The baby name Esau comes from a famous Old Testament story. But unlike Noah and Jacob, it’s seldom heard today.

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


The Old Testament story of Isaac and Rebecca is well-known. After many years of waiting, the couple welcomed twin sons: Esau, the firstborn, and Jacob, the younger son.

The meaning of the name Esau is debated. It’s often linked to a word meaning hairy; it might also mean red. In any case, Esau becomes a hunter. He’s kind of rough and tumble. It’s pretty clear that Jacob is the favored son; ultimately, he’s the one named his father’s heir through a mix of subterfuge and shortsightedness.

Or possibly worse.

The New Testament Romans 9:13 line “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” pretty much sums up what most of us recall of the story.

The 1980 Newbery Medal-winning young adult novel Jacob Have I Loved explores the story through a different set of twins – sisters, growing up in the 1940s. But it helps cement the story of the siblings. The book was probably on every school library shelf as this generation of parents came of age, and makes the story of Jacob and Esau known beyond Sunday school.

For what it’s worth, the brothers did eventually reconcile.

Esau is considered the ancestor of the Edomites, an ancient kingdom in the Middle East. More on that in a bit.

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While pronunciation will vary by language, most English speakers say Esau like ee-saw.

Few names sound anything like the baby name Esau. There’s Esai, though that’s a cousin to Isaiah, possibly influenced by Esau.

The “sau” sound occurs in Saul and, to a lesser degree, in Sawyer, too. The vowel sound is shared with names like Lawrence and Paul.

Overall, it’s distinctive without being wildly different.


Esau de’ Buondelmonti ruled the Greek city of Ioannina from 1385 to 1411.

The son of a Florentine nobleman, Esau was offered the position, marrying his predecessor’s widow to secure the role.

It’s not clear if his name was unusual for his historical period or language. But it’s worth noting that the Biblical story of Esau sometimes connects his descendants – the Edomites – to the founding of Rome. That’s because Romulus, the city’s founder, is sometimes considered an Edomite.

It’s not clear if the story would’ve been known as the time of Esau’s birth in Florence, but perhaps that name would’ve been considered auspicious. His family played a major role in Florentine politics, though, and their legacy is still visible in the city today.


Overlooked Biblical boy name

An old school name with plenty of vowel-forward appeal, Esau’s history as the troublemaking twin of Jacob probably puts this name at a disadvantage. But on sound? It succeeds.


Given to just 44 boys in 2022


Holding steady, but used in very small numbers


From a Hebrew name, Esau might mean hairy or red, but he’s best remembered as Jacob’s twin in the Old Testament


It’s also occasionally heard as a surname.

During the seventeenth century, Esau became a favorite choice among the Nonconformists.

In brief, back in 1662, the Act of Uniformity laid out many practices and beliefs that we associate with the Church of England today. Protestant Christians who didn’t adopt those norms were called Nonconformists. Many denominations that we now think of as perfectly mainstream would’ve been included under that umbrella.

This meant that Nonconformist parents didn’t necessarily have their children baptized in the Church of England. Wales, in particular, was a hotbed of activity. Estimates suggest that 75% of the Welsh population were Nonconformists by the middle of the 1800s.

They adopted Biblical given names, and sometimes those first names became surnames – as was the case with Esau.

In fact, the baby name Esau was among the Top 200 in England and Wales circa 1850.


So how popular is the baby name Esau?

As of 2022, just 44 boys born in the US received the name. It peaked in the year 2007 with 82 births.

That’s pretty rare. Back in the day, small numbers still put names in the US Top 1000, but Esau last appeared in 1902.


There’s a minor figure in Marvel’s X-Men comics named Esau Shaw.

In Lawmen: Bass Reeves, Esau Pierce is a supporting character. While Bass Reeves was a historical figure – among the first African-American US Marshals – Pierce was not. (More information – and spoilers – here.)


The baby name Esau is heard across the globe, in countries like Tonga, Kenya, Zambia, Grenada, and Honduras – all countries with Christian populations, but few that report data on given name use.

A village in Guyana, Africa, was named Esau and Jacob by Dutch settlers. Only a handful of people call it home today.


All of this makes the baby name Esau something of a bold, Biblical rarity.

On sound alone, Esau is intriguing. Like Boaz or Jubal, few names sound anything like it. But it’s undeniably a historical choice, used across languages and centuries.

The potential connection to Rome is fascinating – maybe even enough to compensate for the reputation as the less-favored son.

If Old Testament rarities appeal to you, the baby name Esau might deserve a closer look.

What do you think of the baby name Esau?

First published on May 24, 2011, this post was revised and updated on February 20, 2024.

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. My friend with 4 boys (all with “E” biblical names) tells people, who joke about her trying for a girl. “No, because if I have another boy the only name left is Esau.” Since most people react as if Esau is a horrible jokey name, I don’t think it will be come popular anytime soon.

    I don’t mind the name and while I don’t think the biblical Esau is namesake material… that hasn’t stopped parents from using Saul, Delilah or Athaliah.

  2. Esau….Esau…why do I know that name? Oh yeah:

    “I saw Esau kissing Kate,
    The fact is we all three saw;
    For I saw him,
    And he saw me,
    And she saw I saw Esau.”

    It was a vocal warm-up we did in drama club.