I am a huge fan of your column and of The Name Therapist (link to book). As a Jennifer who grew up in the 80s, I especially enjoyed your interviews with the "Jennifers."
I am expecting my second boy (our first is Alec James) on September 16th and I would love your thoughts on a name issue we are having. My husband and I both like the name Levi and ideally would use it for our baby. However, multiple friends and family have told us that Levi is a very religious name and it would be odd/inappropriate for us to use it. We are not religious at all and I would hate to name our child something that could be seen as cultural appropriation or would lead everyone to assume that he came from an extremely religious household. With that it mind, do you think that our son's name could be Levi?
If not, are there any similar names you could suggest? We tend to like shorter, spunky names. Before we settled on Levi, we discussed the following names but none were quite right:
Fox (my husband strongly vetoed)
Luke (I love this but it is my nephew's name)
You know what? I never get tired of hearing from Jenns and Jennifers. Never! I feel like you’re almost mirror-image cousins to those of us with the weird names that have never seen the light of day. I wonder all the time about what it would be like to walk in your shoes.
Now to the subject at hand. I appreciate that you’re asking, because this is a question that has come up before, and while it can be an uncomfortable question to ask, I’m always in favour of people finding out as much as they can beforehand.
I suspect the reason you’re getting the reaction to Levi is that it was historically considered to be a ‘biblical’ choice – and one that had roots in the Old Testament (in the New Testament Levi becomes Matthew). So I can see why people might feel like choosing that name, like Saul or Israel or similar, would indicate a real adherence to the Old Testament, or maybe an eschewing of the New one.
And in fact, Levites were, biblically, a tribe descended from the first Levi, third son of Leah and Jacob, but unlike the question about ‘Cohen’ from before, Levi was always a first name, and was used across religious/cultural borders as early as the 17th Century.
Today, Levi is like the vast majority of currently-popular names that appear in the Bible: used widely both by those who want a biblical name and those who don’t – and no more likely to invoke thoughts of ‘wow, that’s biblical!’, or make people think you were super-religious, than, say, Michael or Gabriel.
Popularity-wise, it’s on a major upswing – the name was #33 in the US in 2018, #49 in Canada, and #9 (!!!!) in the Netherlands, so I don’t think the concern your family and friends have about the name is in any way widespread. And, after all, Jesus Christ’s ‘real name’ was Yeshua, yet that doesn’t cause any consternation to the millions of parents a year who choose the English version, Joshua, for their sons.
So, in conclusion, I’m really not concerned about your choosing this name, and don’t think you should be either. If there’s a specific exception to the rule in your region I’d love to hear it, but I don’t think this name is going to be anything but a fun, lilting gift of a name for your second son, one he’ll really love.
I could send you off with some alternatives – Kai, Jude, Milo, Ezra – all of which have the same sort of zippy energy and strong vowel sounds you like, and which would pair just as nicely with Alec, but I offer them as options for you to choose from, a kind of ‘menu’ of names and not because I think there’s anything wrong with your charming and distinctive first choice.
Let us know!
*You cannot ask me to write about the biblical origins of Levi and then expect me not to mentally sing the amazing naming sequence in ‘Jacob & Sons’ from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat over and over and over.
If it’s now in your head too, well, you’re welcome. “Reuben was the eldest of the children of Israel…” I’ll be on Twitter all day if you want to whisper-sing-type this compulsively with me.