Today’s choice sounds rather modern, but he’s actually a nineteenth century staple with Biblical roots.
Thanks to Bek for suggesting the intriguing Eben as Name of the Day.
Eben sounds like he might’ve been recently dreamt up. In fact, he sounds dangerously close to Espn, the name a handful of parents have chosen in honor of their favorite television network. Or maybe he brings to mind the spiritual (and feminine) Eden, or 21st century necessities like email and iPods – eBenjamin, Elroy Jetson’s grandson.
Actually, Eben emerged as a short form of Ebenezer. Ebenezer, in turn, is actually composed of two Hebrew elements – ebhen, stone and ezer, help. It’s a Biblical place name often written as Eben-Ezer and sometimes Eben Ha’Ezer. Flip open your Old Testament to 1 Samuel. The Israelites and Philistines are at war. When the Israelites win, Samuel puts up a commemorative stone and calls it Eben-Ezer.
There’s a second argument that Eben is related to the word for even, from the Old High German ebani, or level.
Ebenezer seems to have been discovered following the Protestant Reformation. But those who stumbled on Ebenezer often chose it for their churches. You’ll find many a congregation still wearing the name today.
The first Ebenezer who comes to mind is the literary Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol. Yes, the story is a classic. Yes, Scrooge reforms nicely by the end. Somehow it seems an unlikely source of inspiration for parents.
The record suggests that Eben and Ebenezer were rare, but reasonably established by the year 1843. Eben was probably far more common. Consider this list:
- Military records give us an Eben Bailey born in Vermont in 1839. He’s a junior, so his father must’ve been born in the 1810s or 20s;
- The Rev. Eben E. – for Ezer! – Saunders was born in Kent, England in 1849;
- Greek scholar and University of North Carolina professor Eben Alexander was born in 1851;
- During the 1860s, Eben Tibbetts manufactured and sold furniture in Maine;
- Renowned Chicago architect Eben Ezra Roberts was born in 1866;
- Also born in 1866, Eben Johnson served as a Methodist bishop;
- Born in 1880, Eben Byers was a deep-pocketed industrialist;
- In the 1920s, Eben Cross Jr. married into the family descended from George Mason. He and his wife named their firstborn Eben Cross III.
None of the figures are household names. But one Eben was famous in the 1870s – Eben Rexford. Rexford penned the lyrics to “Silver Threads Among the Gold,” still performed by barbershop quartets today. The gist of the song is something like the Beatles’ “When I’m 64.” It was in heavy rotation through the late nineteenth century; Rexford also wrote short stories for Girls of Today magazine during the same era.
Perhaps Rexford is the reason Eben ranked in the US Top 1000 most years from 1880 through 1896, peaking at #534 in 1888. Or maybe the songwriter was just part of a larger trend. Ebenezer has only charted once in US history, back in 1884.
If it is difficult to pin down the source of Eben’s popularity, it is even more challenging to guess why he fell out of use. In any case, Eben could be a real find for parents today – current, but with a long history of use and appealing meaning, too.
This is my boyfriend’s name he is very awesome and he’s got a very awesome name:))
I’m reading this because I like the name Eiben which I would pronounce EE-ben although I think it’s pronounced Eye-ben in German. Anyway it’s German for yew tree which holds special significance for me. It’s almost totally unheard of as a first name and is a rare German surname. I’ve googled Eben instead and found positive comments which is nice! I really like it but it feels a brave choice!
I had Eben picked out for my second child, but when she was born my husband didn’t think it would be right to use a boy’s name on a girl. I think it sounds unisex. We used it as her middle name instead. She’s called Hope Eben.
My 2 year old son is named Eben and we have loved it since we first heard it before we were pregnant! We love the imagery of it meaning “stone” in Hebrew, we love it’s familiar, but unfamiliar sound (vowel beginning, -en ending, but a still a thoroughly uncommon name). We get many compliments on it. We’re expecting baby boy number 2 in a short number of weeks and are struggling to select a complimentary name that is unique and fresh, also.
Thanks for this lovely write-up on Eben – it’s the most thorough I’ve found!
Hi there Verity (or are you going by Abby online? I forget, sorry!)
It’s partially because of my endless perusing of your site that we discovered the name Eben
Sarah A says
Congratulations on your son Rachel! I would pronounce this name EE-ben, but that’s only because my association with the name is Abba Eban, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. He narrates a great 3 part PBS series called Heritage: Civilization and the Jews (Jewish Studies minor here!). I have no idea about the history of his last name, but I do know he was born in South Africa. So Abba Eban could be an association that (esp politically minded) people might have, and therefore pronounce it EE-ben. But EH-ben is wonderful and congrats again!
Is it pronounced EH-ben, EE-ben, or what? The name is quite nice — awkward for me, considering I just heard of it for the first time, but I’m sure it’ll grow on me the more I think of it.
Emmy Jo says
Eben is okay, but it sounds like a heavily-accented pronunciation of Evan. I just can’t get around that.
I love the meaning of Ebenezer. I lump it in with Hephzibah and Mehitabel in the category of “Biblical names with awesome meanings I’d love to use but can’t.”
When I first heard Eben, I liked it. But it is really growing on me, now! I am a sucker for turn of the century names, and I also love the biblical reference. I wasn’t aware of quite how popular it actually was, which gives it even more credibility in my mind. I would be pleased as punch to meet a little Eben.
Hooray for Eben! haha, I love this name. It’s a true love, I think, and I’m hoping to use it. I often get mixed reviews when I mention it, but that certainly doesn’t deter me (most say, “Why not just Evan?”). It would take a lot of guts to use Ebenezer today I think, and I certainly don’t have them. haha. I love the meaning though, being from a Christian background, my family has often talked about our ‘Ebenezers’ – stones of help – symbolic for when we’ve been brought through hard times.
My husband and I actually have 2 associations – one an older man who volunteers at the camp where we met, and also a diner in the town where my husband went to college. Both positive 😉
Thanks, Verity for indulging me 😉
Bek, I *love* names like that – when the meaning isn’t just the one listed in the baby book, but one from the fabric of our lives!
And Evan strikes me as kind of dull and dated.
I like Eben, but I’m a weird one and actually prefer Ebenezer, with the nickname Eben. I think Ebenezer is charming, and though for most it reminds people of a miser, it reminds me of the Ebenezer at the end of the “Christmas Carol” where he was full of life and love. I actually knew a little boy named Ebenezer Grey, with the nickname Eben.
Eben is interesting… I don’t know if I like him exactly, but he’s not bad… I do not like Ebenezer (and I live off of a road by that name… named for the church with that name a few miles away)… in any case, I didn’t immediately think Ebenezer when I saw the name, so it escapes my dislike for the full-on moniker. Still, I’m not whole-heartedly behind Eben. I guess that’s a neutral on Eben for me.
Oh, I like Eben! I would love to be able to consider him myself, but there’s an Eben in “30 Days of Night” (yeah, another Horror flick, this time with really cool vampires) played by Josh Hartnett (and brought yummy Ben Foster to my radar). So I firmly like Eben, think he’s perfectly usable but am not allowed to consider him because of the flick. *sigh* Oh well, I hope I meet one someday!
Hmmm … Lola, I wonder if JH’s character in the movie is why I’ve seen Eben pop up a time or two? There are worse inspirations!