If Deacon can emerge as a fashionable first name, why not this equally appealing choice?

Thanks to Rocking Fetal for suggesting Bishop as Name of the Day.

Believe it or not, Bishop was once steadily in use. Between 1880 and 1912, the name ranked in the US Top 1000 most years. Sure, he wasn’t Top Ten – or even Top 100 – but he’s common enough – about as popular as Dalton or Wyatt, Ezekiel or Ignatius circa 1900.

Even if Bishop has sometimes been a given name, it has long been a title. It comes from the Greek episkopos which meant something closer to watcher, and was originally a title for a government official, or indeed anyone in a position of authority. In some New Testatment translations, you might find the term “elder” substituted for “bishop.”

In Late Latin, episkopos became episocpus, which gave us the Old English bisceop. Clergy hold the office in many churches – Lutheran, Methodist and Mormon, as well as Catholic and Orthodox.

You’ll also find bishops on the chessboard, where the term has been in use since the 16th century.

Bishop is also a fairly common surname, and that might explain some of his uses as a given name. Lest you imagine church scandal, it was probably a name given to those who served bishops – clerks and scribes.

People, fictional and real, wearing Bishop in the last spot include:

  • On the big screen, Tupac Shakur played a character called Bishop in 1992’s Juice. There’s a rapper today called Bishop Lamont, presumably in honor of Shakur’s character;
  • In the sci fi Alien movies, Lance Bishop is an android – and also the android’s designer. Like Ellen Ripley, he is usually referred to by his last name only;
  • The X-Men universe includes Lucas Bishop, again usually referred to by his last name, during the 1990s;
  • Speaking of sci fi, NBC’s Heroes includes Elle Bishop, daughter of The Company CEO Robert Bishop – and, thanks to Daddy’s experiments, something of a mess;
  • In 1692, Bridget Bishop was the first person executed as a witch in the Salem Witch Trials;
  • Nineteenth century philanthropist Bernice Pauahi Bishop was the last surviving descendant of King Kamehameha I. Bishop was her married name.

There’s also an old trend to bestow titles as given names. Circa 1900, the following all ranked in the US Top 1000:

  • Aristocratic titles Earl, Duke and Prince;
  • Military ranks Major, General, Admiral and Colonel;
  • Professional roles Doctor and Judge.

A few of those choices have been in use more recently, too. But Deacon – possibly the closest relative of Bishop style-wise – didn’t rank at all until after Reese Witherspoon chose it for her son.

On sound alone, it is tempting to revive Bishop – doubly so if he’s on your family tree. But it would require quite a bit of daring and willingness to overlook (or possibly embrace) the name’s religious overtones.

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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  1. I like Bishop. It’s not on my list, but I like it. I knew people with that last name when I was growing up (and babysat for them), so that’s one association for me. The other is the Aliens android. It’s not any weirder to me that Judge, as a name.

  2. Allison, I wonder if that song was Reese’s inspiration?

    And in the middle, Bishop is wicked cool. 😉

  3. Bishop is nice. Not one I’d use personally, but I see its appeal. It feels more surnamey to me than modern-day occupational, more akin to calling your son Carter than Doctor.

    Being a Christian, I don’t mind the religious associations, and my church uses the term elder instead of bishop, so it’s not quite like naming your son Pastor or Priest.

  4. Interesting idea, but it only appeals to me in the middle. Deacon, on the other hand, I really like as a first or middle name. The fact that I love Steely Dan’s song “Deacon Blues” just makes it that much more attractive to me.

  5. As someone with Royal and King in the family tree, Bishop doesn’t bother me overmuch. I like his rank better than Deacon (which I like the sound of but would never use myself).

    I used to know a last name Bishop guy, he was a nice guy, so that doesn’t hurt the image in my head. As far as RF goes, I think Bishop, as a surnamey sort of name would work really well with her other boys. It’s the same sort of subtle theme I have going with mine. And as a middle, there’s no worries about Bishop, the Bishop!

    Joey Bishop was an interesting entertainer himself. Very down to earth considering who he hung with. Doesn’t hurt the image either. So Bishop gets a solid :thumbsup: from me. He’s familiar, uncommon and all around nice. Why Not? 😀 (But Ignatius is still MINE!)

  6. Thanks again. I really like Bishop, and its history appeals to me. Still, it wouild only ever be middle name material for me. It seems far less in your face than Priest or Pope or even Deacon. We don’t have Bishops either. I”m not sure if that makes it more or less odd for my family. I’d be all over it for sure if it was a family surname.

  7. One of the family names on my tree is LoPresti – given to those in service to priests, so it has something in common with Bishop. I went searching for a way to make it wearable for a child and hit a wall. Preston seemed too trendy. And Priest? Never!

    I kept thinking of that the whole time I was writing this post – because I know what you mean about it feeling a little off. (And what if your child pursues religious life? Could he The Most Reverend Bishop Smith, Bishop of Baltimore?)

    And yet Deacon is undeniably gaining in use … and I kind of love his sound.

  8. I’ve never been fond of most of the profession names, especially the religious ones. Deacon, Bishop, Pastor, Rabbi, Priest, Imam… none sound like a little boy on the playground to me. I them all slightly awkward… And I fully admit that this could be because of my religious background. We didn’t/don’t have Bishops in the particular denomination I belong to, but even so, it just strikes me as odd.

    Not a terrible name by any means, but certainly one I don’t find that appealing. (sorry, my dear RockingFetal ;))