What comes to mind when you think about Easter? Colorful Easter egg hunts? Boatloads of candy? These and other secular Easter traditions are no doubt tons of fun. But, for the more than 70% of Americans who are Christians, Easter is a sacred and important holiday that celebrates Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of his own life in order to save the souls of all humanity, for all time.
Whether you are a Christian or not, the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is a compelling read. This tale is woven slightly differently in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This week, to celebrate Easter, a holiday deeply important to so many people I know, I present you with my ten favorite names from the Biblical Easter story.
(And thanks to my brother, Alex Gundling, a devout Christian who helped me on this blog with name pronunciations and the context of the Biblical events relevant to each of the names below.)
All four Gospels agree that is was “a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph” who obtained Jesus’ body from Pilate in order to give Jesus a proper burial in Joseph’s own tomb (Matthew 27:58). As such, Arimathea (Air-uh-muh-thee-uh or Air-uh-may-thea) would be a great name option if you hope your little girl will grow up to be a particularly faithful devotee. Possible nicknames include Ari, Arima, Rhi / Ree, Rima, Maddie, May, Althea, or Thea.
After his resurrection, Jesus reveals to his followers on multiple occasions that he is alive again. One instance of this takes place at the Sea of Tiberias. (See below for the story of this encounter, under the name Tiberias). One of Jesus’ followers present during this reunion is “Nathanael of Cana” (John 21:2). Cana (Cane-uh) would make a great boys’ or girls’ name, with possible nicknames Cay / Kay or Ana for a girl and Cai / Kai for a boy.
Mark 15:21 states that “they [the mob crucifying Jesus] compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his [Jesus’] cross” to Golgotha, where Jesus would be crucified. This same passage specifies that the man in question was named Simon of Cyrene, a man who was coming to Jerusalem to observe the Passover feast but was accosted on his way and compelled by those crucifying Jesus to carry Jesus’ cross when Jesus could no longer do it himself (due to having suffered a severe beating). Cyrene (Sigh-reen) is a cool location name that would make an awesome boys’ or girls’ name, with possible nicknames Cy, Cyre / Sire, Ren / Wren, or Irene.
It seems reasonable to me that some people—even some of Jesus’ own disciples—would be skeptical of anyone claiming to be Jesus after Jesus’ death. A prime example of such doubt is when Thomas (also known as Didymus) states “unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:24). Of course, Jesus is able to deliver on all counts, and then Thomas realizes that he is indeed in the presence of the true resurrected Christ. Not only does the boys’ name Didymus (Did-uh-miss) have Biblical ties, but it is also the name of a character, Sir Didymus, from the 1986 fantasy film, Labyrinth. Possible nicknames: Diddy, Diamond, and Dymus.
Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples to meet him in Galilee after his resurrection. “But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). Since the reunion of Jesus and his disciples would no doubt be a jubilant occasion, Galilee (Gal-uh-lee) would make a very joy-filled name for any child. I particularly like Galilee as a girls’ name, with nickname options Gal, all variations of Allie, all variations of Lily, or Lee / Leigh.
To reach the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus and his disciples cross “the Kidron valley” (John 18:1). (For more information on what happens once Jesus and his followers reach Gethsemane, see the name entry below for Zebedee.) Kidron (Kih-drawn) is a fresh addition to the seemingly-infinite list of popular boys’ names ending in –on. Kid / Kidd, Idri, Ron, and Ronny / Ronnie are some nickname choices.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and since people in the Bible like to talk about “so-and-so from such-and-such place,” the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” can be found multiple times in the Easter story across the four Gospels. For instance, in the vignette where Peter denies Jesus three times, someone cries out “this man [Peter] was with Jesus of Nazareth” (Matthew 26:71), to which Peter responds “I do not know this man.” As the hometown of Jesus, Nazareth (Naz-a-rith) would be a great name for any Christian’s little one, boy or girl. Some nickname options are Naz, Aza, Azzie, Zara, Zareth, Ara, or Rhett.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Joseph of Arimathea (discussed above) is the sole person who prepares Jesus’ body for burial after Jesus’ death. But the Gospel of John lists Nicodemus as Joseph’s helper in this sacred endeavor (John 19:38). Fun fact (courtesy of my brother, Alex Gundling): one of the most famous biblical quotes of all time, John 3:16, was spoken by Jesus to…you guessed it–the very same Nicodemus, who was actually a Pharisee that secretly came to Jesus for teachings. Nicodemus (Nick-o-deem-iss) is a strong boys’ name with many great nicknames to choose from, including Nico / Niko, Cody, Ode, Odie, Dean, and Demus.
As noted above when discussing the name Cana, Jesus visits his followers on many different occasions post-resurrection to show that he fulfilled his promise to rise again, thus renewing his disciples’ faith in him. One of these occasions takes place at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1), where Jesus proves to some of his followers that he is indeed the Lord by helping them catch some fish (which may not sound too impressive, but it was a lot of fish, and they weren’t catching any at all before Jesus showed up). Tiberias (Tie-beer-ee-iss) is an excellent boys’ name that also has analogues in Star Trek (Captain William Tiberius Kirk) and Harry Potter (Tiberius, the uncle of Cormac McLaggen). I love the nickname Tyber for Tiberias, though Iber, Beri, Erias, or Rias would be other good possibilities.
In the garden of Gethsemane, just before Judas betrays Jesus to the priests and elders who conspired to have Jesus crucified, Jesus steps away from the full group of his disciples to pray to his Father for the strength to give his life. To commune with him during this prayer, he takes with him “Peter and the two sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 26:37), meaning John and James. Zebedee (Zeb-uh-dee) is a unique name that is very fun to say and could work well for a boy or a girl. Possible nicknames include Zeb, Ebby / Ebbie, Betty, Bud, Buddy, or Dee.
Photo credit: Claudio Ungari