Zev: Baby Name of the Day Zev scores high on Scrabble, brings to mind a fierce, majestic creature, and shares the short, punchy style of Jax. What’s not to love?

Thanks to Kells for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


Strictly speaking, this is a two-syllable name: Ze’ev. It appears in the Old Testament, but as the name of a villain.

It means wolf, and since that first Ze’ev – also called Zeeb – attacked Israel, it seems unlikely inspiration for a child’s name.


Instead, the name reflects two influences.

First, Benjamin. In the Book of Genesis, Benjamin is the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons, and a “wolf that raveneth.” Choose your translation, but it feels pretty dark. But it also suggests positive traits. Benjamin’s descendants went to be warriors. Plus wolves symbolize bravery. There’s a positive reading of the name Wolf, and Zev shares it.

Then there’s another reality: in German, Wolf – and names containing the element Wolf – were common. Zev may have come into use as the Hebrew equivalent. The Yiddish Velvel is also heard. A nineteenth century European singer and entertainer was born Benjamin Wolf Ehrenkrantz, but became known professionally as Velvel Zbarjer.

In The Lunar Chronicles series, Marissa Meyer’s YA reinvention of so many familiar fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood is called Scarlet, and she falls in love with Ze’ev “Wolf” Kesley.

Star Wars

If Zev didn’t exist, we would have invented it. Want proof? Star Wars gives us a minor character by the name, first seen in The Empire Strikes Back. That was 1980.

It sounds at home in a galaxy far, far away. But, of course, plenty of the character names claim traditional roots – Han as an update to John, Leia as a form of Leah, and Luke, Owen, and more as … well, Luke, Owen and more.

Another example: a famous racehorse from the 1920s was named Zev in honor of Colonel JW Zevely, a friend of the horse’s owner. The letter sit there, waiting for discovery.

By the Numbers

Up until the 1950s, the name failed to appear in the US Social Security Administration name data. That means that fewer than five boys were named Zev. Though, of course, many may have been called Zev, especially given the tendency for immigrant families to assimilate their children’s names formally, while retaining more familiar nicknames at home.

Today, the opposite phenomenon occurs. Even if we have to go back to our great-grandparents, families today are often interested in finding heritage choices for their children.

So the lack of data doesn’t mean the name was unknown.

But we do know that starting in the 1950s, it begins to appear in small numbers. 21 boys received the name in 1959; by 1997, it’s 50. In 2006, the number reached 115. And by 2018? A new high! 193 parents chose the name Zev for their sons.

That was enough to push the name into the US Top 1000 for the first time ever.

Marissa Winokur welcomed son Zev Isaac back in 2008. When Winokur competed in 2018’s Celebrity Big Brother last year, she talked about her son lots. He appeared in post-series interviews celebrating his mom’s win. And so that might explain the rise in use that bumped Zev into the Top 1000 – at last!

Overall, it seems like an intriguing choice. Zev is brief and complete, with a strong meaning and a modern sound.

What do you think of this name?

Originally published on June 3, 2013, this post was revised and re-published on August 28, 2019.

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 can see the “lion-lion” argument of Ari-Lev, since Ari means “lion” in Hebrew and Lev is “lion” in several other languages, including Yiddish. But it’s just as likely to be “lionhearted” since Lev is “heart” in Hebrew. Both meanings are spelled lamed.bet, לב. The Yiddish Lev/Leb is a form of Leiv/Leib [lamed.yud.yud.bet, לייב], which is from the German Loeb.

  2. I think I marginally prefer Zvi, meaning a deer.
    Incidentally, during the Napoleonic Wars King George III was inspecting the volunteer militia in London, which included a significant contingent of Jews. He was intrigued by the large number of animal names among Jewish militiamen, and commented good naturedly on it.

  3. I like Zev/Ze’ev. It has my favorite sounds in it, and I am all about plant and animal names.

  4. Traditionally, “Aryeh/Ari” doesn’t go with “Lev” — ‘lev’ means ‘heart’, whereas the Yiddish name that means ‘lion’ is LEIB (pronounced layb or libe), which is just written similarly in Hebrew. My father’s religious name was Aryei’leib — Aryeh/Ari + Leib.

  5. Must quibble about Yiddish literature only hailing to the 19th C. I don’t know where that comes from. There are Yiddish epic poems hundreds of years prior.[/unlovable nerd]

    Anyhow, it’s my brother’s religous name. He likes it. I like it too, but of course can’t use it. His English name is Wolf. Another cousin has the same religious name but is a William, because Zev > Volf > Velvel > Americanized to sounding sort of like William if you REALLY want it to. Most Jewish Williams I’ve met, are Zevs.

    Ari Judah is a pretty typical pairing – Judah being linked up with lions like Benjamin with wolves. Judah with Lev and from Leo etc. as well. It wasn’t always good to be a Judah in Medieval (or early 20th C.) Europe, being a Leo/Leon etc. was often far more conducive to good health.