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.