Category: Baby Name Bible
When we finally finished researching and writing our encyclopedic name book, the day came when we had to decide what to call it. (The working title of Big Baby Name Book just wasn’t going to cut it.)
This turned out to be almost as laborious a task as writing the book. Dozens and dozens of lists of possibilities were emailed back and forth. Our book editor and even our agent entered the fray, offering their own suggestions. (We actually chronicled this painful process in an article we wrote for Publishers Weekly magazine, called Naming the Name Book.) We finally settled on The Baby Name Bible because, well, we hoped people would make it their baby naming bible.
It never entered our minds that some people would take it literally as a book of biblical names. But on our earlier, smaller website, before nameberry was born–babynamebible.com– many visitors did come to search solely for Old and New Testament names. And of course they found them, but a lot more besides.
Biblical names have a long history in this country. They came to colonial America with the early Puritans, who scrutinized the Good Book for names of righteous figures, believing that such names could shape the character of their offspring, and often using extreme examples, like Zelophehad and Zerubbabel. Over the centuries and decades since then, there has been a steady stream of biblical names: individual Old Testament examples, in particular, have drifted in and out of fashion, for both boys and girls.
Looking back at the more recent past. we see that boys’ names have been more consistent: Joseph has been in the Top 25 for the last century, usually accompanied by David and Daniel, and later Joshua, Jonathan, and Adam. Archangel Michael was in first place from the mid-fifties to the late nineties, and now Jacob has been on top since 1999. This past year has seen a record high for Old Testament boys’ names in modern times, with 10 of the Top 25.
Biblical girls’ names have not been as popular as the boys’–possibly because there are fewer of them. Ruth was the sole representative in the first several decades of the 20th century, until Deborah arrived in 1949. After that, the triumvirate of Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca remained in the Top 25 from the seventies until very recently, and the last big success stories were Hannah, which entered the Top 25 in 1993, and Abigail in 1997.
It’s still pretty much a boys’ story when it comes to OT names, with parents now reaching out for some of the less familiar: Nehemiah, Judah, Zachariah. Here are the ones that are currently growing in popularity:
But since there are so few biblical names on the girls’ list, we offer some possibilities to consider to replenish the supply:
When we think of Scandinavian names, what usually comes to mind are the familiar and accessible ones that have been imported from Norway, Denmark and Sweden, like Eric and Ingrid and Lars and Dagmar. But Finnish names, while still Scandinavian, are a world unto themselves, loaded with double vowels (and sometimes consonants) and tricky accents and pronunciations. Yet though this nomenclature includes clunkers like Hongatar and Kiputytto, there are many others that have a unique and quirky charm all their own. I remember that when we were researching the foreign variations of names for The Baby Name Bible, I always kind of looked forward to seeing what the Finnish take would be on a classic–like Viljo for William, Maiju for Mary.
One reason for the sparse representation of Finnish names here is the small number of Finnish-Americans in the US. There are currently about 700,000 people of that ethnicity, which is only 0.2% of the population. Nor have many celebrities publicized Finnish names–there has never been a Finnish movie star equivalent of Ingrid Bergman, for example–the only Finnish names people might recognize are Esa-Pekka Salonen, the contemporary classical conductor, or perhaps father-and-son architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen.
Another element that sets these names apart comes from the fact that the Finnish language is very different from that of the other Scandinavian countries, with their Norse roots; Finnish has more in common with Hungarian, Estonian, Turkish and the languages spoken in the Asian part of Russia. But–for you vowel lovers– double vowels are its most distinctive feature. Pronunciation can be a little tricky, but here are some simple rules: A is pronounced as in arm, E as in egg, I as in it, O as in on, U as in pull, J=Y, and W=V.
So, while the current most popular names in Finland are quite international in flavor–Maria, Olivia, Sofia, Amanda, Matilda, and Julia are all in the Top 10–here are some more traiditional choices that would be usable but still highly distinctive here: