Monday, July 23

Outside the Biblical Box

by laliseuse, via Flickr

On account of being an atheist and all, Biblical names are often not my thing. Not a big draw to have a meaning like "God is my judge" when I don't think anyone's there to do the judging, you know? But they are names with history and heft, and there are quite a few that manage to sound a little more strong-ancient-literary and less cheesy evangelical. And there are some really wild and wonderful inspirational characters, too — something that always makes a name more interesting. I was looking through the Biblical name lists over at Behind the Name, and these are the ones that stood out — 

Abilene — the name of this Syrian plain is briefly mentioned in the New Testament. It may come from Hebrew elements meaning "grass." I think it would make a really sweet girls' name
Absalom  means "my father is peace." He's described in the Book of Samuel: "In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him.Axel is the medieval Dutch form of this name
Amos  one of the 12 minor prophets of the Old Testament, Amos means "carried." Amos ranked in the top 100 in the first half of the 1800s, but has been steadily falling ever since. It  finally fell off the list in 2004, but poked its nose back in '07 and '09 in the high 990s. However, in 2011 Amos jumped into the top thousand pretty solidly, coming in at #860. I'll be looking at this one next year
Avidan  this one actually does mean "my father is judge" (and so does Daniel, below) It's mostly found as a modern-day surname 
Baltasar  a form of Belshazzar, the Hebrew form of Akkadian name Bel-sarra-usur, meaning "Ba'al protect the king." He appears in the Book of Daniel, where he sees mysterious messages written on a wall 
Bartholomew— I've always had a soft spot for Bartholomew. It means "son of Talmai," a name featured at the end of this list. I like a lot of the variants, like Dutch Mies and French Barthélémy, and the potential nickname Tolly
Bethel  another lovely place name, Bethel means "house of god," and was the place where Jacob sold that lady the stairway to heaven. I think that's right ...
Caleb  I don't really like Caleb, except that I do. Most of the time I just think people aren't using it the right way. It comes off as trendy and edges towards the evangelist category, but I think it's got potential in the right combo. I read East of Eden at an impressionable age and Caleb (who was called Cal, which is nice) was a great character. It means "dog," though, which is sort of random
Cornelius  such a fun one. From the Latin cornu, meaning "horn," Cornelius was the first gentile convert to Christianity  
Daniel  solid, dependable Daniel. Soft and strong all at once, it's really been growing on me lately after I used it for a character. Plus his is one of my favorite books of the Bible he's a total badass, brave, dream-interpreting namesake
Esau — Daniel's a badass, Esau's a bit of a scumbag. His name means "hairy" and he sold his brother for a bowl of stew, or something? Weird. Anyway this one is also saved, for me, by a literary association. I Saw Esau, anyone?
Gad — one of my newest favorites, Gad means "fortune" in Hebrew
Hanan  this is listed as masculine Old Tastement name meaning "gracious." It's also a feminine Arabic name meaning "mercy," or "compassion," and I prefer it on a girl
Iael — I've always liked Jael and Yael, but Iael is my current preferred variant. It means "mountain goat"
Ishvi  means "he resembles me," and was one of the sons of Asher in the Old Testament
Jemima  the oldest of Job's three daughters, this Hebrew name means "dove."
Jerusha  means "possession" in Hebrew. I also remember this name from a book I read as a pre-teen, though I can't remember which book. Some girl, maybe an orphan, writing in letter format ... hmm ...
Leui  a variant of Levi, meaning "attached." I'm not interested in Levi, but Leui looks a lot friendlier
Maala — a form of also-nice Mahlah, which has a lovely sound but a rotten meaning ("sick")  It's used for both boys and girls. Mahlet and Mahli are other pleasant forms
Maeleth  this beauty is a variant of Mahalath, meaning "lyre." She's the wife of aforementioned Esau 
Omri  an Old Testament king of Israel, his name means "my sheaf." I wonder why this one isn't a bit more well-used, it's so appealing
Phineas  a plague-preventing grandson of Aaron, this name could derive from Egyptian Panhsj, meaning "Nubian," or from the Hebrew for "serpent's mouth." I'll let you decide which would be wickeder
Raphael  a long-time personal favorite, I think I'm definitely in the "Raph-" camp and out of the "Raf-" one, though both spellings are nice. It is the name of one of the 7 archangels and means "God has healed." I can get behind that, God healing is a much better meaning than God judging, I think
Rhode — a New Testament name, from the Greek rhodon, meaning "rose." It ranks on the girls list in the Netherlands, and I'm totally into it at the moment
Talmai  a Hebrew name meaning "furrowed"
Yiskah — I can't help but love almost all "-iska" names, so this one makes the list. It's the original Hebrew form of Iscah, which means "to behold" and is the basis of English name Jessica


  1. YAY! As I verbalized yesterday, seeing new posts on here lights up my day. Thanks for starting my week out right =D

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  3. Although I'm not an atheist, I don't particularly like names with very heavy religious connotations. I would feel a bit uncomfortable using one (although my name is Biblical). But you've chosen some really lovely ones to highlight, though. Abilene is very sweet, as is Leui and Iael.

  4. In regards to Jerusha, you're thinking of Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster.

  5. I had no idea Caleb means "dog", that gives it a whole other layer... And my grandpa's name was Ralph and my grandma used to call him Raphael at times, but I think that was an affectionate term not a given name.
    Saw the name "Lorain" yesterday and the spelling made me think of you.

  6. I've been loving Jerusha lately, especially with her literary ties (though Jerusha didn't love her name in Webster's book and preferred to go by Judy, which really is a shame). And with a FIL named Jerry, Jerusha is probably my favorite option for an honor name, plus I love the nickname Rue.

    I also like Abilene (also a city in Texas and Waylon Jennings song) and love Raphael (angel, artist, and Ninja Turtle, all great namesakes to me).

  7. Jemima, Amos and Raphael are three of my favourite names.

  8. In Holland we pronounce Rhode as "Rhodé" - like you'd pronounce it in French...

    Fun list, some of the names (Cornelius) is oldfashioned in Dutch, some (Jael, Amos) do sound very "christian" to me, but maybe that's only here in Holland...

    Love Yiskah, but would spell it as "Jiska"

  9. Absalom is on my long list! Great name - also the name of the caterpillar in Tim Burton's Alice and Wonderland (Absolem). Also adore Jemima, like really a lot.

  10. I am not a fan of religious names either, especially my own, which is about as Christian as it gets (Cristina). But some I can't help but love. Gabrielle, Jemima and Emmanuelle. I also love not-quite-religious yet hard-to-avoid-a-religious-connection names like Sapphira and Balthasar. Jerusha is quite stunning as well. What's her story?

  11. I LOVE the name Amos. I've always been torn between Amos or Angus for a boy, but Angus possibly being shortened to Gus was the deciding factor for me. I'm also an atheist, but I don't hold the biblical meaning of the name against it. :)

    Bartholomew would make a great middle name.

    Could Mahalia/Mayhayley/etc. be a variant of Mahalath? Mahalia (and its various spellings) has a long history of use in my family.

  12. Mahalath is one origin for Mahala/Mahalia/Mahaley names.

    I so disagree with you on Esau, as far as the character goes. He didn't sell his brother for a bowl of stew, his brother made stew and Esau had been hunting all day (Esau was the firstborn child and hunter, Jacob came second - they were twins - and the homebody who cultivated the fields, thus he had stew going when Esau came along). Esau asked for some and Jacob agreed to give him some only if Esau would let him have the birthright usually given to the firstborn son. His mother assisted him in tricking his father into giving him the birthright rather than Esau. Esau was very angry about all this so there was a division between the two for many years and when traveling they came upon each other and Jacob feared for his life, but Esau had forgiven him and they parted friends. Esau may have been 'hairy' but I just see that as a symbol of his virility and not something disgusting. Anyway, love the name and the character. Like the name Jacob but was never very fond of him. It's his sons who sell their brother Joseph into slavery.

    I'm not religious the way I was but I have nothing against religious names. I like to be able to appreciate the meaning and history of various names. I was never Catholic but love the story of Saint Agnes and find her very inspiring. I love the name Deborah at least as much because she was an amazing prophetess. I also love names with religious meaning from other cultures - Diana the moon goddess or Angus, god of love.

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