Thursday, June 27, 2013


Photo by Elena Karneeva

A few months ago I featured the name Zared, which I first came across in a fantasy novel. Today's name reminds me quite a bit of Zared. By that I means at first glance it looks like a well known name - i.e. Reuben - that has been "jazzed up" a bit with the addition of a lesser used, futuristic sounding letter. But just like Zared, this is not the case with Reuven, and it is actually an old Hebrew name with Biblical connections.

Pronounced ROO-ven, it is actually a variant of Reuben (or Ruben) and like Reuben means 'behold! a son'. He appears in the Old Testament as the eldest son of Jacob and Leah, making him the grandson of Isaac. He was the founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. This puts him in the company of other sons of Jacob  Asher and Levi, both of which are fairly popular currently.

Unlike Asher (positioned #108 for boys in America in 2012) and Levi (number #55) though, Reuven is very rarely used, positioned at just #4321 in 2012 in America. The better known Reuben is also nowhere near as popular as Asher and Levi, hovering around the bottom end of the top 1000 at #973 in 2012. Reuven is also the only one of these four names that has never charted for girls.

Reuven is also a suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa, but I first came across Reuven in a discussion about favourite literary characters. One poster wrote that their top two picks are Atticus (from Harper Lee's 'To Kill A Mockingbird') and Reuven Malter from Chaim Potok's 'The Chosen'. Having not read 'The Chosen' myself it's hard to comment on the character, except to say that being mentioned in the same breath as Atticus is fairly high praise for most literary fans.

There are two main arguments (that I've seen) against using Reuven as a name. One is that it may seem out of place on a child without any Jewish heritage, although the common feeling is that it isn't too much different from using any Biblical name. The second is one is that you would be constantly correcting people that it's like Reuben, but with a V. However, this slight spelling difference does also come with some advantages.

For many, Reuven is a great alternative to Reuben because it avoids the "rube" nickname. Admittedly, this may only be a concern in America, as I saw this point made in a forum discussion, but being Australian I was not aware of the association. If you're just as in the dark as I was, it's a term for a country bumpkin. You also avoid associations with the sandwich. Again not a huge problem in Australia anyway. And you also avoid your son being given the nickname Ruby, which is currently #106 in America for girls and the #2 girls name in Australia.

I do really like the nickname possibility of Ven, which I feel has a kind of chilled out and zen vibe. I also really like that it is a futuristic/fantasy sounding name that is actually an old, rarely heard name. It's surprising how many names used in fantasy are just that. And it could be a surprisingly good fit with many other names, whether you want a sibset of biblical names or modern sounding names.

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