Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Axel
The name Axel is the Scandinavian and German form of the old Biblical name Absalom. Absalom in turn is derived from the Hebrew name Avshalom which means ‘my father is peace’ and developed into the name Axel in Scandinavia through the Old Norse name Ásleikr. In the Bible (specifically 2 Samuel 13-21) we learn about Absalom, the rebellious son of King David. We are also told that “in all of Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish.” [2 Samuel 14:25]. Not only do we learn that Absalom was one cold stone fox of ancient Israel, but, like Samson in the book of Judges, he also has some pretty famous Biblical hair. So abundant are these tresses that when he gave himself his annual haircut it weighed “200 shekels” (about five pounds). With all of these fine blessings and good fortunes in life, Absalom still can’t seem to suppress his rebellious streak. First, he kills his older half-brother and heir to the throne Amnon (for good reasons, we might add) and, fearing reprisal from his father, flees Jerusalem for a few years (eventually they reconcile and Absalom returns). Once back in Jerusalem, Absalom wastes no time conspiring against his father by making all sorts of “campaign promises” to the Israelites “if he were king.” Eventually, he steals the hearts of the people and declares himself king (forcing David to flee). David raises an army that would finally defeat Absalom in the famous Battle of Ephraim Wood. In an attempt to escape, the young son jumped on a mule and fled. Only, remember the long hair? Well, like Samson, it ended up being his downfall. Absalom’s hair got caught and tangled in an oak tree leaving him there dangling vulnerably “between the earth and the heavens.” David’s army commander orders Absalom killed despite David’s firm orders that no harm should come to him. Upon hearing of his death, David famously laments in 2 Samuel 18:33 “O my son Absalom, my son, my son! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” This story is the classical Freudian tale of a son’s rebellion against his father, only in this case, Absalom’s “father is peace.” Interestingly, the name Absalom has never been particularly common in the English-speaking world. The Scandinavians, however, don’t shy away from this Biblical story. They embrace their form of the name: Axel. It is currently the 15th most popular name in Sweden.