A word or phrase that constitutes a distinctive designation of a person, place, animal, plant, or other object. “Name” can mean a person’s reputation or the person himself.
“Every family in heaven and on earth owes its name” to Jehovah God. (Eph 3:14, 15) He established the first human family and permitted Adam and Eve to have children. Therefore, the earthly lines of descent owe their name to him. He is also the Father of his heavenly family. And just as he calls all the countless stars by their names (Ps 147:4), he undoubtedly gave names to the angels.
An interesting example of how something completely new was named involves the miraculously provided manna. When the Israelites first saw it, they exclaimed: “What is it?” (man huʼ?) (Ex 16:15) It was apparently for this reason that they called it “manna,” probably meaning “What is it?”
Scholarly opinions vary as to the origin of certain names, their component roots, and their meaning. For these reasons, the meanings offered for Bible names differ from one reference work to another. In this publication the primary authority for determining the meanings of names is the Bible itself. An example is the meaning of the name Babel. At Genesis 11:9, Moses wrote: “That is why its name was called Babel, because there Jehovah had confused the language of all the earth.” Moses here links “Babel” to the root verb ba·lalʹ (confuse), thus indicating that “Babel” means “Confusion.”
Bible names variously consist of single elements, phrases, or sentences; those of more than one syllable often have shortened forms. Where the Bible does not specifically state the origin of a name, an effort has been made to determine its root or component parts by using respected modern dictionaries. The dictionary employed to determine the roots of the Hebrew and Aramaic names is entitled Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (by L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, Leiden, 1958), with its partially completed revision. For Greek names, the ninth edition of A Greek-English Lexicon (by H. G. Liddell and R. Scott and revised by H. S. Jones, Oxford, 1968) was the principal dictionary consulted. Renderings found in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures were then used to assign meanings to these roots. For example, the name Elnathan is made up of the roots ʼEl (God) and na·thanʹ (give), thus meaning “God Has Given.”
Names of Animals and Plants. Jehovah God granted to the first man Adam the privilege of naming the lower creatures. (Ge 2:19) The names given doubtless were descriptive. This is suggested by some of the Hebrew names for animals and even plants. A Hebrew word for “ass” (chamohrʹ) evidently comes from a root meaning “become reddened,” referring to the animal’s usual color. The Hebrew name for turtledove (tohr or tor) evidently imitates this bird’s plaintive cry of “tur-r-r tur-r-r.” “Awakening one” designates the almond tree, apparently because of its being one of the earliest trees to bloom.
Place-Names and Topographical Features. Sometimes men named places after themselves, their offspring, or their ancestors. Murderous Cain built a city and named it after his son Enoch. (Ge 4:17) Nobah began calling the conquered city of Kenath by his own name. (Nu 32:42) The Danites, after capturing Leshem, called that city Dan, this being the name of their forefather.
As in the case of altars (Ex 17:14-16), wells (Ge 26:19-22), and springs (Jg 15:19), places were often named on the basis of events that occurred there. Examples of this are Babel (Ge 11:9), Jehovah-jireh (Ge 22:13, 14), Beer-sheba (Ge 26:28-33), Bethel (Ge 28:10-19), Galeed (Ge 31:44-47), Succoth (Ge 33:17), Abel-mizraim (Ge 50:11), Massah, Meribah (Ex 17:7), Taberah (Nu 11:3), Kibroth-hattaavah (Nu 11:34), Hormah (Nu 21:3), Gilgal (Jos 5:9), the Low Plain of Achor (Jos 7:26), and Baal-perazim (2Sa 5:20).
There were instances when physical features provided the basis for the names of places, mountains, and rivers. The cities of Geba and Gibeah (both meaning “Hill”) doubtless got their names because of occupying hills. Lebanon (meaning “White [Mountain]”) may have received its name from the light color of its limestone cliffs and summits or from the circumstance that its upper slopes are covered with snow during a major part of the year. In view of their situation near wells, springs, and watercourses, towns and cities often were given names prefixed by “en” (fountain, or, spring), “beer” (well), and “abel” (watercourse).
Other names were derived from such characteristics as size, occupation, and produce. Examples are Bethlehem (meaning “House of Bread”), Bethsaida (House of the Hunter (or, Fisherman)), Gath (Winepress), and Bezer (Unapproachable Place).
Places were also called by the names of animals and plants, many of these names appearing in compound form. Among these were Aijalon (meaning “Place of the Hind; Place of the Stag”), En-gedi (Fountain (Spring) of the Kid), En-eglaim (Fountain (Spring) of Two Calves), Akrabbim (Scorpions), Baal-tamar (Owner of the Palm Tree), and En-Tappuah (Fountain (Spring) of the Apple (Tree)).
“Beth” (meaning “house”), “baal” (owner; master), and “kiriath” (town) frequently formed the initial part of compound names.
Names of Persons. In the earlier period of Biblical history, names were given to children at the time of birth. But later, Hebrew boys were named when they were circumcised on the eighth day. (Lu 1:59; 2:21) Usually either the father or the mother named the infant. (Ge 4:25; 5:29; 16:15; 19:37, 38; 29:32) One notable exception, however, was the son born to Boaz by Ruth. The neighbor ladies of Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi named the boy Obed (meaning “Servant; One Serving”). (Ru 4:13-17) There were also times when parents received divine direction about the name to be given to their children. Among those getting their names in this way were Ishmael (God Hears (Listens)) (Ge 16:11), Isaac (Laughter) (Ge 17:19), Solomon (from a root meaning “peace”) (1Ch 22:9), and John (English equivalent of Jehohanan, meaning “Jehovah Has Shown Favor; Jehovah Has Been Gracious”) (Lu 1:13).
Especially did names given at divine direction often have prophetic significance. The name of Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz (meaning “Hurry, O Spoil! He Has Made Haste to the Plunder; or, Hurrying to the Spoil, He Has Made Haste to the Plunder”) showed that the king of Assyria would subjugate Damascus and Samaria. (Isa 8:3, 4) The name of Hosea’s son Jezreel (God Will Sow Seed) pointed to a future accounting against the house of Jehu. (Ho 1:4) The names of the two other children borne by Hosea’s wife, Lo-ruhamah ([She Was] Not Shown Mercy) and Lo-ammi (Not My People), were indicative of Jehovah’s rejecting Israel. (Ho 1:6-10) In the case of the Son of God, the name Jesus (Jehovah Is Salvation) was prophetic of his role as Jehovah’s appointed Savior, or means of salvation.
The name given to a child often reflected the circumstances associated with its birth or the feelings of the father or the mother. (Ge 29:32–30:13, 17-20, 22-24; 35:18; 41:51, 52; Ex 2:22; 1Sa 1:20; 4:20-22) Eve named her firstborn Cain (meaning “Something Produced”), for, as she said: “I have produced a man with the aid of Jehovah.” (Ge 4:1) Regarding him as a replacement for Abel, Eve gave the son born to her after Abel’s murder the name Seth (Appointed; Put; Set). (Ge 4:25) Isaac named his younger twin son Jacob (One Seizing the Heel; Supplanter) because at birth this boy was holding on to the heel of Esau his brother.
Sometimes what an infant looked like at birth provided the basis for its name. The firstborn son of Isaac was called Esau (meaning “Hairy”) on account of his unusual hairy appearance at birth.
Names given to children were often combined with El (meaning “God”) or an abbreviation of the divine name Jehovah. Such names could express the hope of parents, reflect their appreciation for having been blessed with offspring, or make acknowledgment of God. Examples are Jehdeiah (possibly, May Jehovah Feel Glad), Elnathan (God Has Given), Jeberechiah (Jehovah Blesses), Jonathan (Jehovah Has Given), Jehozabad (probably, Jehovah Has Endowed), Eldad (possibly, God Has Loved), Abdiel (Servant of God), Daniel (My Judge Is God), Jehozadak (probably, Jehovah Pronounces Righteous), and Pelatiah (Jehovah Has Provided Escape).
“Ab” (meaning “father”), “ah” (brother), “am” (people), “bath” (daughter), and “ben” (son) were a part of compound names such as Abida (Father Has Known (Me)), Abijah (My Father Is Jehovah), Ahiezer (My Brother Is a Helper), Ammihud (My People Is Dignity), Amminadab (My People Are Willing (Noble; Generous)), Bath-sheba (Daughter of Plenty; possibly, Daughter [Born on] the Seventh [Day]), and Ben-hanan (Son of the One Showing Favor; Son of the Gracious One). “Melech” (king), “adon” (lord), and “baal” (owner; master) were also combined with other words to form such compound names as Abimelech (My Father Is King), Adonijah (Jehovah Is Lord), and Baal-tamar (Owner of the Palm Tree).
The designations for animals and plants were yet another source of names for people. Some of these names are Deborah (meaning “Bee”), Dorcas or Tabitha (Gazelle), Jonah (Dove), Rachel (Ewe; Female Sheep), Shaphan (Rock Badger), and Tamar (Palm Tree).
As indicated by the repetition of certain names in genealogical lists, it apparently became a common practice to name children after a relative. (See 1Ch 6:9-14, 34-36.) It was for this reason that relatives and acquaintances objected to Elizabeth’s wanting to name her newborn son John.
In the first century C.E. it was not uncommon for Jews, especially those living outside Israel or in cities having a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, to have a Hebrew or an Aramaic name along with a Latin or Greek name. This may be why Dorcas was also called Tabitha and the apostle Paul was also named Saul.
At times names came to be regarded as a reflection of an individual’s personality or characteristic tendencies. Esau, with reference to his brother, remarked: “Is that not why his name is called Jacob [One Seizing the Heel; Supplanter], in that he should supplant me these two times? My birthright he has already taken, and here at this time he has taken my blessing!” (Ge 27:36) Abigail observed regarding her husband: “As his name is, so is he. Nabal [Senseless; Stupid] is his name, and senselessness is with him.” (1Sa 25:25) No longer considering her name to be appropriate in view of the calamities that had befallen her, Naomi said: “Do not call me Naomi [My Pleasantness]. Call me Mara [Bitter], for the Almighty has made it very bitter for me.”
Name changes or new names. Sometimes for a particular purpose names were changed or a person might be given an additional name. While dying, Rachel called her newborn son Ben-oni (meaning “Son of My Mourning”), but her bereaved husband Jacob chose to name him Benjamin (Son of the Right Hand). (Ge 35:16-18) Jehovah changed the name of Abram to Abraham (Father of a Crowd (Multitude)) and that of Sarai (possibly, Contentious) to Sarah (Princess), both new names being prophetic. (Ge 17:5, 6, 15, 16) Because of his perseverance in grappling with an angel, Jacob was told: “Your name will no longer be called Jacob but Israel [Contender (Perseverer) With God; or, God Contends], for you have contended with God and with men so that you at last prevailed.” (Ge 32:28) This change in name was a token of God’s blessing and was later confirmed. (Ge 35:10) Evidently, therefore, when the Scriptures prophetically speak of “a new name,” the reference is to a name that would appropriately represent its bearer.
At times new names were given to persons elevated to high governmental positions or to those to whom special privileges were extended. Since such names were bestowed by superiors, the name change might also signify that the bearer of the new name was subject to its giver. Subsequent to his becoming Egypt’s food administrator, Joseph was called Zaphenath-paneah. (Ge 41:44, 45) Pharaoh Nechoh, when constituting Eliakim as vassal king of Judah, changed his name to Jehoiakim. (2Ki 23:34) Likewise, Nebuchadnezzar, in making Mattaniah his vassal, changed his name to Zedekiah. (2Ki 24:17) Daniel and his three Hebrew companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were given Babylonian names after being selected for special training in Babylon.
An event in a person’s later life sometimes provided the basis for giving a new name to a person. Esau, for example, got his name Edom (meaning “Red”) from the red lentil stew for which he sold his birthright.
Names of Angels. The Bible contains the personal names of only two angels, Gabriel (meaning “Able-Bodied One of God”) and Michael (Who Is Like God?). Perhaps so as not to receive undue honor or veneration, angels at times did not reveal their names to persons to whom they appeared.
What is included in knowing the name of God?
The material creation testifies to God’s existence, but it does not reveal God’s name. (Ps 19:1; Ro 1:20) For an individual to know God’s name signifies more than a mere acquaintance with the word. (2Ch 6:33) It means actually knowing the Person
When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ‘made his Father’s name manifest’ to his disciples. (Joh 17:6, 26) Although having earlier known that name and being familiar with God’s activities as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, these disciples came to know Jehovah in a far better and grander way through the One who is “in the bosom position with the Father.” (Joh 1:18) Christ Jesus perfectly represented his Father, doing the works of his Father and speaking, not of his own originality, but the words of his Father. (Joh 10:37, 38; 12:50; 14:10, 11, 24) That is why Jesus could say, “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.”
This clearly shows that the only ones truly knowing God’s name are those who are his obedient servants. (Compare 1Jo 4:8; 5:2, 3.) Jehovah’s assurance at Psalm 91:14, therefore, applies to such persons: “I shall protect him because he has come to know my name.” The name itself is no magical charm, but the One designated by that name can provide protection for his devoted people. Thus the name represents God himself. That is why the proverb says: “The name of Jehovah is a strong tower. Into it the righteous runs and is given protection.” (Pr 18:10) This is what persons do who cast their burden on Jehovah. (Ps 55:22) Likewise, to love (Ps 5:11), sing praises to (Ps 7:17), call upon (Ge 12:8), give thanks to (1Ch 16:35), swear by (De 6:13), remember (Ps 119:55), fear (Ps 61:5), search for (Ps 83:16), trust (Ps 33:21), exalt (Ps 34:3), and hope in (Ps 52:9) the name is to do these things with reference to Jehovah himself. To speak abusively of God’s name is to blaspheme God.
Jehovah is jealous for his name, tolerating no rivalry or unfaithfulness in matters of worship. (Ex 34:14; Eze 5:13) The Israelites were commanded not even to mention the names of other gods. (Ex 23:13) In view of the fact that the names of false gods appear in the Scriptures, evidently the reference concerns mentioning the names of false gods in a worshipful way.
Israel’s failure as God’s name people to live up to his righteous commands constituted a profanation or defilement of God’s name. (Eze 43:8; Am 2:7) Since the Israelites’ unfaithfulness resulted in God’s punishing them, this also gave opportunity for his name to be spoken of disrespectfully by other nations. (Compare Ps 74:10, 18; Isa 52:5.) Failing to recognize that the chastisement came from Jehovah, these nations wrongly attributed the calamities that befell Israel to the inability of Jehovah to protect his people. To clear his name of such reproach, Jehovah acted for the sake of his name and restored a remnant of Israel to their land.
The Name of God’s Son. Because of remaining faithful to the very death, Jesus Christ was rewarded by his Father, receiving a superior position and “the name that is above every other name.” (Php 2:5-11) All those desiring life must recognize what that name stands for (Ac 4:12), including Jesus’ position as Judge (Joh 5:22), King (Re 19:16), High Priest (Heb 6:20), Ransomer (Mt 20:28), and Chief Agent of salvation.
Christ Jesus as “King of kings and Lord of lords” also is to lead the heavenly armies to wage war in righteousness. As executioner of God’s vengeance, he would be displaying powers and qualities completely unknown to those fighting against him. Appropriately, therefore, “he has a name written that no one knows but he himself.”
Various Uses of the Word “Name.” A particular name might be “called upon” a person, city, or building. Jacob, when adopting Joseph’s sons as his own, stated: “Let my name be called upon them and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac.” (Ge 48:16; see also Isa 4:1; 44:5.) Jehovah’s name being called on the Israelites indicated that they were his people. (De 28:10; 2Ch 7:14; Isa 43:7; 63:19; Da 9:19) Jehovah also placed his name on Jerusalem and the temple, thereby accepting them as the rightful center of his worship. (2Ki 21:4, 7) Joab chose not to complete the capture of Rabbah in order not to have his name called upon that city, that is, so as not to be credited with its capture.
A person dying without leaving behind male offspring had his name “taken away,” as it were. (Nu 27:4; 2Sa 18:18) Therefore, the arrangement of brother-in-law marriage outlined by the Mosaic Law served to preserve the name of the dead man. (De 25:5, 6) On the other hand, the destruction of a nation, people, or family meant the wiping out of their name.
To speak or to act ‘in the name of’ another denoted doing so as a representative of that one. (Ex 5:23; De 10:8; 18:5, 7, 19-22; 1Sa 17:45; Es 3:12; 8:8, 10) Similarly, to receive a person in the name of someone would indicate a recognition of that one. Therefore, to ‘receive a prophet in the name of a prophet’ would signify receiving a prophet because of his being such. (Mt 10:41, KJ, NW) And to baptize in “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit” would mean in recognition of the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit.
Reputation or Fame. In Scriptural usage, “name” often denotes fame or reputation. (1Ch 14:17, ftn) Bringing a bad name upon someone meant making a false accusation against that person, marring his reputation. (De 22:19) To have one’s name ‘cast out as wicked’ would mean a loss of good reputation. (Lu 6:22) It was to make “a celebrated name” for themselves in defiance of Jehovah that men began building a tower and a city after the Flood. (Ge 11:3, 4) On the other hand, Jehovah promised to make Abram’s name great if he would leave his country and relatives to go to another land. (Ge 12:1, 2) Testifying to fulfillment of that promise is the fact that to this day few names of ancient times have become as great as Abraham’s, particularly as examples of outstanding faith. Millions still claim to be the heirs of the Abrahamic blessing because of fleshly descent. Similarly, Jehovah made David’s name great by blessing him and granting him victories over the enemies of Israel.
At birth a person has no reputation, and therefore his name is little more than a label. That is why Ecclesiastes 7:1 says: “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born.” Not at birth, but during the full course of a person’s life does his “name” take on real meaning in the sense of identifying him either as a person practicing righteousness or as one practicing wickedness. (Pr 22:1) By Jesus’ faithfulness until death his name became the one name “given among men by which we must get saved,” and he “inherited a name more excellent” than that of the angels. (Ac 4:12; Heb 1:3, 4) But Solomon, for whom the hope was expressed that his name might become “more splendid” than David’s, went into death with the name of a backslider as to true worship. (1Ki 1:47; 11:6, 9-11) “The very name of the wicked ones will rot,” or become an odious stench. (Pr 10:7) For this reason a good name “is to be chosen rather than abundant riches.”
Names Written in “the Book of Life.” It appears that Jehovah God, figuratively speaking, has been writing names in the book of life from “the founding of the world.” (Re 17:8) Since Christ Jesus spoke of Abel as living at “the founding of the world,” this would indicate that the reference is to the world of ransomable mankind that came into existence after children were born to Adam and Eve. (Lu 11:48-51) Abel’s name would evidently be the first one recorded on that symbolic scroll.
The names appearing on the scroll of life, however, are not names of persons who have been predestined to gain God’s approval and life. This is evident from the fact that the Scriptures speak of ‘blotting out’ names from “the book of life.” So it appears that only when a person becomes a servant of Jehovah is his name written in “the book of life,” and only if he continues faithful is his name retained in that book.
Names Recorded in the Lamb’s Scroll. Similarly, the names of persons worshiping the symbolic wild beast have not been recorded in the Lamb’s scroll. (Re 13:8) That wild beast received its authority, power, and throne from the dragon, Satan the Devil. Those who worship the wild beast are therefore a part of the ‘serpent’s seed.’ (Re 13:2; compare Joh 8:44; Re 12:9.) Even before children were born to Adam and Eve, Jehovah God indicated that there would be enmity between the ‘seed of the woman’ and the ‘seed of the serpent.’ (Ge 3:15) Thus from the founding of the world it had already been determined that no worshiper of the wild beast would have his name written in the Lamb’s scroll. Only persons sacred from God’s standpoint were to be so privileged.
In view of the fact that this scroll belongs to the Lamb, logically the names appearing on it would be those of persons given to him by God. (Re 13:8; Joh 17:9, 24) It is therefore noteworthy that the next reference to the Lamb in the book of Revelation depicts him as standing on Mount Zion with 144,000 persons bought from among mankind.