As I look over my family tree I have started to wonder at the significance of what I call "biblical" names in a couple of branches.

For example my 6th great grandparents William Noake and Elizabeth Collis used the following names amongst their 12 children baptised at Long Burton, Devon, England:

  1. Isaac (1731)
  2. Israel (1734)
  3. Joshua (1741)

When I look for each name elsewhere amongst my direct ancestors and their siblings I find:

  1. Isaac is also used for Isaac Noake (1770) and Isaac Foot (1843). As an update I have now realised that Isaac Foot's father James lost his mother at the age of 6 and his father's second wife was Mary Isaac so in that case Isaac is a "family" name.
  2. Israel is also used for Israel Abel (1637), Israel Abel (1673) and his brother Israel Abel (1679), Israel Abel (1709), Israel Abel (1758), Israel Foot (1782), Israel Abel Foot (1834)
  3. Joshua was not used again until I look into some cousins of direct ancestors rather than just siblings

If I look at the strongest "signal" then I see that the name Israel was first used by Henry Abel and Alse White in Hatherleigh (Devon) to name their son in 1637, and that it has been passed on via the Foot family through another 5-6 generations. The name Israel in the Noake family seems to have arisen independently because those genes reached me from a different direction than the Abel and Foot genes.

The names Isaac and Joshua do not appear to have been passed on as strongly so I won't comment further on them.

I suspect that these "biblical naming patterns" in Devon may help me to deduce something about the religion of the people who were originally using them for their children but am uncertain what. Do you think my Abel (or White) or Noake (or Collis) ancestors are likely to have been of the Jewish faith, or maybe Quakers, or perhaps something else? Or in those times, in that English county, was it just fashionable to use such names?

  • 3
    I'd suspect Protestant non-conformity rather than Judaism, especially in Devon, but haven't a reference to support that... yet. What little I've been able to find other than mere supposition suggests Old Testament names were adopted to use biblical names that weren't saints names.
    – user104
    Jul 9, 2014 at 10:01
  • @ColeValleyGirl I know that I need to learn more about the Catholic-Protestant transition in England but are you thinking along the lines that these may have been formerly Catholic families who did not want to become conforming Protestants, but kept using names from the bible that were "neutral" (Old Testament) because naming after saints may have identified them as continuing to support Catholic traditions?
    – PolyGeo
    Jul 10, 2014 at 1:56
  • 1
    Rather, Protestant families that departed from the Catholic faith along with (most) of the rest of the country to the Anglican equivalent, and then later moved to non-conformity such as Methodism or Baptism. Those groups did not believe in saints, so rejected the saints names still in use by Anglicans, but had a strong preference for biblical Biblical-based names, hence they used the Old Testament.
    – user104
    Jul 10, 2014 at 6:29
  • I was just wondering what other Old Testament names were in the earliest family in my question to use Israel, and came across infoplease.com/ipa/A0197619.html - the name Israel itself, as well as his siblings Henry and Ann are absent and only Rebecca is present. Then it struck me that Abel itself is an Old Testament name ("Son of Adam and Eve; slain by Cain"). I'm not sure if that counts as another name to reinforce the pattern or if Israel and Rebecca were just names that tied in with their surname to be a bit quirky.
    – PolyGeo
    Jul 10, 2014 at 9:03
  • In my husband's Devon family, I find Elisha used as a middle name. The bearer is listed in later censuses as a Methodist Lay Preacher.
    – Jan Murphy
    Jul 11, 2014 at 12:00

2 Answers 2


Biblical names may not necessarily signify non-conformist affiliations. There are certainly cases, even before non-conformism was around, where Biblical names more likely signified stronger than average (conventional) religious convictions.

For example, one Abraham Dewce moved from elsewhere (possibly Wolverhampton) to take up duties as vicar of Abdon, Shropshire. His son Isaac was born in 1583. Subsequent generations of this family were also full of Abrahams, e.g. Isaac’s son, born late in 1621 in the old calendar.


Hmm - I think the answer might be "It seemed like a good idea at the time" more often than we care to imagine. My Pickstock families from mid-Cheshire in the 1800s seem to like to use more unusual names. They were, so far as I can see, Methodists when I've been able to confirm their faith, but for interest, my 4G GF named his children thus:

  • James
  • Martha
  • Samuel
  • Thomas

(now it gets interesting)

  • Noah (b 1825)
  • Eli
  • Julius Caesar (yes, Julius Caesar Pickstock!)
  • Solomon
  • Samson
  • Maria
  • Julianne (debate over the spelling of that one)
  • Frances

And the idiosyncrasies carry on - Julius names his son Julius, Noah is repeated elsewhere, Simeon is used in other Pickstock families, as is Uniss (spelt like that, not Eunice), Nathan and Cyrus. So an eclectic lot with Biblical and Roman names and clearly family tradition counts for a lot, as well as fashion.

  • That's an amazing collection of names within one family! I think you are right about the family tradition part once a name gets into a family and I suspect that it is how Israel came first to be in my Abel-Foot line rather than why it stayed there that may be interesting.
    – PolyGeo
    Jul 10, 2014 at 2:13

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