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Biblical Names: From The Baby Name Bible

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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:

ETHAN
NOAH
NATHAN
GABRIEL
ELIJAH
CALEB
ISAAC
ISAIAH
JEREMIAH
JOSIAH
MICAH
ELI
LEVI
EMMANUEL
MALACHI
JONAH
ABRAHAM
ASHER
EZEKIEL

But since there are so few biblical names on the girls’ list, we offer some possibilities to consider to replenish the supply:

ADAH
ADINA
ATARAH
DINAH
EVE
JAEL
JEMIMA
JERUSHA
KETURAH
KEZIAH
MARA
MICHAL
NAAMAH
SARAI
SHUA
TAMAR
ZIBIAH
ZILLAH

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A Thanksgiving Menu of Pilgrim Names

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What better time than Thanksgiving to look back at the first names to arrive on our shores?

As you may remember from your third-grade history book, the first English-speaking settlement, called the Raleigh Colony, was established on the Atlantic coast in 1587, and although it didn’t survive for very long, some of its name records did.  Not surprisingly, of the 99 men who settled there, 23 were named John, fifteen were Thomas, and ten were William, with a small sprinkling of Old Testament names in the mix as well.

The passenger list of the Mayflower, which set off on its transatlantic journey in 1620, had a different element, in that about half of its passengers were members of the fundamentalist Protestant sect known as Pilgrims.  And although many Pilgrims were content to use Bible-sanctioned names, the more extreme of them considered such names blasphemous and so invented their own ‘virtue’ or ‘slogan’  names consisting of ordinary vocabulary  words, ranging from Abstinence and Ashes to Zeal-for-the-Lord.

So while most of the 102 men, women, and children aboard the Mayflower–the future settlers of  the Plymouth Colony–were named John, Mary, James, Edward, Thomas, William, Elizabeth, Susannah or Sarah, there were also among them those with such distinctive, attention-worthy names as:

GIRLS

DAMARIS

DESIRE

HUMILITY

PRISCILLA

REMEMBER

BOYS

BARTHOLOMEW

DEGORY

GILES

JASPER

LOVE

MYLES (yes, Standish)

OCEANUS (born during the voyage)

RESOLVED

WRESTLING

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