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.
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.
I recently met a little boy who spelled it Tobyous. That was definitely a new one for me.
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!
I, too, think of the dog in The Great Mouse Detective! You aren’t the only one who watched too many animated movies.
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.
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!
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 …
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.
Please fix this post.
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?
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 …
I’ve recently become obsessed with Toby, just Toby. I think it’s one of those nickname names that has enough oomph to stand alone! Sure, maybe it’s been used for girls, but it’s got this really friendly boy-next-door kind of vibe about it that I really love. Tobias is fine, but it sounds too much like Eliza, my girl favorite, to really ever work for me – plus, Toby versus Tobias? Friendly, yet slightly jaunty Toby always wins for me! He’s a little bit preppy, a lot perky, and even maybe a little pretty. Ideal.
I was just noticing that several of my favorites are technically nicknames! Eliza, Toby, and Jude. When you think of those as shortened forms of Elizabeth, Tobias, and Judah, you have a very different set, huh? I like “my” slightly casual, more approachable, but still quite classic set, personally, though I can’t say anything bad about the longer forms!
Believe it or not, the first association I have with Tobias is a rather round black and white piebald unicorn from a book series that I was fond of when I was little. It brings warm fuzzy feelings to this name for me 🙂
I love Tobias for a name. Tobit is my favourite book in the bible so its always held a special place for me. But then my sister pointed out it would be a good name for a gay prostitute (to buy ass) and its kinda tainted it. Now i’m moving toward Tobiah. Its a little bit more rare, but still has the same feel to it. Now i just need to convince my husband.
I honestly don’t associate Tobias with Catholicism at all. I live in a culturally Catholic country and Tobias is has never been common – in fact, like most Old Testament names, it’s still scarcely used.
I think prefer just Toby – I tend to go for simpler English traditional forms over Latin or Biblical ones: Cecily over Cecilia, Lucy over Lucia, Jude over Judah, etc.
Emmy Jo says
I like Tobias. It’s not my favorite ends-in-S boys’ name (and you know I have a thing for those ends-in-S boys’ names). But it’s nice.
I’ve actually met two little babies named Tobias recently. One was a newborn at church, and I’m not sure what his siblings were called. The other was the boy half of boy-girl twins: Tobias and Teagan.
While Tobias is not in the Protestant Bible, Tobiah is… he appears in the book of Nehemiah as a bad guy who tries to sabotage Nehemiah’s building of the wall around Jerusalem.
One other small screen Tobias worth mentioning is the FBI agent on NCIS. You’ve got to love those character names… Jethro and Tobias. Now wouldn’t those be handsome brothers?
I love Tobias! Great post. I love Tobin as a nn and Toby is growing on me. Thank you for covering it!
I like Tobias, but have nixed it for a son because I think Toni and Toby would be too much under one roof 😉
The first thing I think of when I hear it is Tobias Funke, cut off wearing, blue man wannabe, anal-rapist (analysist-therapist), never-nude character on Arrested Development.
Other than that association, it’s a lovely name 🙂
British American says
I really like Tobias / Toby. It’s on my list of favourites. Husband doesn’t like it though – he says Toby is a dog’s name. 🙁
It also gets bonus points from me for being one of the trains in ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’. (Although not such a cool looking one.)
I also like Tobin – but don’t think I could ever use it because it sounds like Toe-Bin and “bin” is the word I use for “trash can” so that makes it all icky sounding. 🙁
I had no idea that the name is in the Catholic Bible!
I think I like Toby better than Tobias, but Toby feels like it might need a ‘more formal’ version and then the ‘bias’ ending does sound a little too much like the word ‘biased’ to me.
I still really like the name though.
Tobias is kind of my “default” name. Whenever anyone spontaneously decides to name a squirrel or a frog or a stuffed animal or some other creature I nearly always say “Tobias!”, since it for some reason is the first name to pop into my head. I think it’s a decent name. Doesn’t stand out very much but isn’t very common either.
The first fictional Tobias which came to my mind was Tobias Snape, father of Severus Snape of the Harry Potter series. I do like the name. For me, it has more of a Puritan vibe than a Catholic one.
I think that’s one HP name I’d missed completely – thanks for the info, EK. And yeah, I do get that – Tobias, Josiah, Ezra … he’d fit right in with all of those names.
Lady Gwyn says
I really like Tobias, and Tobiah. And I also like the nickname Toby. I would use it in a heartbeat!
Don’t forget the street urchin/orphan “Toby” in Sweeney Todd. That’s the name connection for me:)
I know a couple young Toby’s here in England, and I wish they were the nicknames for a more properly named Tobias.
Love it love it love it. I didn’t know that it was strictly a Catholic name though?
What do we think? Would brothers Raphael and Tobias be too much?
I wouldn’t say it is strictly Catholic, though there is a pint-sized Tobias in Clio’s (Catholic, run-by-a-nun) child center at the moment. It’s just that he’s only Biblical if you’re Catholic. Pretty much everybody else has dismissed the tale.
Raphael and Tobias is a GREAT sibset. And honestly? There’s a family at my church with kids name Gregory, Gloria and Regina. I don’t think most people realize how VERY religious those names are.
Not a favorite for me, but I’d love to meet a little Toby. I was surprised to learn that it’s also a girl’s name.
The first Toby I think of is from The West Wing, but I also remember a critical scene from Roots, the miniseries. Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton, later John Amos) is reluctant to accept his slave name, Toby. Years later, when his daughter Kizzy (Leslie Uggams) finds his wooden grave marker, she scratches out the name Toby and corrects the marker to read Kunta Kinte.
That’s right! Maybe not a great association for Toby …
I’m not really a fan of Tobias, especially with the nickname Toby. I have a female cousin named Tobey, so it sounds really feminine to me.
Charlotte Vera says
I’m frequently a fan of ends-in-s names for guys and this name’s no different. For me, it has the right combination of quirky and familiar combined. I’m not as big a fan of Toby, however. The only Toby I’ve ever known was a girl, and while she is a wonderful person, knowing her has put the name in gender limbo for me.
I knew a girl Toby, too, a counselor at my Girl Scout camp. That makes her around the right age to be one of those 1960s era Tobys … sort of fit with Jodi, I guess.
Love Tobias. So handsome!
I’m really not a fan of any Tob- name. The sound is extremely unattractive to my ears. I have a grating second cousin named Toby, and he doesn’t exactly help.
my first baby name of the day suggestion and i had no idea it was biblical! thanks for covering it :). tobias is the name of my second son and it did take the west wing connection to get my husband to agree to it. i do think the name is slightly more common in england than in the states but i’ve never met a female toby