Jewish New Year Names: 15 neglected biblical boys

By Linda Rosenkrantz

The surprise top name for boys in 2013 was the Old Testament Noah, followed by the not so surprisingly high-on-the-list Jacob, Ethan, Daniel, Benjamin, David, Joseph, Joshua and Samuel—in other words many of the same biblical boys’ names that have been recycled for eons.

I thought that today, in commemoration of the Jewish High Holy Days, we would shake things up a bit and look at some Bible names that aren’t even in the Top 1000, but might be worthy of some consideration

Abijah Similar in sound to the popular Elijah, the more unusal Abijah is found several times in the Bible, for both men and women, worn by Kings and Queens of both Judah and Israel. Frequently heard in America’s early days, it belonged to several noted politicians. A related possibility is Abiah.

AdlaiPronounced either ad-lay or ad-lie, this distinctive biblical name made the Social Security list just three times, all in the 1890s.There has been a three-generation family of notable Adlai Stevensons– the Vice President under Grover Cleveland, his grandson Adlai Ewing Stevenson II—prominent recently on Ken BurnsThe Roosevelts—a two-time Democratic candidate for President, and his one-time Illinois Senator great-grandson.

Boaz—An unusual OT name with lots of energy and the great nickname Bo. Boaz is a major figure in the Book of Ruth, as her second husband, and so is a traditional appellation for boys born on Shavuot, when the Bible story of Ruth is read in the synagogue.

Ephronpronounced EE-fron, and not to be confused with the better known Ephraim—it’s a name that has several meanings: ‘fawn-like’, ‘fruitful’ and ‘singing bird’ –and appears in the Book of Genesis. Also brings to mind the witty Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia.

EsauThe name of the eldest son of Isaac and Rebecca and twin of Jacob edged onto the lower echelons of the popularity list a few times at the turn of the last century. Rarely heard today, could it be a possible successor to Ethan, Eli—or even Sawyer?

Ishmael –“Call me Ishmael” is the opening line of Moby Dick, but not many parents have followed that dictum. The name of Abraham’s first son has been used very sparsely, finding its way to the bottom of the list a few times. There have been Ishmaels in James Fenimore Cooper and Lemony Snicket books; real life bearers include poet Ishmael Reed and producer Ishmael Merchant.

JemuelSamuel is a popular classic, Lemuel is heard occasionally, but Jemuel is virtually undiscovered. A biblical son of Simeon, he was one of the seventy who migrated to Egypt with Jacob. Diminutive Jem calls to mind the To Kill a Mockingbird character—a nice association

JethroJethro was the kind and wise father-in-law of Moses–he was married to his daughter Zipporah. The name took on a kind of hayseed Beverly Hillbillies image for a while, but we think it’s time to wipe that away and look to the original meaning of the name—“excellence.” Some will remember the sixties rock group Jethro Tull, named for a British agricultural inventor.

JoahJoah rhymes with Noah, but is far more distinctive, at the same time also familiar and friendly via its Jo-beginning—a kind of streamlined Josiah. The name Joah was borne by four men in the Old Testament.

JothamThe youngest of Gideon’s seventy sons, Jotham governed Judah during his father’s illness and later ruled as king. Like his father, he was an enthusiastic builder and constructed numerous towers, forts and cities, making this an appropriate choice for someone in those professions.

Kenan—(pronounced KEE-nan)—is a quite modern sounding name that would easily fit in with all the other K-boys in the playground. A great-grandson of Adam and nephew of Abraham, Kenan died at the age of 910. His name appeared once on the US pop list, in 1997, and is borne today by SNL stalwart Kenan Thompson.

PerezPerez was the first of twin sons born to Tamar and Judah.It’s a name that would blend in with a Hispanic community, but beware: there is the possibility of people assuming it to be the namesake of celebrity gossip disher Perez Hilton (born Mario).

Shallum—The name of several people in the Old Testament, including a King of Israel and a King of Judah. A Hebrew cousin of the Irish Callum, it could be confused with the greeting/name Shalom.

TobiahAn authentic alternate to Tobias, Tobiah appears in the Book of Nehemiah as the name of a rebel Hebrew king, and as a name has a bit of a Dickensian novel character feel. Tobiah would fit in well with stylish playmates Isaiah and Josiah.

ZephaniahA minor prophet in the Bible, scion of a noble family, this name has, despite its length, a breezy, zephyr-like feel. Zephaniah Kingsley was the great-grandfather of painter James McNeill Whistler.

 So, which of these names can be redeemed?


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15 Responses to “Jewish New Year Names: 15 neglected biblical boys”

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lesliemarion Says:

September 24th, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Interesting list. Jethro is cool,, though kind of mountain-mannish. Adlai I love though and it feels usable.

sofiarosem Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 12:01 am

I think my favorite from this list is Joah. It’s an adorable alternative to the more popular Noah. Plus you can call him Joey!

sofiarosem Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 12:01 am

I think my favorite from this list is Joah. It’s an adorable alternative to the more popular Noah. Plus you can call him Joey!

Kateri Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 12:16 am

Adlai is the only one I remotely care for.

SunKissedChild Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 12:26 am

I know a Boaz, 2 Esau, and an Ishmael. And I like all of those names. I love uncommon Biblical boy names, my favourite is Hezekiah.

kyemsma Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 4:00 am

I like Jethro and Kenan, which was a surprise Biblical name for me.

ShannonLim Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 4:22 am

I like Ephron!

miloowen Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 8:42 am

You reference that today is Rosh Hashanah, but then refer to the Torah as the “Old Testament.” Not cool, folks.

Aviya (Abijah) is quite popular in Israel right now as a unisex name, and Boz is popular too. Love Adlai and am so glad to see Jotham finally recognised.

Ishmael and Esau may be Hebrew names, but you won’t find these names in the Jewish community for religious reasons.

Two names you didn’t list were Adiel and Adriel, both ancient Biblical names. Adiel is an Israeli name.

augusta_lee Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 9:39 am

What Miloowen said. It would be great to see a blog post about traditionally Jewish or modern Israeli names — this felt very oriented towards Christians (“Biblical,” “Old Testament,” etc).

Some of my favorite Jewish names with considerable crossover appeal: Lior, Dov, Abram, Ari, Lev, Oz, Reuben, Shai, Avi, Ariel, Zev, Omer, Ziv, Zakai, Ami, Solomon, and Mordecai.

lindsW Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 11:39 am

Tobiah is going on my list… Just texted my husband about itt!

EmiTheDuckling Says:

September 25th, 2014 at 5:12 pm

I really like Judah and Tobiah, but I would argue that Enoch deserves a spot on the list! I met the cutest baby named Enoch this summer!

freddiethepink Says:

September 26th, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I love Tobiah and Zephaniah!! Ishmael is cool too 🙂

freddiethepink Says:

September 26th, 2014 at 5:01 pm

My favourite rare biblical boys are Amos, Azriel, Ebenezer, Eleazar, Enoch, Ephraim, Hezekiah, Obadiah, Ozias, Samson, Thaddeus, Zebediah

freddiethepink Says:

September 26th, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Oh I forgot Phineas too!

LuMary Says:

September 26th, 2014 at 9:09 pm

There’s a baby Boaz at my church.

How about Jabez, Jamin (Yes, it’s in Scripture, and not a cutesy made up name. I know someone that has a lot of Benjamins in the family, and I suspect her son Jamin is a way of honoring one of more of them), Abiel, Ichabod, Ebenezer, Asa, Zephaniah, Obadiah, Micah, Amos, Jeberechiah, Ezra, Moses, Rueben, Solomon to start.

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