Which Bible names are for boys and which for girls?
— Or are Bible names perhaps not at all gender specific? —
First off: congratulations on your intent to grace you baby with a Biblical name. Names stay with us for life (normally) and whether we like to or not, our name is often a big part of the first impression we make. It's among the parents' first duty to their child to make sure their offspring will forever be equipped with a dignified and representable name.
- A short biography of the Biblical character who bore that name.
- An in-depth look at the verbal root(s) and possible etymologies of the name in question.
- For each name some possible meanings: the suggestions of a select few scholars and our own suggestions in case we disagree with the consensus, which happens on occasion.
Can I give my baby girl a boy name, or my baby boy a girl name?
Naming conventions today differ from those in Biblical times. Today a name tends to be intrepreted as something that says something about the bearer, but in Biblical times people still realized that when a person was named there were very little qualities obvious enough to reckon that person by. That means that if a person still went by his or her birth name (in stead of a later acquired nickname), that name obviously said more about the person's parents than about the person.
In Bible times, people were most often named after something that concerned the parents and had very little to do with their child. Hence, many people were named after some general quality of God — for instance: God Is Loved (Almodad), God Is King (Malchiel) or God Is With Me (Ithiel) — or ended up with names that sounded like geological names — Mountainous (Haran) or Valley of Vision (Gehazi).
The job of having to name their child gave parents the oppurtunity to broadcast an issue of their concern for as long as the child lived. People were walking advertisements for the ideas of whoever named them and their names witnessed of that much rather than function as some abstract label or appellation.
But that meant that boys could be named after events or items which were described in Hebrew by a feminine noun and vice versa. For instance the beautiful names Aiah, Beracah and Jaala are feminine nouns but masculine names. And the burly epithets Tamar and Jael are masculine nouns but are in the Bible applied solely to women.
Some Biblical feminine names describe qualities of a typical masculine nature — for instance:
- Abi, meaning either My Father or Fatherly, occurs in the Bible only as a feminine name.
- Ahinoam, which may be translated as Brother Of Grace, also belongs only to women in the Bible.
Biblical unisex names
There are quite a few names in the Bible that belong to more than one character — with the record holder being Zechariah; there may be up to thirty different men named Zechariah mentioned in the Bible — but the majority of names are assigned to only one person. The now so very popular names of David, Adam, Eve or even Moses, Aaron or Samson belong to only one Biblical character.
When we then realize that 15% of the approximately 175 named feminine characters of the Bible share their names with male characters (such as Abijah, Hushim, Jerioth, Michaiah), we may readily conclude that only very few names (if any) were strictly reserved for one specific gender.
Still, the name Zechariah is applied thirty times but never to a woman. This may be because it means The Lord's Male, but on the other hand, the name Gabriel means God's Man, and that name was turned into the wonderfully pretty, feminine but technically impossible name Gabriela. Yet, on the other hand, the name Gabriel might not mean "[The Bearer Is] God's Man" at all, but rather "[The Bearer Commemorates That] God Is A (strong/brave/heroic) Man". This is a sentiment that might seem foreign to us but which wasn't to the Hebrews. It's comparable to the enigmatic statement: "YHWH is a man of war" (Exodus 15:3).
Yes you can!
To make a long story short: if you are looking for baby-names and particularly a name for a baby girl: feel free to use a name that in the Bible is applied solely to a male character.
Naming your daughter Zechariah, Abraham or Isaiah would probably be a bad idea, but Biblical names that end with yah (יה ) can be applied to girls without adaptation (for instance the beautiful names Beraiah, Hananiah, Kolaiah or Anaiah).
The same goes for names that end on the letter yod (י), and which in English are pronounced with an 'ee' at the end (for instance the names Carmi, Shelomi and Zabdi). And names that end with 'el (אל), if they don't sound feminine enough can be easily made more feminine by sticking an inconsequential 'a' to the end of it (Gaddiel could be Gaddiela; Jahdiel could be Jahdiela).
We've conveniently grouped these יה-, and י- and אל-names for you to peruse; see under the 'Browse by form'-header in the menu.