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.