He’s one of the Biblical boys, an Old Testament figure found on every fashionable playground.
Thanks to Melissa for suggesting Eli as Baby Name of the Day.
Eli is one of those names that seems to have it all – he’s brief, impossible to misspell, and familiar but uncommon.
Or he was familiar but uncommon.
There are plenty of figures in history who answered to Eli. Or Elijah. Or Eliezer. Yale University was named in honor of a fellow called Elihu Yale, who left the Colonies while just a toddler, but kept writing checks from England. A trio of inventive Elis includes Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin, plus Eli Blake, Sr. and Eli Blake, Jr. And then there’s Eli Lilly, a chemist and entrepreneur who built a pharmaceutical empire.
And there have been men called Eli since then. The name has never left the US Top 1000, ranking #177 in 1880 and #344 in 1980. He dropped as low as #704 in 1964, but mostly, Eli has been a steady presence among American baby names.
Some of that doubtless has to do with the original Eli. The Old Testament figure was a high priest of Israel, and a mentor to Samuel. The consensus seems to be that he commanded respect in public, but had trouble on the homefront.
There are two possible origins for Eli, both Hebrew – the first links him to a phrase meaning “my God,” like Elizabeth. I believe this is usually the reference used by modern Israeli parents. The Biblical figure’s name is linked to a Hebrew word that means ascended or high. But in English, the two origins are blurred together.
Plenty of girls answer to the similar Ellie, and yet Eli shows signs of becoming this generation’s Ashley. On the contrary, with figures like NFL quarterback Eli Manning – born Elisha – Eli manages to feel perfectly masculine. There’s also long-time actor Eli Wallach, known for his roles in classic guy flicks like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Magnificent Seven.
Despite the name’s ancient roots, Eli feels surprisingly fresh and modern. Some of that is his super-mini, 3-letter style. But the E doesn’t hurt, either. In an age of email and e-services, well, what’s more natural than sending out an evite to Eli’s first birthday bash?
Television characters have worn the name on Emmerdale, Veronica Mars, Heroes, and Xena, as well as the short-lived Eli Stone, a series about a lawyer who can see the future.
Earlier in 2010, Denzel Washington played a tough guy on a sacred mission in The Book of Eli. His Eli was charged with delivering the last copy of the Bible to safe keeping, despite an impressive number of bad guys in his path.
All of this makes for a great name for a son. He’s strong, but not hyper-masculine; modern in style, but not invented. The only problem is that the secret is out. Besides Eli at #90 in 2009, there was also Elijah at #21, as well as Elias and Elliot/Elliott, all of which could lead to Eli as a short form.
If your son doesn’t mind sharing, it is still a good option. But if you’re hoping for something unusual, you might need to look a little more.