Spotlight on: Elihu

At first Elihu might generate startled reactions, and then someone living in a brownstone in some tony New York City neighborhood will name their son Elihu.

Elihu has the ingredients: Colonial, Biblical, Obscure, Eye-catching. This name is definitely ready to come out of the attic.

My first reaction was the name looked great, but I was unsure of pronunciation. Since the name has been packed away for over a century, I suspect many of you are unsure of pronunciation too.  There are a couple of pronunciations, i-lie-hoo and ee-lie-hoo.

Elihu is an Old Testament name that most notably appears in the book of Job, as one of Job’s friends. The meaning could be “God is he” or “God is him”.

History and name statistics suggest Elihu was used more often during America’s early years. There are a few notable historic figures from the 18th and 19th centuries with the name.

Elihu Burritt: American philanthropist and social activist from the 19th century who opposed slavery and was active in many other causes.

Elihu Root: American lawyer, statesman, and recipient of the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize.

Elihu Washburne: Was U.S. Secretary of State in 1869 and instrumental in forming the United States Republican party.

Corrupt Legislation mural by Elihu Vedder. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.

Elihu Vedder: American painter, book illustrator, and poet. *I googled “Is Eddie Vedder related to Elihu Vedder?” and could not find the answer. But I did learn Eddie Vedder’s given name was Edward Louis Severson III, but his Mom’s last name was Vedder.

Elihu Yale: An American born Welsh merchant, philanthropist, and benefactor of Yale College.

Elihu scraped the bottom of the top 1000 from 1880 (the earliest year data is available) to 1883 then made a brief appearance in 1897 and has been absent from the charts ever since. In 2011 there were 13 Elihu’s born; in 2010 there were 16.

Elihu is part of a family of names that are trending upwards. There is Elijah (#13), Eli (#58), and Elias (#139). Like these other names, Elihu could be yet another path to Eli. Eli happens to be an informal term used for Yale  students or alumni inspired by the University’s benefactor.

As is always a risk with any name that shares a nickname with several other long-forms, Elihu’s uniqueness could be underscored by its common nickname. The curse for any parent worried that their child’s carefully chosen name becomes buried under a common nickname, is a bonus for the child more interested in fitting-in. As is often the case, the child who wants to fit-in could grow into an adult who wishes to stand-out. This flexibility makes Elihu a name that could grow with your child.

Dominated by vowels, Elihu also follows a subtle trend. Vowel-heavy names with L’s as the prominent consonant are becoming a current sound, as Laura Wattenberg discussed in The Rise of Liquid Names. Wattenberg’s post focuses on girl names, but the rise of the “Eli/Biblical” name family suggest this formula could become popular on boys too.

Suddenly Elihu doesn’t seem so strange anymore. How could a name with so much contemporary promise only appear on 13 newborn boys last year?

For those of you looking for something truly different, Elihu’s similarities to popular names could be discouraging. But Elihu has something found in few other names: the U-ending. A search of name endings in Think Baby Names yielded only a few results ending in U. The most notable was Jehu, another Old Testament name pronounced jay-hew. It has never been in the top 1000.

While some parents may need to get used to Elihu, based on current styles, Elihu is the classic “fitting-in / standing-out” name. Perhaps Elihu would make a good brother for one of our other Spotlight names, Amos.

The name has great resume potential, being the name of a few philanthropists and statesmen. An Elihu seems creative, rare to speak but bold to act; someone who quietly builds a promising career as a statistician, a photographer or both.

Readers: What do you think of Elihu?

Photo credit: Elihu Root / Corrupt Legislation by Elihu Vedder


  1. I really like Elihu. I think the main reason Elihu hasn’t caught on yet is because very few people have ever heard the name. Elihu is a choice that is so old and forgotten it gets left out of baby name books. I feel the same way about Jotham. He’s one part Joseph and one part Nathan with a dash of Callum and maybe even Jayden. So why were there only 27 Jothams born in 2011? I’ve yet to come across a single person outside the name nerd community who’s ever heard the name.

  2. I love the name Elihu and am lucky enough to be married to that rare individual whose name IS Elihu!
    Point of info….Elihu Root also ran for President of the U.S.
    Elliot is the French version of this name and when my husband plays golf and meets a new golfer, he will invariably introduce himself as Elliot….Why? It’s just easier than repeating his name several times over to confused, puzzled people he likely will never meet again.
    The name is pronounced as you would say the letters LEU….hence we have received mail addressed that way, always amusing,

  3. We named our son Elihu in 2008. So great to find this post!

  4. Tamara Svacina says:

    My youngest son is Elihu. My grandmother named him after her grandfather. In our family, it is pronounced Ehl’-eh-hyoo. Short e, like elephant, the I makes a soft e sound and hu are spoken as Hugh. The first syllable is dominant. We love it! And, he’s the cutest, sweetest, smartest little old soul. Everyone should be so blessed! As a toddler, we called him ‘hooty-man’, but by kindergarten, he had determined that we cut out the nonsense, he loves his unique name 🙂


  1. […] about the Old Testament name, Jehu, which has never even been in the top 1000? Or what about Old Testament name, Deborah? Deborah […]

  2. […] Except for Elihu. That one isn’t pragmatic at all. But its history, style and obscurity earned it a spot on the list. If you are intrigued by Elihu, you can read Upswing Baby Names Spotlight on Elihu. […]

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