Saturday, February 20, 2021

Sepia Saturday: The Baby Name Book

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo of the man with a ZOOM lens shows we have reached the letter “Z.” As a child, I hated for anyone at school to see any kind of “official” paper like a report card or notice from the principal that might have my middle initial on it: Z. When anyone saw that my middle name began with the letter “Z,” they would react in shock and disbelief that there could be any sensible name starting with “Z.” “What is your name? Zebra? Zipper?” Fits of laughter would follow.

It is “Zoe.” It has become a rather popular name in recent years, but it was just unheard of in my little corner of the world in the 1950s-60s. Surprisingly, on the scale of “weird and unusual” my name doesn’t even come close when compared to some of the names my 2X great-grandparents Mitchell and Martha Willson Davis bestowed upon their 15 children.

Zedekiah. Zephaniah. Zibiah Saloma. And those are just the ones that fit the Sepia Saturday theme. There is also Jerusha and Amaziah.

How did Mitchell and Martha come up with these names? Nowhere in my research do these names show up in the family lineage, so they clearly were not honoring a relative or ancestor. There were no Baby Name books in the 1850s-70s. Or were there? Maybe THIS was their Baby Name book:

Bible belonging to Mitchell and Martha
possibly a wedding gift

This Bible was published in 1846, the same year that Mitchell and Martha married. In it they recorded the usual family stats: births, deaths, and marriages. It is probably not a coincidence that many of the children's names had biblical origins:

Zedekiah – last king of Judah before the destruction of the kingdom by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon

Zephaniah – ninth of the Twelve Minor Prophets who urged the corrupt and disobedient people of Judah to obey God (Yahweh) so that MAYBE He would forgive them

Zibiah – wife of King Ahaziah and mother of Joash who became a just king of Judah thus her being credited for bringing up her son in the fear of the Lord

And about those other names that don’t start with “Z”:

Saloma – beautiful daughter of Herod II who danced at the birthday celebration of her stepfather Herod Antipas and demanded the head of John the Baptist and got it!!

(I don’t know, but if Mitchell and Martha were trying to imbue their daughter with some kind of biblical virtue, these two names, Zibiah and Saloma, seem to cancel each other out.)

Jerusha – wife of King Uzziah of Judah and mother of Jotham; the name itself comes from the Hebrew meaning “possession” or “inheritance”

Josiah – the 16th king of Judah considered righteous and credited by scholars for religious reforms and for compiling Hebrew scriptures; he is also one of the kings mentioned in the patrilineage of Jesus according to the Book of Matthew

Amaziah – another king of Judah who was considered a just king but not whole-heartedly since he did not remove local shrines and failed to centralize worship

Some births in the Davis Bible

I wonder what happened that most of the other children received more mundane names like Walter, Ida, and Minnie. Surely it isn’t that Mitchell and Martha gave up on the Bible or lost their faith as these and the other ordinary names are sandwiched between the lofty ones.

More births in the Davis Bible

Perhaps the names of noble figures were meant to inspire their children to greatness. Whatever the reason, these biblical names suggest Mitchell and Martha were at least somewhat devout Christians who were well-versed in their Bible. After all, they did not slip up and name any of them Jezebel or Abimelech.

Zip, Zoom or Zigzag over to Sepia Saturday for more “Z” stories from some zealous zanies.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. This is so interesting! It's so neat that your middle name is Zoe.

  2. I have also enjoyed seeing some Biblical names in my favorite was Micajah Rogers...son of Elisha. There were some Puritans in the tree also, who used a lot of Biblical names.

  3. That's a lot of Z's! My daughter went to elementary school with a girl named Jerusha.

  4. I have always loved your name! How Mitchell and Martha remembered those names was probably a miracle.

  5. I knew immediately that the names came from the Bible. They must have been interesting characters, no doubt.

  6. Fascinating array of names. My mother's family was german and I also have a very unusual lot of names among my ancestors. I am so grateful that my mother did not choose to follow family traditions.

  7. Top marks for such an fascinating Z story. Yes, Zoe, here is a popular name these days, but I felt for you at school. I can imagine the taunts of derision. But as for the other unusual Christian names in the family, they were nearly all new to me. How wonderful to have the family bible as documentary proof.

  8. I love the name "Zoe"! I have a niece whose 5 children are named after Bible figures - but not the very different ones your great-grandparents used. The more ordinary ones such as Matthew and Ruth for example. People choose names for their children for a variety of reasons. With the exception of one name, my 3 kiddos bear first and middle names chosen from foregoing family names.

  9. It does make you wonder how Ida, Walter, and Minnie got mixed in with the unusual Biblical names. If they were clustered together at one end or other of the list, it would almost make more sense.

  10. I think Zoe is a fine name and Z makes a terrific middle initial. Would you have preferred Y or X? I suspect Old Testament names used to be a way of teaching a child how important it was to learn how to spell.

  11. Wow, what a list of names. And I thought my third great grandfather Zebulon's name was unique! I wonder if there was jealousy both ways between children with mundane names (who wanted a more unique one) and those with unique names (who longed for something more mundane). My mom used to always get our names (me and four siblings) mixed up when calling us to dinner...What must that have been like at Mitchell and Martha's house?