Levi is a name that sounds modern but has ancient biblical roots. In the Book of Genesis, Levi was one of the 12 sons of Jacob and Leah, and he became important enough to have an entire tribe of Hebrew priests named after him, the Levites.
The name Levi (pronounced lee-vye and sometimes leh-vee) comes from the Hebrew word lewi, meaning "joined" or "adhered." That meaning also comes with a story: Levi's mother, Leah, was never sure of her husband Jacob's loyalty to her. By naming her third son Levi, it seems she hoped to give Jacob a not-so-subtle hint.
Levi is also considered to be a diminutive of the Hungarian name Levente, which means "hero." And, though historically unrelated to its use as a personal name, Levi does share etymological roots with the biblical sea serpent figure Leviathan.
This timeless name was also an alias of the apostle Saint Matthew. There are two other Levis in the New Testament, both of whom were thought to be ancestors of Jesus.
Levi was traditionally used as a name for Jewish boys before Protestant parents picked the name up in the 19th century. We can credit the Puritans, however, for embracing the name and taking it with them from England to New England. Census records show that while there were fewer than 5,000 Levis living in England in the early 1850s, there were more than 36,000 Levis in New England.
Plenty of remarkable people have borne this name throughout history, perhaps most notably Levi (Loeb) Strauss, a German Jewish immigrant who founded Levi Strauss & Co. The iconic denim blue jean company is one of the oldest companies in America, established in San Francisco in 1853.
Levi has been in the top 500 names for boys in the United States since 1900, according the Social Security Administration. But it didn't break through to the top 100 most popular names until 2009. This sudden move may have been influenced by actor Matthew McConaughey giving his son the name Levi in 2008. (Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow and U2 guitarist David "the Edge" Howell Evans also named their sons Levi.)
The newfound popularity is global. Levi is used widely in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, and it's been among the top 50 names in 13 countries. Levi comes in several other international forms as well, including:
Levi is also a common Jewish surname, sometimes spelled Levy or Levis and anchoring the variations Levine, Levit, and Levitsky.
Though Levi works well as a gender-neutral name, there are also more feminine variations like Levina (which has Spanish, Russian, or Ukrainian Jewish origins) and the Roman version Levinia.
Thousands of years after it named a tribe, Levi is still going strong – and probably will be for years to come.
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Levi Strauss : German Jewish immigrant who founded the iconic Levi Strauss & Co. in 1853
Levi Day Boone : mayor of Chicago in the early 1800s; passed prohibition laws that led to the Lager Beer Riot
Levi Parsons Morton : 22nd vice president of the United States under President Benjamin Harrison; former New York governor
Levi Seacer Jr. : musician, vocalist, and guitarist; played with Sheila E. and then Prince, for whom he formed the band the New Power Generation
Levi Coffin : American Quaker, fearless abolitionist; his home is referred to as the "Grand Central Station" of the Underground Railroad
Levi Stubbs : American baritone vocalist; lead singer of the Four Tops
Claude Lévi-Strauss : renowned French social anthropologist considered the founder of structuralism; lived to be 100 years old
Primo Levi : Italian Jewish scientist, Holocaust survivor, and author of numerous books, including If This Is a Man and The Periodic Table
Levi Kreis : American singer and actor; toured with Broadway show RENT in the role of Roger
Levi Zane Miller : young Australian actor; had his first major role at age 12 as Peter in Pan, and a few years later starred in Wrinkle in Time
Levi LaVallee : professional snowmobile racer; X Games gold medalist
Levi Johnson : cornerback for Detroit Lions whose career was distinguished by stunning interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown on Thanksgiving Day in 1974 against the Green Bay Packers
Levi Strauss : businessman
Levi Brown : football player
Levi Jones : football player
Levi Newton : football player