Nathaniel: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on January 14, 2013

Yo Gabba Gabba Nathaniel

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on March 5, 2010, and was substantially revised and reposted on January 14, 2012.

He’s Biblical, Colonial, literary and ever so popular.

Thanks to Natalie for suggesting Nathaniel as Name of the Day.

Once upon a time, the favored spelling was Nathanael, as worn by a New Testament apostle, though he’s better known as Bartholomew. There’s also an Old Testament figure named Nathan. While both choices are derived from the Hebrew element meaning gift, they seem to have developed separately.

If either was in use through the Middle Ages, they’re lost to the historical record. But post-Protestant Reformation the Nat- names caught on, especially in the Colonies. Notable Nathaniels include:

  • Nathanael Greene served as a General under George Washington during the American Revolution.
  • Nathanial Saltonstall served as a judge during the Salem Witch Trials, and is remembered for resigning from his post in protest. His descendants have continued to distinguish themselves – and at least a few have also been called Nathaniel.
  • Mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch is remembered primarily for his contributions to navigation.
  • Union Army General Nathaniel Banks went on to serve as Massachusetts governor and speaker of the US House of Representatives.

But the best known Nathaniel was born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem, Massachusetts. As a young adult, he added a “w” to become Hawthorne, possibly because he preferred to distance himself from ancestor John Hathorne, the unrepentant judge from the Salem Witch Trials, Saltonstall’s polar opposite.

As Hawthorne, he went on to write many enduring works of American fiction, from The Scarlet Letter to The Blithedale Romance to The House of the Seven Gables. His characters wore some great names – Hester, Zenobia, Hepzibah – and his own kids were nicely named, too – Una, Julian and Rose.

In more recent years, the legendary Nat King Cole was born Nathaniel. The small screen gave us Nate Fisher on Six Feet Under and Nate Archibald on Gossip Girl. Feminine version Natalie – the name Cole gave to his daughter – ranked #14 in 2011, more popular than either of the masculine versions.

My vote for most intriguing character was Nathanael West, born Nathan Weinstein. While working nights at a hotel, he penned Miss Lonleyhearts, a Great Depression-era novel about a male advice columnist masquerading as a female advice columnist. It’s no light-hearted farce, but a dark tale of sorrow and despair.

Maybe it isn’t the best inspiration for a child’s name. But it doesn’t matter. The Nat- names have an undeniable appeal. They wear well from childhood through adulthood and manage to sound both classic and current. Nickname Nate also shares the fashionable long a sound of Aidan and company.

Nathaniel’s popularity is his only possible shortcoming. Not only was he a Top 100 pick in the US, ranking #84 in 2011, but he also charted in the Canadian Top 100. Nathan was #28 in the US, and is huge in the French-speaking world, including Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and France.

If you don’t mind the possibility that your son will share his name, Nathaniel remains a great choice, rich in history and offering both a distinguished formal name and friendly short forms.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Nathaniel Nartey September 1, 2013 at 5:24 AM

Am Nathaniel but people normally call me Nat

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Sarah January 14, 2013 at 6:45 PM

Also, there is the rapper Nate Dogg!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nate_Dogg

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Sarah January 14, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Wow, you profiled my son’s name! He was a 2012 baby. Thanks for the interesting read!

I looked up Nathaniel’s history on the Social Security web site and found that it has not been rising in popularity. So I was not too worried about it being in the top 100 in the USA.

I do occasionally have to correct people who forget his name and think that it is Nathan. People ask us all the time if we are going to call him Nate. I didn’t anticipate how often/many people would ask us this. We tell people our completely unrelated nickname for him (similar to “RoRo”) but that we are going to try to stick with Nathaniel.

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Jordanna January 14, 2013 at 8:38 AM

I didn’t post that twice! Sorry!

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Jordanna January 14, 2013 at 8:17 AM

Netanya/Natania is the female version of Nathan I’m familiar with. I mean, yeah, Natalie/Natalia/Natasha are more popular, but Natania actually shares the “gift” Hebrew root and is an actual feminization of the name and not a coincidence.

When we say wasn’t used in the Middle Ages, we’re only counting Nathaniel in English specifically, right? Because it was in pretty continuous Jewish circulation in that period? I’ve seen Natan’el as a transliteration though. Which… I don’t think I’m game to put apostrophes in English names.

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Jordanna January 14, 2013 at 8:17 AM

Netanya/Natania is the female version of Nathan I’m familiar with. I mean, yeah, Natalie/Natalia/Natasha are more popular, but Natania actually shares the “gift” Hebrew root and is an actual feminization of the name and not a coincidence.

When we say wasn’t used in the Middle Ages, we’re only counting Nathaniel in English specifically, right? Because it was in pretty continuous Jewish circulation in that period? I’ve seen Natan’el as a transliteration though. Which… I don’t think I’m game to put apostrophes in English names.

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Natalie March 6, 2010 at 12:55 AM

Thanks for using Nathaniel as Name of the Day. He’s due any day now so it’s just in time! We couldn’t decide on a name, so I let my two year old daughter pick between my favorite (Henry) and my husband’s favorite (Nathaniel) and she picked Nathaniel. She’s been talking to my belly and calling him “Afaniel” for the last few months. We’re all excited for him to arrive!

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Joy March 5, 2010 at 9:27 PM

The feminine form of Daniel is Danielle (Danita or Daniela), but Nathaniel doesn’t seem to have led to Nathanielle, Natita, Natina, Natika or Natiela.

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Joy March 5, 2010 at 9:28 PM

And if Nathaniel leads to Nate or Nat, could Nathanielle lead to Natie or Nattie?

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British American March 5, 2010 at 6:00 PM

There’s a 2 year old Nathaniel who sometimes comes to my Sunday School class. I always have to think a lot about how to spell his name. And then whether I should call him Nate or Nathaniel.

I do like the name, though it’s longer than I’d probably personally want to use.

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Lola March 5, 2010 at 5:30 PM

Nathaniel’s alright. Not unheard of enough for my liking but fine on anyone else’s kid. Nathan, on the other hand is all hot dogs to me.

But Nathaniel gets a solid :thumbsup: from me! :) (Wow, do I love Zenobia though!)

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Lady Gwyn March 5, 2010 at 11:50 AM

I like both Nathaniel and Nathan. I met an adorable little boy named Nathan at VBS last summer, and it made me like the name better. (I knew Nates from school, but they weren’t the nicest of guys.) I would use Nathaniel over Nathan, and I like the nickname Nat for Nathaniel, and Nate for Nathan.

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photoquilty March 5, 2010 at 9:06 AM

Natalie’s the female version? I thought Natalie was Latin in origin, and had to do with being born on Christmas. Isn’t Nathaniel an old Hebrew name? I wouldn’t have thought they were related.

Nathaniel’s okay. It’s not my favorite, but doesn’t strike me as overtly religious like Ezekiel or Isaiah. I like it better than Nathan.

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appellationmountain March 5, 2010 at 1:57 PM

Right you are, Photoquilty! She’s not related – less related than Nathan and Nathaniel. Call it folk etymology, though – if you ask if there’s a female equivalent of either name, you’ll hear Natalie. So she isn’t … but she is.

How’s that for a non-answer? ;)

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photoquilty March 5, 2010 at 3:33 PM

I guess that’s like Cecelia and Celia being “related”, too.

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UrbanAngel March 5, 2010 at 7:27 AM

I have mixed feelings about it. I think it sounds really nice, but I know he will be known as Nate & the confusion as to whether his name is Nathan or Nathaniel puts me off. I did have a family member who considered this name & that’s one of the reasons as to why they didn’t use it. Overall, I like the name, though strictly in a middle name capacity. I actually contemplated Asher Nathaniel for awhile. I do like how it’s a Biblical name that feels ‘Biblical’ & contemporary; Biblical names like Luke & Matthew have lost Biblical/religious vibes for me, as they are so mainstream.That’s actually a bit sad to me. So, I like, but wouldn’t use it- if I did, only as a middle

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