He’s Biblical, quirky and offers up a great nickname.

Thanks to Paul for suggesting Zebulon as Name of the Day.

Zebulon made Nameberry’s Ten Great Names You’re Not Using list a few months ago. And if you think about his logical nickname – Zeb – it’s true. Playgrounds are packed with boys called Zach and Seb. (Since 2000, nearly 125,000 boys have been named Zachary. Over 47,000 have been called Sebastian.) And as parents dust off Biblical names faster than you can say “Puritan,” I’m even hearing JebediahJeb – and JedidiahJed.

So why not Zebulon?

In the Bible, Zebulon – or Zebulun or Zabulon – was one of Jacob and Leah’s kids. You’ll find him in the Torah and the Book of Genesis. He’s also the founder of the Tribe of Zebulon. (Or Zebulun. Or Zabulon.)

The meaning of his name is hotly debated:

  • Apparently the root, zbl, occurs in plenty of personal names from the era – including Jezebel – and is linked both to the god Baal and to the words raise or elevate. In the Bronze Age many centuries BC, the root appears in at least one place name, too;
  • There’s also zebed – gift;
  • Yizbeleni, meaning honor, is another possible source;
  • Then there’s zibhe – sacrifice;
  • Exaltation is given as the meaning in a few places;
  • Lastly there’s dwelling or house, listed in a few others.

My best guess? Zebulon has something in common with Katherine. While we like to give her meaning as pure, research suggests that she’s actually derived from the goddess Hecate. Reference that first possible meaning for our friend Zeb. One of Baal’s titles was “rider of the clouds” – a fitting image for any god, and one that incorporates the meaning elevated, too. So yes, he’s a Biblical babe – but with a pagan past.

He also sounds Colonial cool, thanks to some early American Zebulons. Zebulon Heston came to the US in 1684 along with his fellow Quaker settlers. Zebulon Butler and Zebulon Pike were both soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Zebulon Pike’s boy – also named Zebulon Pike – is well remembered for the mountain he didn’t quite scale. Pike the Younger became a solider and an explorer, mapping the head of the Arkansas River and much of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1806, he attempt to climb the mountain that we now call Pike’s Peak, in the Colorado Rockies. Deep snow and inadequate supplies kept him from making it to the top.

Pike continued his military career through the War of 1812, eventually dying in service. Journals of his treks through the American southwest were published in 1810, and widely read. You’ll find a place named in his honor in at least a dozen states; in Georgia, the county seat of Pike County is Zebulon.

The name faded in the nineteenth century, though there’s Zebulon Vance, a former Confederate Civil War officer and influential North Carolina politician post-war.

He’s made only five appearances in the US Top 1000 – in 1891, 1978-1980 and 1984. And yet Zebulon might be just on the right side of quirky, thanks to that zippy nickname. If you like obscure Biblical picks – and aren’t fussed about his non-Christian roots – he’s one to consider.

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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What do you think?


  1. Named my baby one of those “out there” names 5 months ago. He is Ephraim. He absolutely does not stand out in his daycare room. All the children have different names. Love Ephraim. Looks beautiful. Sounds old-fashioned. Love it. Zebulon I’m not sure about but I like Zebediah!

    1. Congrats on your new little guy, Abbie! And I think you’re right. Clio sounds absolutely normal in her little school – the names range from Jayden and Cayden to Ida and Mabel and everything in between.