10 Christian names you don't really hear

By Jon Kelly
BBC News Magazine

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Image caption,
John and Mary might be familiar names at baptisms - Nebuchadnezzar and Wilgefortis less so

The Pope says children should be given truly Christian names. But why have some saints and biblical figures inspired baby names, but not others?

Our playgrounds are blessed with a multitude of Daniels, Sarahs and Adams, but not quite so many Amminadabs, Zipporahs or Habakkuks.

The names of saints Andrew, Catherine and Frances might echo down the ages, but the phone book is not exactly bursting with Abbos, Etheidwithas and Leocritas.

But could these holy, if inexplicably unfashionable, titles be due a comeback?

In a speech, Pope Benedict XVI urged parents to name their offspring in the Christian tradition, and bequeath "an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit will allow the person to blossom in the bosom of the Church".

In doing so, the pontiff has reiterated the Catholic Church's canon law, which cautions against baptising children in a manner "foreign to Christian sensibility".

He has also surely tapped into a growing public backlash against celebrities burdening their progeny with such profane appellations as Brooklyn, Peaches and Princess Tiaamii.

Should the British public choose to follow his Holiness's advice, there are plenty of names of saints and from the Bible's Old and New Testaments from which to choose - but, for whatever reason, some have proved more enduring than others.

Here are 10 rarely-adopted names from this Judeo-Christian tradition.

1. The name of Jezebel, the Queen of Israel, later became shorthand for a fallen woman. "This is a case of a name attracting a degree of notoriety," says social psychologist Dr Martin Skinner of Warwick University. "No-one is going to give their child a name that has taken on negative associations - in this case, with a certain type of woman. To most people, this is better known than the fact that Jezebel was, in the Old Testament, like Eve, Ruth or Naomi."

Image caption,
King Nebuchadnezzar II

2. Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Babylonian empire. His exploits, which are recounted in the books of Daniel and Jeremiah, were praised by Saddam Hussein, to whom he was a hero. Mr Skinner believes in this case there is also the phonetic difficulty that puts people off. "It sounds very harsh with all those zeds. It's not very easy to pronounce, either."

3. Dorcas was a faithful female disciple "full of good deeds" whose death prompted much weeping, according to the Book of Acts in the New Testament. She is also known as Tabitha, a name that is much more commonly heard.

4. Saint Philemon was the recipient of an epistle from Saint Paul in the New Testament. But whereas the name Solomon, from the wise king, is often heard, Philemon rarely is.

5. Gomer was the wife of the prophet Hosea. "To Anglo Saxon ears, there's a sort of masculinity about the sound of Gomer," says Mr Skinner. "Feminine names tend to be lighter - Nicola, Pamela and so on. Men's names tend to be sharper, like John, Jack or Sid."

6. The oldest person named in the Bible, Methuselah, is said to have lived until he was 969. "If we know one thing about him, it's that he was ancient - we use the phrase 'as old as Methulselah' and so on. When you have a baby boy, you aren't going to picture him as a Methuselah. It also sounds quite Dickensian to modern ears, as do a lot of Old Testament names which were popular in the Victorian period like Ebenezer and Ezekiel."

7. Achsah was the daughter of Caleb, who offered her in marriage to Othniel in the Old Testament.

8. According to a story dating back to the 14th Century, Saint Wilgefortis took a vow of virginity when she was promised in marriage by her father. Following her prayers for help, she grew a beard and moustache.

9. Zipporah, wife of Moses and daughter of Jethro, was mentioned in the Book of Exodus.

10. Radbod, or Radboud, was Bishop of Utrecht around 900 AD. "This is another Anglo Saxon-sounding name that you might expect to catch on," says Mr Skinner. "Maybe it just sounded too familiar. When you have a diversity of names, people sometimes pick sounds and concept they've never picked before. These days, this process has become a celebrity phenomenon."