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.
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.
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 Moby–Dick.)
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.