Tobias with the Angel Raphael, by Pietro Perug...Editor’s note: This post was originally published on June 24, 2010. It was substantially revised and re-posted on August 19, 2013.

He’s a study in contrasts – Biblical and apocryphal, superhero and geek.  He’s been steadily on the rise in recent years, and now a popular series of novels could encourage more of us to use this name.

Thanks to Fran and Francis for suggesting Tobias as our Baby Name of the Day, and C in DC for suggesting the update!

This post originally started out with the Bible, but in 2013, we need to begin with another book.


Veronica Roth’s novel is about a dark future world, set in Chicago.  Beatrice is coming of age, and that’s a very specific and scary experience in her world.  The heroine is known as Tris, and her love interest is called Four – but his real name is Tobias.

Divergent is the first book in a trilogy, and now a film adaptation is coming in March 2014.  It could be Hunger Games-level huge.

But Tobias first appeared in a very different book.  If you’re Catholic, you’ll recognize him from the Book of Tobit.  The Protestants, however, exclude this book from their Bible.

The tale is set in the eight century BC, in Nineveh. Tobit is father to Tobias; both names are derived from the element tobih – my good. The book involves travel and marriage and demon-wrestling. The angel Raphael secretly assists Tobias as he completes his tasks. Renaissance artists were inspired by the story – see the artwork above.

You’ll find a handful of men named Tobias throughout the centuries, including a fourth century saint.

But let’s talk about Toby. While Tobias has never ranked higher than #472, and today stands at a relatively obscure #515, Toby fared well in the 1970s, peaking at #190 in 1975. In 2009, he came in at a distant #670.

Together they make for a familiar choice:

  • Fictional bearers of the name have included a notable television trio, characters in The Office, Arrested Development, and The West Wing.
  • The baby brother stolen by goblins in 1986’s Labyrinth was called Toby, as was the child actor who played the part.
  • There’s also Tobin, sometimes listed as a pet form of Tobias and sometimes viewed as a separate surname related to the Irish Tóibín, derived from place name Saint Aubin in Brittany.
  • Toby has also taken a turn as a girl’s name, probably thanks to Toby Wing.  Miss Wing – born Martha – was well-known in the 1930s, and even rated a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Say Toby today, and you might think of:

  • Tobey Maguire, born Tobias, the actor also known as Peter Parker and his alter ego, Spider-Man
  • Country music superstar Toby Keith.
  • Author Tobias Wolff, whose 1989 memoir This Boy’s Life was adapted for the big screen in 1993, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead.

Overall, Tobias as one of those names that is familiar and nicely quirky, too. You won’t stun anyone by choosing Tobias for your son, but he’s still something of a surprise.  If you’re after a scholarly appellation with some spirit, Tobias and Toby could be the choice for you.

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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. I love Tobias, but I don’t love Toby as much, but it’s growing on me.

    There is a character in the Pretty Little Liars series named Toby; not to spoiler anything, but he’s more fleshed out and likeable (but honestly, this is true of all the characters) in the television series than he is in the novels. Plus he’s played by cutie Keegan Allen.

  2. I have a sweet little Tobin in my family! He really suits his name. While I like Tobin, I’m really not a huge fan of Toby or Tobias. Tobias is all Arrested Development to me. The Graft versus host episodes really sit with me as the mental image for Tobias: a man being drained of all life by his luxurious hair-plugs. As for Toby…am I crazy for associating it with “The Great Mouse Detective”?? I always think of the Bassett hound named Toby they ride around town on. I guess I watched too many animated movies as a child!

    1. I, too, think of the dog in The Great Mouse Detective! You aren’t the only one who watched too many animated movies.

    2. I think I like Tobin the best of all, too, Hettie – though I actually know two little boys called Tobias, and that has helped me think “cute kid” instead of Tobias Funke.

  3. I LOVE Tobias! But my husband vetoed it saying it sounded too Amish to him! It didn’t matter because we have 3 beautiful daughters and are done growing our family. I wonder if there are any Tobias’s that don’t get the nickname Toby? I much prefer Tobias!

    1. I know two little boys with the name – one is definitely Tobias all the time. (Well, unless there’s a grandmother out there who calls him Toby? But I’ve only ever heard him called Tobias.) The other one I’m not so sure …

  4. I love Toby. Both Tobias and Tobin are appealing to me.

    It is used in Jewish circles. Though it’s perhaps at it’s MOST recognizably Jewish as Tevye, a la Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye/Tuvia/Tovia is Yiddish for the Hebrew Toviyah/Tobiah, which was Latinized to Tobias.

    Are we counting Tobiah and Tobias separately? Because there’s a few different Biblical mentions so it’s Biblical aside from the Book of Tobit. But I think I should probably shut up now I’m just confusing myself and probably other innocent people!

    Great write-up for a great name.

  5. We are white Catholic parents adopting an African American baby boy. We already have Gabriel, Raphael, and Elias and wanted to name our new baby Tobias. He would probably end up being nicknamed Toby. Is the association Kunta Kunte’s slave name a reason for us to avoid the name?

    1. That’s a tough one. I don’t make the immediate association … and given that Toby fits with lots of trends right now, I don’t think I would. But the race issue is incredibly delicate. Let me ask around …