He’s an Old Testament choice who was current in the nineteenth century. So why isn’t he leaping up the charts in 2009?
Thanks to Wrenn for suggesting another one from the family tree for today’s Name of the Day: Enoch.
Enoch shares his long “e” with Ethan – EE nock. Even so, you’ll sometimes here eh nuck– a pronunciation unfortunately close to eunuch.
His roots are Biblical. In the Book of Genesis, Enoch is Cain’s firstborn. Another Enoch is proud papa of the long-lived Methuselah. But he would’ve been spelled Hanokh, Hanoch, Chanoch or Chanokh.
The name appears a few more times in the Old Testament too, and has two possible Hebrew sources:
- Enlightenment or wisdom – chinuch;
- Dedicated or consecrated – hanakh.
Visit an Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and you might hear a reference to the Biblical Book of Enoch. While it isn’t considered canonical by most Christians, you can find references to the writings – even in the New Testament.
The Book of Enoch is all about fallen angels. (The angels ask Enoch to plead their case for reinstatement to God.) Back in the sixteenth century, John Dee and Edward Kelley proposed a system of magic termed Enochian, along with a divine language wearing the same name. Before you dismiss Dee and Kelley as crackpots, remember that the line between science and magic was fuzzy in Elizabethan England. Dee was a trained mathematician and respected figure – an advisor to the the queen herself. (Kelley, on the other hand, was apparently a swindler.) The tales of angelic battles are fascinating, and even today, Enoch figures in Masonic legend and lore.
Enoch probably owes some of his popularity to the Biblical figures and some to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1864 poem “Enoch Arden.” Even if you don’t know the original, the story of Enoch Arden should sound familiar: man takes to the seas to support his wife and children. His ship sinks, but he survives. Years later, he returns only to find that his wife has remarried. (Cast Away, anyone? Was Tennyson himself borrowing from Homer?)
Back in 1880, Enoch ranked #202 in the US. By 1900, he’d fallen to #367. His steady decline continued, and by 1957 he’d just about left Top 1000, though his last appearance was in 1976.
A scattering of Enochs can be found throughout US history:
- Baltimore businessman and philanthropist Enoch Pratt left his fortune to help establish one of the country’s first private hospitals for the treatment of mental illness;
- A nineteenth century governor of Maine was called Enoch Lincoln;
- President Calvin Coolidge apparently bestowed the appellation on his pet goose. (He also had a donkey called Ebeneezer.)
It is tough to say why Enoch has never caught on. But perhaps the most interesting twist to Enoch is his equivalent in Islam – Idris, a name that also appears in Welsh mythology. A ninth-century Muslim leader named Idris ibn Abdullah captured Algeria. Actor Idris Elba is well-known for his work on HBO’s The Wire, as well as guest-starring as Michael’s boss on The Office.
Enoch could fit right in with Ethan and Elijah. And Idris sounds just right with choices like Isaac and Isaiah. Both are quirky, but have charm aplenty if you dare.