Popular boy names: Biblical vs. Non-Biblical

How has the ratio of Biblical names to non-Biblical names changed over time (if at all) among the most popular baby names in the U.S.?

This question popped into my head recently, so I thought I’d take a look at the data. We’ll do boy names today and girl names tomorrow.

First, let’s set some parameters. For these posts, “Biblical” names are personal names (belonging to either humans or archangels) mentioned in the Bible, plus all derivatives of these names, plus any other name with a specifically Biblical origin (e.g., Jordan, Sharon, Genesis). The “most popular” names are the top 20, and “over time” is the span of a century.

For boy names, the ratio of Biblical names to non-Biblical names has basically flipped over the last 100 years. Here’s a visual — Biblical names are in the yellow cells, non-Biblical names are in the green cells, and a borderline name (which I counted as non-Biblical) is in the orange cell:

Popular boy names: Biblical vs. non-Biblical, from Nancy's Baby Names.
Popular boy names over time: Biblical (yellow) vs. non-Biblical. Click to enlarge.
  • Biblical names: Adam, Alexander, Andrew, Austin (via Augustus), Benjamin, Daniel, David, Elijah, Ethan, Jack (via John), Jackson (via John), Jacob, James, Jason, John, Jonathan, Joseph, Joshua, Justin (via Justus), Lucas, Mark, Matthew, Michael, Nathan, Nicholas, Noah, Paul, Stephen, Steven, Thomas, Timothy, Zachary
  • Non-Biblical names: Aiden, Albert, Anthony, Arthur, Billy, Brandon, Brian, Charles, Christopher, Dennis, Donald, Dylan, Edward, Eric, Frank, Gary, George, Harold, Harry, Henry, Jayden, Jeffrey, Kenneth, Kevin, Larry, Liam, Logan, Louis, Mason, Raymond, Richard, Robert, Ronald, Ryan, Scott, Tyler, Walter, William
  • Borderline name: Jerry (can be based on the Biblical name Jeremy/Jeremiah or on the non-Biblical names Jerome, Gerald, Gerard)

It felt strange putting an overtly Christian name like Christopher in the non-Biblical category, but it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, so…that’s where it goes.

Here are the year-by-year tallies:

YearTop 20 names
given to…
# Biblical# Non-Biblical
191440% of baby boys5 (25%)15 (75%)
192443% of baby boys6 (30%)14 (70%)
193443% of baby boys7 (35%)13 (65%)
194447% of baby boys7 (35%)13 (65%)
195446% of baby boys11 (55%)9 (45%)
196442% of baby boys11 (55%)9 (45%)
197438% of baby boys11 (55%)9 (45%)
198436% of baby boys14 (70%)6 (30%)
199427% of baby boys14 (70%)6 (30%)
200419% of baby boys14 (70%)6 (30%)
201414% of baby boys14 (70%)6 (30%)

But there’s a huge difference between sample sizes of 40% and 14%, so let’s also take a look at the 2014 top 100, which covers 42% of male births.

By my count, last year’s top 100 boy names were half Biblical, half non-Biblical:

Biblical names (49)Non-Biblical names (51)
Noah, Jacob, Ethan, Michael, Alexander, James, Daniel, Elijah, Benjamin, Matthew, Jackson (via John), David, Lucas, Joseph, Andrew, Samuel, Gabriel, Joshua, John, Luke, Isaac, Caleb, Nathan, Jack (via John), Jonathan, Levi, Jaxon (via John), Julian (via Julius), Isaiah, Eli, Aaron, Thomas, Jordan, Jeremiah, Nicholas, Evan, Josiah, Austin (via Augustus), Jace (via Jason), Jason, Jose, Ian, Adam, Zachary, Jaxson (via John), Asher, Nathaniel, Justin (via Justus), JuanLiam, Mason, William, Logan, Aiden, Jayden, Anthony, Carter, Dylan, Christopher, Oliver, Henry, Sebastian, Owen, Ryan, Wyatt, Hunter, Christian, Landon, Charles, Connor, Cameron, Adrian, Gavin, Robert, Brayden, Grayson, Colton, Angel, Dominic, Kevin, Brandon, Tyler, Parker, Ayden, Chase, Hudson, Nolan, Easton, Blake, Cooper, Lincoln, Xavier, Bentley, Kayden, Carson, Brody, Ryder, Leo, Luis, Camden

(Christian, Angel, Xavier, Dominic…all technically non-Biblical, despite having strong ties to Christianity.)

50%-50% isn’t quite as extreme as 70%-30%, but it’s still noticeably more Biblical than 1914’s 25%-75%.

Do any of these results surprise you?

5 thoughts on “Popular boy names: Biblical vs. Non-Biblical

  1. Astounding! I would think the opposite to be true. With the reports that people are moving away from religion, you would think less would be named biblical names. Of course there are other factors to consider. Perhaps religious families have far more children than those who are not following a religion or those who are not following a religion are not having children. Perhaps it is the “popularity train” that many jump on and are clueless what is considered biblical and non-biblical. Very curious results.

  2. Interesting analysis, I would also have thought the opposite. Especially as names used to be centered around far fewer, more popular options.

    The definition is also interesting for example Jackson seems to me intuitively non-biblical. I based the ‘Biblical’ tag on our website on ‘Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary’ but that then includes place names and all sorts.

  3. I’m with you guys — I would have guessed it was the other way around.

    Diana, I think both of those theories are good ones. Religious couples are probably more likely to have kids, and have higher numbers of them, so I’m sure that’s an influence. And some Biblical names have simply become stylish lately (Levi, Eli, Elijah, #1 Noah, Asher, etc.) and I’m certain most parents out there are more concerned with style than they are with a name’s source or religious association(s).

    Rachel, yes, I agree about Jackson. That’s the tricky thing about an analysis like this. “Biblical vs. non-Biblical” implies that one group of names is more closely tied to religion than the other. But then you have names like Jackson and Austin (which aren’t overtly religious, despite Biblical ties). And on the other side you have names like Christian, Trinity, Cross, Priest and Nevaeh (which are overtly religious, but not technically Biblical).

  4. Very interesting! However, I think counting Austin and Justin as Biblical names is a bit of a stretch. In Biblical times Augustinus/Augustus and Justinus/Justus were distinct names and I doubt the usage of Austin and Justin has anything to do with the Biblical figures Augustus and Justus.

  5. I agree that it’s a stretch, and I didn’t like including them. But Austin and Justin are ultimately derived from Augustus and Justus, and I did say “all derivatives” at the outset, so I was stuck.

    At some point I’ll re-do the analysis without Austin and Justin, though. Instead I’ll include more overtly religious names (Christian) and perhaps a few “big” saint names (Xavier).

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