I’m always looking out for old names that might be on the verge of a comeback. Well, here’s a real oldie that’s popped onto my radar: Ebenezer. Just a few years ago, children named Ebenezer were practically unheard of. Until the 90s, the name only appeared sporadically in SSA data. Since the new millennium, however…
Last year, 49 boys were named Ebenezer in the U.S. That’s the highest usage the name has ever reached in the birth data, which extends back to 1880 (though isn’t necessarily accurate or complete-ish until the 1930s…still). Not to mention, 74 boys were named Eben, which is traditionally a nickname for Ebenezer. Eben however has a much more steady usage history than his parent name, and peaked in 2012 with 100 uses. Curiously, it also appears that Ebenezer has appeared as a girls’ name three of the past 10 years (though not last year). I don’t know if this will become a top 1000 name any time soon, but I bet it’ll continue to grow more popular nonetheless. Yearly usage has more than doubled since 2000.
None of us – and I mean none of us – can forget the cultural icon that is Ebenezer Scrooge. A lonely old miser who’s cruel to everyone, even and especially at Christmas? Whose principle phrase is “bah, humbug?” This Dickensian creation permanently tainted this Biblical name for many. But, we should remember…Scrooge came around at the end of A Christmas Carol. His experience with the three ghosts permanently changed him for the better. Therefore, he’s not so much a villain as perhaps someone who needed a wake-up call. He was redeemed.
Arguably, Ebenezer Scrooge isn’t a terrible namesake, because of the very fact that he could be and was redeemable. But, he is probably most people’s association with the name. I personally have another association via the 1948 movie Portrait of Jennie, which is coincidentally another ghost story (though much more romantic). Anyway, the main character is an artist named Eben Adams.
As to why the name Ebenezer is growing more popular, I have few ideas. It certainly helps that the name has connections to the Bible, since rare and staunchly Old Testament Biblical names are trendy in the U.S. (i.e., Nehemiah, Ephraim, and Nahum). I mean…is it possible that the name is losing some of its association with “Scrooge,” the way that Benedict seems to be losing its primary association with “Benedict Arnold?” Obviously the fact that it rhymes with “geezer” didn’t bother the parents of those 49 boys, either. The meaning is appealing, though: “stone of help.”
What do you think of the name Ebenezer? Do you think his comeback will continue? Finally, why do you think Ebenezer is becoming more popular in the first place?
- A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46