Baby Name of the Day: Elijah

by appellationmountain on February 23, 2012

English: Elijah and the Angel; as in 1 Kings 1...

Elijah and the Angel; Image via Wikipedia

This Biblical powerhouse is at his most popular ever – could he follow Noah into the Top Ten?

Thanks to Saranel for suggesting her son’s name, Elijah, as our Baby Name of the Day.

Elijah has never been out of the US Top 1000. Whether the top boys’ name was John or Jason or Jacob, some parents were always attracted to this ancient name with religious overtones.

Elijah is a big deal in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament and the Quran. He’s a significant figure to Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Elijah comes from Eliyahu – Yahweh is my God. He’s nearly as international as James or Michael. Besides Elijah, there’s Elias, Elia, and Ilia, to name a few.

The Good Book tells us that the original bearer of the name was a ninth century BC prophet, and an advocate for the worship of Yahweh over other gods. He performed various astonishing feats, like raising the dead. Depending on the account, Elijah was rewarded for his faith by riding up to heaven in a chariot drawn by fiery horses, or maybe on a whirlwind. Later, in the New Testament, both Jesus and John the Baptist are compared to the ancient prophet. He even makes a cameo, along with Moses, later in the story. His account is the Quran is similar to that of the Old Testament – Elijah insists on the worship of the true God, rather than Ba’al.

All of this makes Elijah feel terribly religious, perhaps not a great choice for the non-observant. But that’s not necessarily true. Elijah commands a place not just in traditional scripture, but in countless folk traditions. I’ve always been charmed by the Jewish custom of leaving a place for Elijah at the Passover table, but there’s much more. Depending on the tradition, Elijah is responsible for:

  • Summer storms, especially thunder, in southern Slavic cultures.
  • Lightning – he’s often associated with Zeus and other similar gods.
  • Mountains, especially mountaintops. It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah drew down fire to light an altar to Yahweh, besting the prophets of Baal.
  • The sun – in fact, his story is often mixed up with that of Helios, the Greek sun god who pulled his chariot across the sky to start the day.

Modern uses are plentiful, especially if you count Elias – Walt Disney’s dad was Elias, and Willem Dafoe played Sergeant Elias Grodin in war flick Platoon. If we focus only on modern Elijahs, there’s actor Elijah Wood and Cher’s musician son Elijah Blue.

In this light, Elijah is simply a classic that we hadn’t fully embraced in the US – until now.

At the close of the nineteenth century he was in the Top 200, but he fell steadily until the 1980s. Buoyed up by the rise of the Biblical boys, Elijah was quickly embraced. And why not? He has tremendous religious significance, as well as a broad cross-cultural appeal. He works in many languages, and fits in with those masculine, but softer-sounding names so many parents favor today.

Elijah’s appeal is his only real drawback. He’s been in the Top 100 since 1995, reached #18 in 2010, and shows no signs of stopping. If you don’t mind sharing, he’s a great choice – ancient and modern, all at once.

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