The baby name Caleb offers Biblical roots with a distinctive sound.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
We love to give our children names borrowed from animals, whether it’s subtle Leo or straight-up Bear or Wren.
But Dog is not a given name. We still use it as an insult, at least some of the time. Dog the Bounty Hunter was born Duane, and despite his pop culture success, failed to encourage parents to name their children for him.
The baby name Caleb probably comes from a Hebrew word meaning dog.
Others suggest an alternate Hebrew etymology, meaning whole-hearted.
Some split the difference, and list positive canine attributes – like loyalty – as Caleb’s meaning.
When it comes to names with problematic or unclear meanings, the baby name Caleb isn’t alone. And really, the disputed meaning hasn’t held this name back one bit.
The original Caleb was one of the Old Testament faithful. After the Hebrews spent forty years in the desert, only he and Joshua entered Canaan.
That makes the baby name Caleb a logical choice for parents seeking Biblical names. Easy to spell and pronounce, it was well-used in the English-speaking world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
That means that Colonial and early American Calebs were plentiful, fitting right in with so many Old Testament names embraced by parents in a post-Reformation world.
Before there were soap operas and movies and popular novels, Caleb had a good run in the Colonial and Early American era.
Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck became the first Native American graduate of Harvard, in the year 1665. Caleb Pusey was a friend and business partner of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Pusey arrived in the colony in the year 1682.
Notable bearers of the name continue throughout the next few centuries.
Even if you didn’t find the baby name Caleb in a history book, fiction kept it familiar.
George Eliot gave us kindly Caleb Garth in Middlemarch, published in 1871 and 1872.
Nearly a century later, John Steinbeck gave the name to one of the brothers in his 1952 novel East of Eden. But for the 1955 film adaptation, the character became Cal.
In 1954, Caleb is among the siblings in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (He marries Ruth.) The 1954 movie led to a 1982 television series, but they changed Caleb’s name to Crane.
20th CENTURY COMEBACK
The picture that emerges is a traditional boy’s name, steady and true.
Despite a long history of use, the baby name Caleb left the US Top 1000 briefly early in the twentieth century. From 1926 to 1963, it failed to rank at all.
But the name slowly made a comeback.
By the 1970s, the baby name Caleb was firmly ranked in the US Top 1000 again and gaining in use.
Anne Tyler’s 1975 novel Searching for Caleb is an enduring story about the Peck family.
In 1986 children’s book, Sarah, Plain and Tall, we meet another Caleb. The story about homesteaders in the Midwestern US during the nineteenth century has several sequels, including Caleb’s Story.
However, soap operas probably get credit for really tipping the baby name Caleb into the US Top 100.
As The World Turns introduced a character named Caleb Snyder in 1988. By 1989, the baby name Caleb ranked #91.
BY the NUMBERS
The baby name Caleb continued to climb.
It had the magic formula sought by so many parents: a cool, current, and distinctive sound paired with plenty of history.
Caleb peaked at #31 in 2009.
It remains very much in use, at #56 today.
At #232, Kaleb-with-a-K has also seen consistent use.
STEADFAST and TRUE
Call the baby name Caleb a modern traditional.
Or maybe just traditional.
We can count so many current Calebs. There’s the frontman of indie band Kings of Leon, Caleb Followill. Actors include Stranger Things‘ Caleb McLaughlin.
Athletes, writers, and plenty more actors and musicians round out the list.
If you’re looking for a rock solid name for son, Caleb fits.
What do you think of the baby name Caleb?
First posted on June 30, 2011, this post was revised and re-published on December 28, 2021.
Caleb does not mean “dog” – it’s a misinterpretation.
Many name books / websites list the meaning of CALEB as “Dog”. However, a simple look in a Hebrew / English dctionary one will see that “dog” in Hebrew is CELEB, not CALEB. **Note** the first vowel is different.
CALEB is actually a compound word in Hebrew – something that is quite common in ancient Hebrew. Col (Cuf + Lamed) = all or whole. Lev (Lamed + Vet) = heart. Therefore, CALEB (or COLEV as pronounced in Hebrew) actually means “whole hearted”.
Faithful could be another translation. However, if you read in the Hebrew Bible the exploits of CALEB (as in one of the twelve spies who went into Caanan Numbers 13:6 & 13:30), one will see that he wasn’t simply faithful, but that he served the God of ISRAEL with his whole heart. IE: He was the first to speak up and say, “let’s go and conquer this land,” (paraphrased). It wasn’t JOSHUA (the leader of the 12 spies), but CALEB who was encouraging Israel to follow God inspite of the opposition from the other 10 spies.
Therefore, the ancient meaning of CALEB is: “whole hearted”.
Kaylub? I don’t get it. Is Kailyp really the same name?
The weirdest spellings of this name i’ve seen are Kailyp and Kaylub.
Sarah A says
In many cultures, particularly Arab and South East Asian, the worst way you can insult someone is to call them a dog. So yeah, I can see how Caleb’s meaning is pretty controversial. I think Caleb is a nice enough name, but I’ve never considered it as all names ending in B are completely off the table for us.
If parents can get past the meaning, I think Caleb is a nice alternative to Jacob. Familiar, Biblical, that popular AY sound, etc. I think the nn Cal also sets it apart a bit. Jake is starting to sound a bit tired but Cal is pretty darn cool 🙂
I do like Cal for Caleb, and the James Dean angle gives it some serious appeal.
I can’t get past the meaning of the name, nor could family members when the name was considered a couple of times. Oxford Dictionary of First Names: “…apparently derived from the word for ‘dog’ in Hebrew, is said in some traditions to symbolize devotion to
God.” (Last part of that is very positive.) Penguin Ref. Dict. of First Names: “…variously interpreted as meaning ‘intrepid’, ‘bold’ or ‘dog’ (presumably intended to suggest a doglike devotion to God).” The Great Big Book of Baby Names (by President of American Name Society): “Hebrew ‘kalebh, “dog”.”
What are little boys made of
Snips & snails & puppy dogs tails…
I actually like the meaning and it’s no secret I’m an big animal enthusiast. I’ve never understood why it’s ok for a name to mean wolf, raven or deer, but it’s not acceptable if means dog.
I think I know more Calebs than Jacobs… Caleb falls in the same category as Eli and Noah, if the name wasn’t SOOO popular I’d consider it.
C in DC says
I think part of Caleb’s appeal is that it’s similar to Jacob, but not nearly as popular. I know that I thought about using it, until I realized just how high it was climbing. I only know one Caleb IRL.
Indeed, My family just adores dogs, while I’m the lone cat lover! But yeah, Caleb’s general meaning doesn’t bother me overmuch but seems odd with our existing kids (I use kids lightly, Leo & Simon will be 25 on July 5).
I like the name and recommend it to a lot of people, it’s just not for me. 🙂
K. M. Sheard says
I agree with waltzingmorethanmatilda. In some cultures and times, dogs have been highly valued and respected, and ‘dog’ was regarded as a good element to feature in a name. The Celts in particular regarded the dog in a positive light, and a number of Celtic names include the element, from the magnificent mythological C
That’s what I wondered too! Then again, I saw on a fairly trustworthy name site that a particular name from the Bible means “God has vomited”. I can only assume that in times past, people didn’t consider the meaning of names at all when choosing or even creating baby names.
Lou@Mer de Noms says
Meh, I think that once you get high enough in the popularity charts most names are no longer picked solely for their meaning, and m,any who use the name are unaware of said meaning, they just pcik it because they’ve heard it alot, and decided they liked it. either way, I kind of like Caleb.
I like the sound of this name, and I don’t really see why “dog” is a problem – don’t we all love dogs? Are they not our best friends? Aren’t they handsome, intelligent, loyal and affectionate creatures?
The name Collin can mean “whelp” or “young dog” … but I prefer Caleb to Collin.
It reminds me of Caliban (Caleb-an), but that doesn’t bother me as I always felt great sympathy for Caliban; he was, so to speak … the “underdog”! 😉
As it was picked for an evil twin, maybe some other people also see a touch of darkness in this name.
There was also a bad guy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer named Caleb, and I keep thinking it was in another horror movie – Children of the Corn, maybe? – but I can’t figure that one out.
Honestly, I’ve never thought Caleb = dog was a problem, either. But it pops up on message board after message board, so I do think parents choose the name because the like the sound, then are upset by the possible meaning.
I enjoy learning about the meanings of names, but I’m not vexed if they’re negative. I’m far more likely to veto a name because a person or character who wore the name is unappealing. And, of course, that can happen after the fact, too.
Hmm, yeah, now I’m thinking there’s a REASON I see this as the name for someone who’s a little on the dark side – writers keep making it sound that way!!!!
Charlotte Vera says
As with most people I know many, many Calebs. It’s a fine name, but I’m one of those who just can’t envision herself calling a child “dog”.
One of my cousin’s named his son Caleb. Other cousins’ offspring include Judah, Micah, Miriam, Elias and Jacob. I have 9 cousins and 1 sibling so the pool of babies gives me a random selection of names since there’s also a Siri [to honor Scandinavian heritage], Stephanie, Katie, Holly, Reese and Floyd. Also Faith, Anne and Emily.
What wonderful names! I love Miriam.