Baby Name of the Day: Eli


Vintage LEGO Letter E

Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

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.

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14 Comments

I like Eli as you can see my name is Elyane. I am usually called Ellah. I like that Ell is becoming more female. My sister is named Ellis, my niece is named Ellias, and my cousin is named Ellyce. It stands out nicely in my family and yet is it not common.

Eli David is Ziva’s evil dad on NCIS, so that’s pretty much ruined the name for me (Ziva would be an interesting NOTD, BTW 😉 ). But Elian sounds nice.

I have a female cousin nicknamed Eli (short for Elicia), she pronounces it EE-lee rather than E-lye, but I could easily see Eli sliding over to the girl’s side. Mostly just as a “unique” spelling of Ellie, but the little girl vampire from “Let The Right One In” has also exposed an English-speaking audience to the Scandinavian girl’s name. The difference in pronunciation will probably keep Eli more this generation’s Jaime, than Ashley.

Despite my “prophecy” (and I hope I’m wrong,) I really like Eli, Elias and Elijah. If the El- names weren’t so popular I’d definitely consider them.

Julie, that’s true – and there a LOT of little Ellies right now. When the first bunch hits middle school, I’m sure some will morph from Ellie into Eli, just like my friends became Jenni-with-a-heart-dotting-the-I, thank-you-very-much.

The only Eli name I really like is Elian, but I would pronounce it EHL-ee-ahn, like Elliott. The Eli nickname wouldn’t really fit..El would be the likeliest nn.

To me, Eli is too spare, but Elian has the elegance of Julian or Roman. Not sure it would make my Top 10 list for boys, but it’s close.

I like Eli okay, though he’s definitely not my favorite of the Old Testament names. I really prefer Elijah. I don’t know why, but Eli sounds too much like a cowboy’s name for me, despite his OT roots. It’s still a great name though!

I like Elijah, Elias, and Eleazer (I knew one who went by El), and I think Eli is a good nickname for all of these. Of those, I like Elias best, followed closely by Eleazer. I would use any of those in a heartbeat (as long as my future husband approves), but I wouldn’t use Eli on its own. I wouldn’t have a beef if someone did, though!

Eli’s really nice. That was one of our misgivings about using Elliot or Elias (which were both considered for Julius) — the fact that “Eli-” names really are popping up everywhere.

Of course, there are plenty of other Judes and Julians, too, though.

It’s hard to pick a name that sounds fashionable but different — because chances are, if a name sounds fashionable, even if IT is not highly ranked, it probably has sounds in common with names that are fairly highly ranked.

That’s a VERY good point, Emmy Jo. It is obvious when we talk about Aidan/Jayden/Caiden, but equally true with other names. So many of my favorites – Clio and Avalon come to mind – are very close to Top 20 picks.

I went to high school with an Eleazar who mostly went by Eli. He was the only one I’d ever heard of until Eli Manning, then it seemed to start popping up everywhere. I’ve yet to meet another in real life, though.

I think it’s such a fantastic name. One of the best. I can’t believe it’s so popular, or the fact that I didn’t even realize it was so popular! It’s like every name I like is super popular, or so uncommon that everyone I know would call it crazy.

I do like Elisha, but despite his perfectly masculine roots, I can’t help thinking a boy called Elisha might be confused with all of the girls called Alicia/Eliza/Elise.

Then again, Eli Manning is an Elisha. So maybe I’m wrong!