He’s an evergreen classic, from the Bible to the Elton John song.
Thanks to Julia for suggesting Daniel as our Baby Name of the Day.
The Old Testament Daniel had quite the exciting life.
First, his background. It’s said that he was a Jewish noble, handsome and smart, taken to live and be educated at the king’s court in Babylon while still a young man. Daniel manages to interpret the dreams of the Babylonian king when all his other advisers fail. It’s a win for Daniel – and for his god, too.
The phrase “the writing on the wall,” comes from one of his famous stories. King Belshazzar holds a feast, where he blasphemously drinks from a sacred vessel. A mysterious message appears on the wall. No one can translate it, until Daniel is summoned and explains that Belshazzar will lose his kingdom, and, indeed, the king doesn’t live through the night. Daniel, however, retains his place at court and advances.
Then there’s the lion’s den.
King Darius decreed that for 30 days, no one could pray to a god other than the king. Pious Daniel prays anyway, knowing he risked death. Despite Daniel’s status, when he was found out, the king acted. He tossed Daniel into a den full of hungry lions, a recipe for certain death. But God seals their mouths, and they’re as tame as kittens. After what I’d guess was a sleepless night for Daniel, he’s unscathed. Darius takes it as a sign and releases Daniel. He feeds Daniel’s accusers to the ravenous beasts instead, and they are not so fortunate.
As with many a Biblical name, the -el refers to God, so Daniel means “God is my judge.”
He had a good run in medieval England, thanks to a popular re-telling of Daniel’s story from the tenth century onwards, collected in the Cædmon manuscript.
Daniel caught on again post-Reformation. There are too many famous bearers to list, from politicians and writers to actors and athletes.
Two musical uses also boosted the name:
- First there’s “Danny Boy.” The music was written first – it’s known as the “Londonderry Air. Frederic Weatherly added the lyrics, and it has become something of a lamentation, associated with the Irish diaspora, though immigration was underway for decades before Weatherly wrote the words around 1910. It’s been recorded by many a famous artist, from Andy Williams to Johnny Cash to Elvis. (Name nerd trivia point: when the song is sung by a man, a second set of lyrics exists, and the name changes: “Eily Dear.” But no one sings it this way.)
- Elton John had a 1973 smash called “Daniel,” a story about a Vietnam veteran returning home and trying to put his past behind him. John’s younger son is Elijah Joseph Daniel. His big brother is Zachary Jackson Levon, so both boys have a name dad made famous in music.
Little wonder that Daniel has rarely left the US Top 50. Even at his least popular he was still in the Top 100. Since 1983, he’s been in the Top Ten nearly every year.
If you’re after an enduring classic with Biblical ties and built-in lullabies, it is hard to do better than Daniel.