A Dozen Neglected Biblical Boys’ Names

In the most recent list of Most Popular Boys ‘ Names, all five of the top five names came from the Good Book, accounting for well over 100,000 of the boy babies born in the US.  Obviously, many parents–whether for religious reasons or not–continue to be attracted to names with this strong traditional base.  But why, we ask, be limited to the same relatively small group of biblical choices, when there are loads of other more unusual options out there?  Why not Joab or Joah instead of Noah?  Beniah rather than Benjamin?  Jemuel in place of Samuel?

Many of these now obscure names were quite commonly used by the Puritan Colonists, especially in New England, until the middle of the 19th century when Old Testament names fell out of favor.  Most of the names listed below are hardly heard today, with only one of them–Asa–even appearing in the current Top 1000, but they are all possible alternatives to those standards that are given to thousands of babies each year.

ABIJAH — The name of Samuel‘s second son would make a perfect substitute for the Top 25 Elijah.

ABSALOM — A literary as well as biblical name, used by Chaucer (for the jolly clerk in The Miller‘s Tale, Dryden, Faulkner–and currently as a comic book character.

ADLAI —  Associated with with several generations of the Stevenson family, which produced a Vice-President and a UN representative named Adlai, it can be pronounced either ad-LAY or as-LYE.

AMOS — One of those names hurt by racial stereotyping, via the old radio show Amos &  Andy (though it didn’t seem to do any harm to Andy), Amos is definitely ready for a comeback.  It was the name of a noble George Eliot character, is associated with Israeli author Amos Oz, and appears in Harry Potter as the wizard Amos Diggory.  Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli named his son Amos.

ASA  —  If Ava can make it bigtime, why not Asa, a similarly short (easy to spell), strong  palindrome?  It means ‘healer, physician’ in Hebrew and ‘born at dawn’ in Japanese.

BOAZ –Although it’s ancient and means strength, Boaz has plenty of contemporary pizzazz.

ESAU —  The biblical twin of (top boys’ name) Jacob is worth a look, especially in light of today’s enthusiasm for ‘E’ names like Eli, Elijah, Elliot and Everett.  Though there  that old jingle a kid  might have to put up with–“He saw Esau on the seesaw.”

ISHMAEL —  Call him Ishmael?  Why not.  A worthy companion to Isaac and Isaiah, with even a Lemony Snicket character to its credit (In The End, it’s made clear that Ishmael was named after the narrator of  MobyDick.)

JABEZ — A nameberry fave, with its distinct Southern accent and supercool, jazzy  image.

LEMUEL —  Generations know this as the first name of the Gulliver who narrates his fantastic Travels to Lilliput–and more recently it made an appearance on the TV show Oz.  An alternate form of Solomon, with an appealing nickname, Lemuel makes an accessible alternative to the ubiquitous Samuel.

TOBIAH —  This is the original Hebrew form of the Greek Tobias, and would make a far more distinctive choice.  Some other underused -iah names: OBADIAH, JEDIAH, JERIAH (note: the iah suffix means of or from God).

ZEBEDEE — A favorite of mine since meeting an adorable toddler with this name in London a few years ago, Zebedee, a Greek form of the Hebrew Zebediah (another worthy name), is bursting with energy and spirit.  It belonged to the father of two apostles in the New Testament.

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16 Responses to “A Dozen Neglected Biblical Boys’ Names”

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Dearest Says:

August 26th, 2009 at 4:24 am

I’ve been wanting to give Tobiah some extra attention for a while, so thank you for that! Tobiah and Ishmael are two of my favourite names ever, very melodious and grounded, which I think is good for a boys name ^^
I also like Amos and the quirkiness of Absalom, but Amos is a bit short in my book, and Absalom may be too strange…
Wonderful post, as always ^^

JNE Says:

August 26th, 2009 at 8:04 am

Zebedee is an absolute favorite of mine! I love Zeb, Zed and Zee as nicknames, too… It’s just plain fun to say! Zebedee!

sheigh Says:

August 26th, 2009 at 10:00 am

Amos, Tobiah & Ishmael are my favorites!
I better like Asa if sounds like “Ai-sha”.

ADC Says:

August 26th, 2009 at 10:04 am

I have been in love with Abijah lately. I’m glad to see that finally someone else has something good to say about it!!!

sarmac26 Says:

August 26th, 2009 at 10:25 am

I love the name Asa! It is on my top ten boy’s names list!

Teri Says:

August 26th, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I never see my husband’s name on lists of names from the bible. It’s Zenas (rhymes with Venus) and I think it’s a pretty cool name.

Elle Says:

August 26th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

A good friend has a son with the middle name Abijah. I always thought it sounded really cool.

Absalom has a pretty negative story in the biblical world. He led a revolt against his father, King David. No thanks.

Emz Says:

August 28th, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Love ’em all! I’m a huge fan of biblical names, which is perhaps slightly strange since I’m an atheist!!

I would definitely use Asa, and consider the others seriously (though Zebedee is pretty out there! Love it though, it’s fab). I’ve always wondered why some of the simpler biblical names are so rarely used when, like you say, they fit so well with current trends. Definitely a wee gold mine!!

Laurie L.A. Says:

September 3rd, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Did you mention that the nickname for Obadiah could be Obbie — a name that I think sounds really fantastic for a little boy, as long as his last name doesn’t start with a G or a Y.
What do you think?

Beverly Says:

September 27th, 2009 at 1:45 am

Have to agree with Elle – Absolom is a pretty negative character – I think he is also a rapist and for sure ends up in bed with father’s wives – ewe.
Also gaining in popularity – Hezekiah. It is what I named my little man. He is called Kiah for short.
Zebedee means thunder, which adds to how cool it is.

Jon Says:

November 28th, 2009 at 7:20 pm

My wife and I need some help. We are trying to find a suitable boy name. We want to name after my grandfather, Herschl Tzvi (Harry)Z’l who passed away last year. We want a hebrew name that is relatively easily pronouncable. Something that either starts with H or sounds like/ has same meaning as Herschl. We do not like the name Herschl or Tzvi, and we want it to be Hebrew. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Also, are there any good books/lists available online to peruse?
Thanks and Shavua Tov,
Jon

Charlotte Vera Says:

April 15th, 2010 at 2:35 am

A friend of mine recently named her son Azariah. Also, jolly the clerk in The Miller’s Tale may be, but Oh My Word is that a crude story! Not one I’d be letting any little Absalom’s ears hear.

Nicole Says:

November 12th, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Boaz is pretty cool, actually! The nickname Beau would be cute.

domoneque Says:

February 13th, 2011 at 12:25 am

I love ishmael,,,im due in may n all i can think about is naming my son ishmael

kme Says:

February 4th, 2013 at 3:31 am

Like to see Esau get some love! (what with not getting his father’s blessing and all..)
I have always had a huge fascination with Esau, it is a family name.

vlsewell Says:

June 11th, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Yeah, wouldn’t name my kid after Absalom. Frankly, I wouldn’t use Esau or Ishmael either. I mean, Esau SOLD his birthright (and shame on Jacob for the trickery), and Ishmael is the thorn in the line of Abraham’s lineage (which isn’t entirely ishmael’s fault). Not the best examples after which to name one’s kids.

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