Few books have inspired more baby names than the Bible. Epic tales of miracles and catastrophes, the creation of the world, and the divine hand of God depict the triumph of the human spirit and faith. In times of uncertainty and war (or peace and prosperity), Biblical names are enduring and timeless. Here are some common themes and namesakes.
Jacob’s Ladder: Biblical Names in the Top 10
Jacob is the most popular boy’s name in the United States (according to the 2007 US Social Security Administration). It took the patriarch of the 12 tribes of Israel just five years to move from number nine to number one in 1999, and it has remained at the top ever since. Joining Jacob in the top 10 are the names Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, Christopher, Matthew, and Andrew.
Like a group of tussling, unruly brothers, the top five boys’ names have jostled each other for position. Jacob bumped Michael to number two in 1999. Then last year Ethan pushed Joshua, which has been in the top five since 1983, out of the third spot to number four. In the Old Testament, Joshua led the Israelites to the Promised Land, succeeding Moses as the leader of his people.
There are even more Biblical names crowded in the top 20: Alexander, David, Joseph, Noah, James, John, and Nicholas. By comparison, only two Biblical names—Abigail and Hannah—stand in the top 10 girls’ names.
Rising star: The third son of Jacob and Leah, the prophet Levi counted Moses and Aaron among his descendants in the Levite tribe. In the New Testament, Levi was the original name of Matthew. Currently at #132, Levi is fast approaching a popularity it has not enjoyed since the late 1880s and will only continue to rise now that Matthew McConaughey has chosen the name for his son.
Genesis, the first book of the Bible, tells the story of creation, follows the tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, their sons Cain and Abel, Noah‘s ark, and the Tower of Babel. Genesis, which means “beginning” in Hebrew, has become a fashionable name for girls in recent years, climbing from #757 to #139 between 1988 and 2007.
Not surprisingly, Eden has also become a trendy girl’s name, evoking visions of paradise on earth and a garden of delights. Desperate Housewives star, Marcia Cross, named one of her twin daughters, Eden. Between 1986 to 2007, the name has risen from #958 to #257. A slight variation on the spelling, Edun is the name of a socially-conscious, nature-inspired clothing company co-founded by Bono.
Rising star: Another name with utopian connotations for parents is Zion, which means “highest point” in Hebrew. A symbolic name for the city of Jerusalem, Zion first debuted as a girl’s name in 2005 at #1002, but quickly progressed to #576 within two years. Today Zion is more popular as a boy’s name. In 2007, it was ranked #236.
Soul Survivors at Sea
Noah saved his family from a flood by building an ark and stocking it with enough provisions and livestock to repopulate the earth. 16,373 newborn Noahs were born last year, making Noah the 14th most popular boy’s name in the country. (Now, that’s what we call being fruitful and multiplying!)
Moses is a Hebrew and Egyptian name meaning “drawn out of the water.” In the Book of Exodus, Moses played an important role by leading the Israelites from captivity in Egypt and handing down the 10 Commandments from God to his people. One of his most dramatic moments: parting the Red Sea with his staff. He is known as a prophet, leader, and lawgiver. Popular over a century ago, the name Moses achieved recent prominence as the name of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin‘s son. However, the name hasn’t gone retro quite yet; it was most recently ranked at #464, the traditional form, Moises, is slightly more favored at #367.
Rising star: When the prophet Jonah refused to deliver a message from God to the sinners of Nineveh, he got a time-out by spending three days in the belly of a large fish. Nevertheless, the name Jonah is holding steady at #165, and faring better than its Greek counterpart, Jonas, at # 331. Will Jonas surpass Jonah one day? Perhaps when the Jonas Brothers’ thrilled teen and preteen fans grow up and become mothers themselves.
Resilient Women of the Old Testament
Abigail, currently the 8th most popular girls’ name in the country, was known as the third wife of King David in the Old Testament. She referred to herself as David ‘s handmaid. Abigail Adams was the First Lady and wife to the second President of the United States, John Adams, and mother of the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams.
Sarah was the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac. Sarah means “princess” in Hebrew. Ranked at #18, variations include Sara (#81), Sarai (#399), and Sarahi (#894). The name achieved its greatest popularity as a top 10 name between 1978 and 2002.
Rachel, the sister of Leah, was the second and favorite wife of Jacob, and mother to Joseph and Benjamin. Between 1983 and 1999, Rachel was a top 20 name for girls; it is currently ranked at #60. Its variation, Rachael, is ranked at #393. Celebrity chef and talk show hostess Rachael Ray is a famous bearer of the name.
Rebecca was the resourceful wife of Isaac and the mother of twins Jacob and Esau. Between the late 1960s and 2000, this name was frequently in the top 25 or 50, but it has fallen in recent years and is currently ranked at #105.
Rising star: Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, resurfaced in the top 200 in 1997. (Compare Naomi’s #124 ranking in 2007 to its #128 ranking in 1915.) Variations of Naomi include Nayomee, Naomie, and Nomi.
Of Kings and Queens: Biblical Royalty
David was the young shepherd boy destined to become the king of Israel. His claim to fame? Slaying the giant Philistine Goliath with one stone from his slingshot. After his capture of Jerusalem, the city came to be known as “the city of David.” During his reign, David had many wives, including the beautiful Bathsheba (with whom he fell in love while she was still married to Uriah the Hittite). Their son, Solomon, succeeded David as king and became known for his fairness and wisdom.
The name Darius was very popular among Biblical royalty. There are three kings in the Bible named Darius, including the fourth king of Persia and Darius Mede, the Babylonian ruler who threw Daniel into the lion’s den.
It’s not all about the guys! Female royalty also plays an important role in the Old Testament. Esther, the heroic Jewish queen, saved her people from Persian persecution when they were threatened by a member of the court named Haman.
Rising star: Josiah was the boy king who had a spiritual awakening at the age of 8, and during his reign, dedicated himself to restoring his people’s covenant with God. He is one of many Biblical names in vogue right now that starts with J and possesses an –ah ending. Inches away from the top 100, Josiah has patiently risen from #891 to #106 in the past 33 years.
The Israelites followed Joshua into the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan River. The river is also the site where Abraham and Lot parted ways, and Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. As a result, Jordan continues to be a popular name for both boys (#45) and girls (#100).
Along with the river Jordan, Shiloh and Bethany are among the many Biblical places that have found themselves woven into baby names.
Joshua and the Israelites gathered in the town of Shiloh before entering the Promised Land. Shiloh was also the site where Hannah dedicated her son, Samuel, to God. A name associated with prophets and messiahs, today the most famous Shiloh is Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s daughter, Shiloh Nouvelle.
Bethany was the village where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and where he blessed his disciples before being carried up to Heaven. It is also the place where he came to Mary Magdalene‘s defense after she was criticized for anointing his feet.