number 17 for babies too. The biblical Joshua commands respect as the recognized successor of Moses.
Andrew is the name of the patron saint of Scotland, Russia, and its native Greece -- and so a good choice if you have roots in those countries. A fisherman who was the first chosen of Christ’s apostles, Andrew’s symbol is an x-shaped cross. Long a Top 10 name now slipped to Number 18, Andrew is closely identified with artists Wyeth and Warhol. Andy and Drew are the friendly short forms.
The biblical David is an inspirational role model as both the boy who slew the giant Goliath with his slingshot and the fair and righteous king who was a poet and loved music. The Star of David makes David a special name in Judaism. A perennially popular boys’ name around the world, David now stands at Number 19 on the U.S. charts.