Why Is Elijah Suddenly Such a Popular Name? – Kveller
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Jewish baby names

Why Is Elijah Suddenly Such a Popular Name?

A deep dive into the fiery rise in popularity of the biblical name Elijah.


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Jews around the world leave a cup of wine for Elijah at their Passover seders, but there are also plenty of Elijahs filling seats at dining tables across the U.S. That’s because since 2016, Elijah, the Anglicized name of the prophet we all honor at the Passover seder, has been one of the top 10 baby boys’ names. It peaked at number four in 2020, and went down to fifth place in 2022. It’s the second most popular Jewish name in the U.S., after Noah, which is currently in second place.

According to Social Security, Elijah was the 160th most popular name in the country in the 1880s, with 856 babies named Elijah in that decade. And then, for a century, it left the list of the 200 most popular names. It only returned in the 1990s, when it became the 109th most popular name in the country; it quickly rose to 34th most popular in the 2000s and then to 10th most popular name overall in the 2010s. Basically, in the last couple of decades, Elijah has had a meteoric rise only appropriate for a name that belonged to such a fiery prophet, believed to have ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.

What can we attribute this rise to? Well, according to BabyCenter, “to explain the rapid ascension of Elijah as a boy ‘s name in the United States, look to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. It can’t be a coincidence that the award-winning movie phenomenon starring Elijah Wood hit movie theaters just as the name started its rise up the baby name charts.”

That’s a lot of responsibility to put on (the extremely talented) Elijah Wood’s shoulders! (Less than fun fact: The name Elijah Wood also belonged to a convicted serial murderer from Arkansas.) I find it hard to believe that Wood, as amazing as he is, can take all the credit for literally hundreds of thousands of new babies named Elijah — especially because the name really peaked in popularity over the last half decade, and the last “Lord of the Rings” movie starring Elijah came out in 2003.

In all honesty, I’m struggling to find another catalyst for this recent trend. Could it be Elijah Kranz from “Girls,” played by Andrew Rannells? Or Elijah Mikaelson from “The Vampire Diaries?” (Daniel Gillies is impossibly dreamy, so maybe.)

Sure, there are other famous and infamous Elijahs — politician Elijah Cummings, actor Elijah Kelley, Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad, abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, baptist preacher and maybe but likely not bourbon inventor Elijah Craig, football player Elijah Pitts and quite a few more. But none seem quite famous enough to have inspired such an influx of babies being named after them.

You will notice that none of these Elijahs are Jewish (though Elijah Wald, Grammy award-winning folk music sensation probably also belongs on the list) — which brings us to the next question: Is Elijah a Jewish name? Well, obviously, it is literally a biblical name of one of the most iconic figures in Jewish text, known to bring about all sorts of miracles and who is said to be the one to announce the coming of the messiah.

According to Google, the most famous Elijah is none other than the celebrated 18th century Jewish scholar, the Vilna Gaon, aka Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman Kremer, or HaGra (sorry, Elijah Wood, Google says you can’t compare to this brilliant Jewish talmudist). But when it comes to the way people perceive the name — well, it’s not really seen as a particularly Jewish one. At least according to a 2022 survey from the Jewish Language Project about Jewish personal names, in which respondents said the name is not “distinctively Jewish,” as likely to be a name for non-Jews as it is for Jews. When paired with Eliyahu, the Hebrew version of the name, of course, the perception of Jewishness rose. But Elijah by itself? It could really go either way.

And with the numbers of Elijahs being born compared to the percentage of Jews in the U.S. population, it is quite likely that most of them are not Jews. It is likely that quite a few of these babies are being named not after a “Lord of the Rings” star, but after the guy we leave a cup out for at the seder; the prophet is celebrated by many religions, after all. To be fair, it is simply just a really nice name.

So here’s a l’chaim to Elijah, a name so beautiful, new parents just can’t resist it.

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