Friday, June 8, 2012

Names in the Bible

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?


  1. I love the study of names and their meanings. Especially in the Bible: It's like God decided to hide additional truths and meanings in little codes. For instance, there's the meanings of the names in the genealogy from Adam to Noah. If you string together the meanings of the names, it basically says: "Mankind/ is appointed to/ feeble, frail, mortality/ a
    fixed dwelling place/ God who is praised/ comes down/ to instruct/ as a man
    sent forth/ to be beaten smitten and tortured/ bringing rest, a quiet peace."

    More about this here:

    When I write, I am very conscious of the meanings of names, or if I am creating fantasy names, the sound of them.

    If I am creating place names, I will often try to find Latin word roots to base the names on. So, a Centaur nation gets named "Belvinea" which means "beautiful vineyards". Or, borrowing from what Tolkien taught us through his philological background, I'll pull from Scandinavian or Celtic words with appropriate meanings. So the nation of Trolls got called "Trowl", an old Norse word meaning "trolls".

    I think it all helps things sound like they fit in a fantasy world. :)

    1. I love names and name meanings, too! Very incredible. And I'd heard about that name-meaning-chain from the Bible. Pretty amazing :)

      That's an interesting way to structure place names. I guess since Latin is so deeply imbedded in our language, it makes sense. And Norse words are amazing! I also like using words/sound patterns from other languages to create names.

      Definitely! The sound of a name is so important. I think Hollywood screenwriters are especially conscious of the "ring" a name should have - thus all the short punchy movie names: "Ben Gates" and "Abigail Chase," to name a few from National Treasure.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Christina!

  2. nice post thanks for sharing...cute blog blessings

    1. Thanks for the comment; glad you liked the blog :)

  3. This is an awesome post! I had never thought about the names from the Bible like that before...

    In my first novel (historical fiction), I did not really pay attention to names. I just picked names that were contemporary and sounded good. My heroine's name was Julia Valspar, my villain's name was Franklin Brunswick, and my mentor's name was Herman Smith. All pretty simple.

    In my fantasy novel though, I decided to make names extremely important. My heroine does not know the name she was given at birth, therefore, she is an outcast. Later, when she discovers her name, she is able to find her purpose. There is more, but I don't want to leave you too long a comment. :P

    Again, great post! Happy writing!

    1. Thanks, Kaycee! I love looking at the Biblical perspective on all these writing issues - so fascinating, and such a wealth of treasure to learn!

      I love that name "Julia Valspar." It's got a lovely ring to it!

      Ooh, now that's an interesting twist. Not knowing your birth-name...fascinating idea! Love it!

      Thanks! You too! :)


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