The baby name Abner combines Old Testament history with a surprisingly current sound.

Thanks to Bethany for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


Abner appears in the Old Testament Book of Samuel. He’s a military commander and cousin to Saul.

The name has Hebrew origins, and a great meaning: my father is light. Ab refers to father and ner means light.

The Biblical figure gets mixed up in a feud between rival factions, and was ultimately killed by a rival and buried in Hebron.

There’s an eighth century Irish abbot by the name, but it isn’t clear if his name comes from the Bible, or some other lost source.

Around the year 1300, Jewish philosopher Abner of Burgos converted to Christianity and took the name Alfonso of Valladolid.

Abner was one of the many Biblical names revived during the Protestant Reformation.


There are plenty of men by the name in nineteenth century America, including West Point graduate and Union Army General Abner Doubleday.

Doubleday came from a distinguished New York family, and went on to invent the San Francisco cable car system. For decades, it was said that Doubleday invented the game of baseball as a young man in Cooperstown, New York –  despite no evidence that he ever played the game. (Baseball Reference has the scoop.)

Other eighteenth and nineteenth century Abners include politicians, athletes, writers, an inventor, a prominent minister and an evangelist jailed for blasphemy.

Abner Paki was a Hawaiian high chief. His daughter, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, became a philanthropist whose bequests supported education in Hawaii.

The name hovered between the high 200s and the low 500s from the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth. But by the 1930s, Abner had left the US Top 1000 and was headed towards obscurity.

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Could the comics be to blame for Abner’s demise?

Li’l Abner was drawn by cartoonist Al Capp. It debuted in August 1934, and ran through 1977.

Rural Dogpatch was one of the first Southern settings for a comic. Capp’s characters shaped the way the world saw the American South, shaping the hillbilly caricature.

The star of the show was 6’3′ tall teenager Li’l Abner Yokum. Yokum towered over his parents, and was strong, sweet, and none too sharp. When Abner married Daisy Mae in 1952, it was featured on the cover of Life magazine.

On an equally Southern, but more serious note, William Faulkner gave the name to a character in his 1939 short story Barn Burning.

The few pop culture uses since then weren’t flattering: a pet pig in Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold!, one of the Kravitz neighbors in television’s Bewitched.


After the 1930s, Abner left the US Top 1000.

The name has slowly gained in use since the year 2000. In fact, Abner briefly returned to the US rankings in 2020, and again in 2023.

It might be time for a comeback. Consider:

  • Abner’s -r ending is quite stylish. Just think of Asher and Archer.
  • Other Biblical Ab- names, like Abel and Abraham, rank in the US Top 250.
  • Nickname Abe feels like a logical brother name for Max, Gus, and Hank.

There’s an even rarer form of the name to consider: Avner. Avner is the preferred form in modern Hebrew. (It’s listed first in the Kveller database.) That ‘v’ sound amps up the name’s cool factor.

If you’re crushed that Silas is catching on, under-the-radar Abner might be a great alternative. The name is every bit as Biblical and on-trend, but definitely unexpected.

What do you think of Abner? Is this name ready for revival?


Biblical boy name

Another Old Testament choice, popular with the Puritans, but forgotten in recent generations, a substitute for Ezra or Asher.


#997 as of 2023


increasing in use


From a Hebrew word meaning “my father is a light.”

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Our baby boy born in September 2015 is called Avner ! We chose it because we just love the meaning of it, and appreciate Abner’s character is the bible. We went with the Hebrew version Avner because it does sound more “trendy”. Now I’m curious to see if someday we will meet another Avner or even an Abner

  2. I love Bewitched, so Mrs. Kravitz screeching out “Aaaaabna!” plays over and over in my brain. Therefore I can’t get into this one.

  3. I had a cat (also black & white, like Winter’s sister’s dog, although he was a very nice cat) called Abner in the 90s. I loved the name then and I love it now. Of course I’d never use it for a person having used it for a cat, but it would be great to meet an Abner.

  4. Abner Alfred Earl Ernest Lord Flodman the Ist was my sister’s dogs name. The Ist was spelled out, my sister was very insistent on it and all were family names. She was 12 years old and said that she’ll NEVER have children so the naming of her dog will do. It was this hideous mixed black and white mutt that shed, and had bad manners. I used to tease my sister that she wasted such perfectly good names on a dirty, dowdy, disinterested and dysfunctionally behaved do and will some day regret it… Alas, she was very proud of the mongrel and stayed unseated by everyone’s comments, it eventually ran away. When she had her son in 2004, she briefly considered Abner as a middle, but on second thought she remembered her dog and said that that would be awful and mean to name her son after her beloved runaway dog. Sooo to me…. Abner has a great back story and meaning, but can’t ever be used. I would love to see anyone use it for their families, since our family can’t.

      1. Indeed, our family breed, raised, broke, trained, and showed horses professionally. Our mother bought a baby book and as a family we would go through the baby book to decide on the names for our registered quarter horses. It eventually lead to all our animals including MANY farm cats having epic names. Our mother started it all!