Isaac combines all the gravity of a Biblical classic with an undeniable cool factor.
Thanks to Corinne for suggesting Isaac as our Baby Name of the Day.
Isaac: Pure Joy
This name comes from the Hebrew phrase tzahaq, meaning “he laughs.” Or possibly rejoices.
Either way, it feels like a positive choice for a child, a brother for similarly upbeat names like Felix and Asher.
Isaac: Biblical Boy
But there’s more to the laughter than just plain happiness.
In the Book of Genesis, both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the idea of their son’s birth. Abraham was nearly one hundred; Sarah counted as a senior citizen, too. And yet the prophecy came to pass.
Their story continues. At one point, Abraham thought he would be forced to sacrifice his only son. Not so. Instead, Abraham became, as his name implies, the father of multitudes.
The father and son’s story is cited in the New Testament and the Quran. No surprise, then, that versions of this name are found over the centuries in many different languages and cultures.
A handful of saints answer to the name, from the ancient world into more recent times.
Isaac: Reformation Revival
In English, Isaac appeared in use during the Reformation, one of the many Old Testament names embraced by Protestant parents.
Notables by the name appear from the sixteenth century onward, including:
- Science’s Newton, born in 1643.
- Plenty of politicians, including two Isaac Smiths elected to the US House of Representatives in the early 1800s, one from New Jersey, one from Pennsylvania.
- 19th century inventor, Singer, he of sewing machine fame.
- 20th century sci fi legend Asimov.
- Legendary violinist Stern, as well as Itzhak Perlman, a modern Hebrew form.
- Two Israeli prime ministers answered to Yitzhak, Shamir and Rabin.
The list goes on and on!
Along the way, some of the famous figures lent the name an edge. There’s designer Mizrahi, as well as the frontman of the Fray and the lead singer of Modest Mouse.
But it’s another figure that gives this name an ice cold cool: Isaac Hayes.
The current generation of parents might know him best as the voice of Chef on South Park. But long before the Comedy Central cartoon debuted, Hayes was racking up awards – an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and more than one Grammy. He took home the trophies for the soundtrack to 1971’s Shaft.
And yet that’s not even his best-known work. In the 1960s, Hayes penned hits for Sam & Dave. Think “Hold On, I’m Comin'” and “Soul Man.”
The signer-songwriter-actor’s surname is catching on in recent years. And his first name? Undeniably icy-cld cool.
Isaac: By the Numbers
With all this history, it comes as no surprise that Isaac has never left the US Top 400.
In fact, it’s been steadily used over the years, hitting a low in the 1960s, but rebounding starting in the 1970s.
But in recent years, Isaac has transformed from quiet classic to style star. It owes something to Zachary, since both shorten to Zac. Though Ike strikes me as the even edgier nickname. Not that it requires one, of course!
Isaac: Cool Boy Name
Maybe Hayes gets credit. Maybe it’s the authentic, but unconventional double-a spelling. Or perhaps it’s simply the appeal of name every bit as traditional as John, but not nearly as familiar.
Regardless of why, we know that the name currently stands at #33 in the US, down a few spots from a peak of #29 in 2013, but still powerfully popular.
If you’re after an enduring Biblical boy name that feels fresh and modern, Isaac might belong on your list.
What do you think of Isaac? Would you shorten it to Ike or Zac? Or use it in full?
Originally published on August 13, 2009, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on August 8, 2018.