Last week we discussed the power of names in a human sense: a rose by any other name might not smell as sweet. The names we bear are packed with emotion and meaning.
However, one aspect of names we didn’t cover is perhaps the most important one: the role of names in the Bible.
The first instance of proper names in the Bible is Adam’s name, meaning “man” or “mankind”—fair enough, since he was the first man and the representative of humanity. Next, Adam named Eve, for she was “the mother of all mankind.” Also, Adam’s primary work in the Garden of Eden was to name the animals that God brought before him. So we see that even in the beginning, names were part of a being’s identity and defined who he or she was.
Later on in the Bible, names are again used for important moments in Biblical history. Abram becomes Abraham, the father of many nations; Sarai becomes Sarah, princess. Jacob becomes Israel, who “wrestles with God.” Naomi changes her name from pleasant to bitter (Mara), after suffering widowhood and the death of her sons. Biblical names, then, can change to reflect changes in the person’s role, circumstances, or purpose in life.
God can also use names to speak to His people. God told Hosea what to name his children (Lo-ruhamah, for example, means “not pitied”). These names serve as walking prophesies and messages to Israel.
The name of our Savior, too, abounds with meaning. The angel Gabriel told Mary to name her son Jesus, a transliteration of “Yeshua,” meaning God saves or God delivers. Christ is also called Immanuel, God with us. What greater, clearer message of salvation can there be?
Finally, God revealed to us His own Name. In Exodus 3:14, God declares His Name to Moses: “I am who I am.” God also says to Moses in verse 15, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” God’s Name is the most powerful name of them all.
So what about in your own stories—do your characters’ names have a meaning or significance in defining their identity? Do they perhaps incorporate a Biblical element or meaning? If they don’t have a special meaning (or if your character doesn’t have any name at all), is there a purpose in that decision, too?