Baby Name of the Day: Asa

English: Asa G. Candler, Jr.

He’s an Old Testament appellation with a bright, modern sound.

Thanks to Ashley for suggesting Asa as our Baby Name of the Day.

The most straightforward explanation for Asa is that he means healer or doctor in Hebrew. But like many a short name, there are other possibilities:

  • Asa is the Portuguese word for wing;
  • With different pronunciations, Asa is a given name in both Igbo and Yoruban;
  • There’s a feminine name in Scandinavia, Åsa, though the pronunciation is different.

The last one also points to another meaning for Asa – the Scandinavian name is linked to the Æsir, the old Norse gods.

But let’s say this: the majority of Americans – and likely most English speakers – will have some passing familiarity with the Biblical reference. He was a king of Judah sometime in the tenth or ninth centuries BCE, father of Jehoshaphat, and generally gets decent reviews from historians.

Parents have been borrowing him from the Bible for ages. He slipped out of the US Top 1000 in the 1950s, but he’s been back since the 1980s. He ranked #586 in 2010.

Among the many historical figures we find:

  • Asa Danforth fought in the American Revolution; his son, Asa Danforth Jr., became a developer in Canada. A street in Toronto still bears his name.
  • Asa Packer, a railroad magnate turned philanthropist. His gift established Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University.
  • Botanist Asa Gray – we’re still using his most famous compendium of plants.
  • Asa Candler was the entrepreneur who gave the world Coca-Cola. He also served as mayor of Atlanta. His son, Asa Jr., amassed a private menagerie including elephants, a hyena, a tiger, and a sea lion. They’d eventually become part of the future Zoo Atlanta collection.

All of this gives Asa antique status, and yet he has a lot of energy. Some of it is that long a, heard in popular names from Jason to Jayden. He sounds an awful lot like ace – as in the playing card, the top of the deck, the best, the flying ace.

Plus there’s:

  • Bridging the gap between the nineteenth century industrialists and today’s generation, One Life to Live’s Asa Buchanan was the long-running daytime drama’s patriarch.
  • American Idol contestant Ace Young was born Brett Asa, named after a great-grandfather.
  • Claire Danes has a brother named Asa.
  • Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood is father of three sons: Jesse, Asa, and Henry.

Young actor Asa Butterfield starred in the much-lauded The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, as well as this year’s Hugo. But the role that could propel him to stardom – and push the name smack Asa into the spotlight, too – is the much-anticipated adaptation of Ender’s Game, set to hit theaters in March 2013.

Or maybe Asa will catch fire on his own. Asa has been slowly gaining in use since the 1990s. Ace comes in at #619. Parents could embrace flyboy Ace while penning the more durable Asa on the birth certificate.

Nameberry called him one of the most notable names of 2011, with fellow Biblical boy Asher just a step behind. He’s sometimes dismissed as feminine, or maybe too close to a swear word. And yet if Noah and Elijah can be so popular for boys, Asa will wear well, too.

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14 Comments

Asa Terrance is my sons name. He was born is 2008. Naming a child is almost like getting a new car, you don’t notice anybody else have it until you get one yourself. Personally I only heard the name twice, and both were in my family. My son is the third boy named Asa in this family. But now that I have my own, I hear is everywhere. I come from a town of 3000 and I heard someone else call to their kid, and it was asa. Same with my husband. His name is Dirk. I only heard the name in movies before and now that I’m married to him I swear I hear that name everywhere. Anyways, i love the name Asa. It is a strong name for such a little peanut, but my boy suits it so well!

Just want to add that Asa has long been a favorite of mine. I would love to name twin boys Asa and Ira. I do think that Asa works best with a somewhat longer surname, like Asa Buchanan and Asa Butterfield. Thumbs up from me!

Asa is one of those names I would never use myself but I would totally love it if someone else used it on their own son. I think it is a cool name. It has a lot of character to it,

Thank you! This is a major family name for me, and I always wondered where it actually came from, since it’s been around forever in my family!

Asa has been coming to my attention more and more lately. I like that he’s similar to Ezra (which I can’t use), familiar yet not common, with the same gentle masculine feel. I’m not a fan of aggressively masculine names for boys; I prefer names with a softer sound. Asa is winner with me. Not sure I’d ever actually use Asa, but he is a handsome option to consider.

Not really into Asa, myself, partly because I’m not fond of his biblical end (he died of a disease in his feet because “he sought not the Lord, but the physicians.”). I’d rather name for a more inspiring character. There is a historical one you missed, too, that will be at the forefront of those of us near Seattle – Asa Mercer – one of the city’s founders (also namesake of Mercer Street and Mercer Island), who had a very colorful story. He was one of the guiding forces behind establishment of the University of Washington, and also brought a shipload of women from the eastern states to supply brides for the settlers of this area. That story is told in the stage musical, “Here Come the Brides!” 🙂

I’ve been going through the Bible picking out interesting yet wearable (Jehoshaphat doesn’t really do it for me) appellations, and I’ve found a couple good ones. I just ran in to Asa, but the two most interesting I’ve seen (and I’m only about a quarter of the way through) are Avith and Magdiel. Can I send you the (totally biased, curated on personal preference) list when I am done?

I think it’s so strong and handsome. I considered it for Ezra.

Aren’t the rise of Penelope and Scarlett very tied to the actors? Probably Leo as well.

Asa could be quite big if Ezra paves the way – I think Ezra will get there first.

Do movies really propel actors names in the top1000? I think character names have more impact. I’ve yet to see Shia crack the boys chart even though Shia LaBeouf has been in so many big budget movies. But who knows…

I think they do … or at least, they have the potential to make parents consider names that weren’t previously on their radar. I suspect the difference you’re noticing is this: actors have names appropriate to their generation. Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise haven’t inspired a bunch of boys called Thomas. Their characters, though? Cruise’s Ethan Hunt helped push Ethan to the top, even though it is unlikely that his character would really be named Ethan. (When Cruise was born in 1962, Ethan ranked #671 – but had already started his climb.)

But there are plenty of Mia Farrow was an early player in putting Mia on the map. It isn’t enough alone, of course – but if the name fits with other trends, an actor’s name can catch on.