Culture

The Meaning of 31 of the Most Popular Biblical Names in America

Biblical Hebrew names have been used since before this country was founded. Captain John Smith had a biblical name. The name John comes from the Hebrew name Yohanan, which means “G-­d has been gracious.”

Many Historical U.S. Figures Have Had Biblical Names

Most of our presidents, with the notable exception of George Washington, had some form of biblical name.  In addition to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, there was James Madison. James comes from the Hebrew name Ya’akov by way of the English translation of the New Testament. Ya’akov is otherwise known as Jacob, which means “he will impede or hold up.” Abraham Lincoln’s name was a direct biblical name: “father of a multitude.” John Kennedy was another Yohanan; James Buchanan and James Carter both had names that came from the Old Testament. How well known is the fact that President Warren G. Harding was really Warren Gamaliel, which in Hebrew is Gamliel or “G-­d Has granted to me”? Of course the well-liked Dwight Eisenhower was Dwight David. David in Hebrew means “beloved.”

Two presidents of Yale, Ezra Styles and Noah Porter, had recognizable biblical names. Ezra means “help” and Noah “comfort.”

Those are just a few of the notables of our country who were given Hebrew names from the Bible. Many of us in everyday life have Hebrew names as well and don’t even realize it.

In the U.S., almost fifty percent of the most popular girls’ Hebrew names are either directly from Hebrew or derived from the Bible. Among boys, some of the most popular names in America are biblical names.

Here are some of the most popular girls’ names:

1. Mary from the Hebrew name Miriam or “bitter, bitterness.”

2. Elizabeth from the Hebrew Elisheva, “an oath to G­-d.”

3. Maria, also derived from Miriam.

4. Susan from Shoshanah, which means “lily or rose.”

5. Margaret from Margalit, which is a pearl.

6. Ruth connotes “appearance”; she was the famous convert to Judaism and ancestor of King David.

7. Sharon, the name of a fertile plain in Israel.

8. Sarah means “princess”; she was the wife of Abraham.

9. Deborah is a honeybee (Hebrew Devorah), a judge in ancient Israel.

Then there are the boys’ names:

10 James, still as popular as two hundred years ago, heads the list (it was defined above).

11. John, also defined above, is next.

12 Michael, “who is like G-­d?”

13. David, “beloved,” and the second king of Israel.

14. Joseph, “he will increase” (Yosef, in Hebrew).

15. Daniel, “G-­d is my judge.”

These are the top twenty-five most common Biblical female and male names in America, but there are also a number of other popular names that do not make the most popular list. These include:

16. Ann, Anne, and Hannah, all derived from the Hebrew Chana, which means “charming, favor, or grace.” Chana was the mother of the prophet Samuel.

17. Nathan, “he gave, he will give.”  Nathan was a prophet in King David’s day.

18. Benjamin, “son of the right hand” or “son of the south,” Binyamin in Hebrew. Binyamin was one of the twelve tribe of Israel.

19. Samuel, or Sam from Shmuel, “name of G-­d.” Shmuel was the last of the biblical judges and a prophet.

20. Naomi, “pleasant,” the mother-in-law of the biblical Ruth.

21. Rachel, ewe lamb. Rachel was a wife of Ya’akov, mother of Yosef and Binyamin.

22. Rebecca, “engaging, captivating.” In Hebrew the name is Rivka. Rivka was the wife of Yitzchak (Isaac) and mother of Ya’akov.

23. Judith or Judy from Yehudit, “Jewess,”, the feminine form of Yehudi from Yehuda (Judah), which means “G-d be thanked.”

24. Jake, another derivative of Ya’akov/Jacob.

25. Esther, “hidden, secret”; she was a Jewish woman who became queen of Persia and who saved her people from annihilation, as told in the biblical book named after her.

26. Abigail, “father of exultation,” derived from is Avigayil, a wife of King David.

27. Aaron, “exalted, majestic, bright,” derived from Aharon, the brother of Moshe (Moses) and first high priest.

28. Adam, “human being,” the appropriately named first man.

29 Seth, “gift” or “compensation.” The biblical name is Sheth, the third son of Adam.

30. Eve, “life-giving,” in Hebrew Chava; Adam’s wife.

31. Simon, Shim’on in Hebrew, “hearing” or “accepting,” second son of Ya’akov; also an apostle in the New Testament.

Shakespeare asked the famous question, “What’s in a name”; if you have a Biblical name chances are you are in great company as not only are you named for a great figure in the Bible, but your name has been popular for millennia.