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16 Not-So-Classic Biblical Names

April 16, 2019 laurawattenberg 1 Comment

16 Not-So-Classic Biblical Names

April 16, 2019 LauraWattenberg 1 Comment
Bible on e-reader
image: pamela_d_mcadams/Adobe

When it comes to classic baby name sources, the Bible is the gold standard. Biblical names like Mary, Anna and Sarah, John, Lucas and Jacob, are timeless favorites with roots so deep they can’t be buffeted by the winds of fashion.

OK, that was a trick. One of the names I just listed is anything but timeless. In fact, in the 1900 U.S. baby name statistics, the name Lucas flat-out didn’t exist. And in case you were wondering, the familiar English form Luke wasn’t picking up the slack. Luke was relatively uncommon in 1900, ranked #243 and trailing names like Alva, Harley and Dock. Today, Lucas and Luke both rank among America’s 30 favorite names for boys.

Lucas isn’t an anomaly. Dozens of “biblical classics” are entirely absent from the 1900 baby names’ list. They run the stylistic gamut, including:

  • 1980s favorites like Jeremy, Tabitha, Bethany and Jared
  • Aggressively antique pioneer names like Judah, Zachariah, Nehemiah and Jedidiah
  • Scholarly-styled choices like Nathanael, Matthias, Titus and Phineas
  • 21st-century trim standards like Ethan, Lucas, Asher and Micah

This graph charts the historical popularity of those 16 names, in occurrences per million births:

Other names with a trajectory like that include Summer, Tyson and Bryce: familiar and popular, but with a contemporary style. Meanwhile, you can find plenty of bold, modern-sounding names that were actually more popular in 1900 than they are today. A girl was more likely to be named Atlanta, Venus or Ambrosia in 1900; a boy to be Wheeler, Solon or Fate.

It all points to the surprising subtlety of “classic” as a name category. It’s part history, to be sure, and part cultural roots. But it’s also about style, perception and intention. We rely on fashion to send signals—even the signal that we’re beyond the reach of fashion.


Namerology founder and "Baby Name Wizard" author Laura Wattenberg is a globally recognized name expert, known for her scientific approach to understanding name trends and culture.

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1 Comment

  • Kayeff
    Kayeff May 2, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    I’ll just pat myself on the back because when I read Lucas in that list, I heard a record scratch and thought, “Really?” But such is your authority that I was willing to take your word for it, even though I don’t personally know anyone named Lucas who was born before the 1990s.

    This article reminds me of 1988 when my aunt and uncle were choosing names for their yet-to-be-born baby. If the baby turned out to be a boy, my aunt really wanted to name him Jonah, but it elicited extreme nose wrinkling from many (most?) of the other adults. The baby turned out to be a girl, and I can’t imagine anyone wrinkling noses if some day she decides to name a baby boy Jonah.

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