“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.—Judg. 13:18.
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?”—Ex. 16:31.
NAMES OF ANIMALS AND PLANTS
Jehovah God granted to the first man Adam the privilege of naming the lower creatures. (Gen. 2:19) The names given doubtless were descriptive. This is suggested by some of the Hebrew names for animals and even plants. “Shearer” or “cutter” appears to designate the caterpillar. “Burrower” seems to be the name for fox. “Springer” or “leaper” seems to apply to the antelope. The Hebrew name for turtledove evidently imitates this bird’s plaintive cry of “tor-r-r tor-r-r.” “Waker” designates the almond tree, apparently because of its being one of the earliest trees to bloom.
NAMES OF PLACES 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. (Gen. 4:17) Nobah began calling the conquered city of Kenath by his own name. (Num. 32:42) The Danites, after capturing Leshem, called that city Dan, this being the name of their forefather.—Josh. 19:47; see also Deuteronomy 3:14.
As in the case of altars (Ex. 17:14-16), wells (Gen. 26:19-22) and springs (Judg. 15:19), places were often named on the basis of events that occurred there. Examples of this are Babel (Gen. 11:9), Jehovah-jireh (Gen. 22:13, 14), Beer-sheba (Gen. 26:29-33), Bethel (Gen. 28:10-19), Galeed (Gen. 31:44-47), Succoth (Gen. 33:17), Abel-mizraim (Gen. 50:11), Massah, Meribah (Ex. 17:7), Taberah (Num. 11:3), Kibroth-hattaavah (Num. 11:34), Hormah (Num. 21:3), Gilgal (Josh. 5:9), the Low Plain of Achor (Josh. 7:26) and Baal-perazim.—2 Sam. 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 (“white”) may have received its name from the light color of its limestone cliffs and summits or the circumstance that its upper slopes are covered with snow during a major part of the year. The Jordan (the “descender”) drops rapidly in elevation and this is probably the basis for this river’s name. In view of their situation near wells, springs and meadows, towns and cities often were given names prefixed by “en” (“spring”), “beer” (“well”) and “abel” (“meadow”).
Other names were derived from such characteristics as size, occupation and produce. Examples are Bethlehem (“house of bread”), Bethsaida (“house or place of fishing”), Gath (“winepress”) and Bezer (“fortress”).
Places were also called by the names of animals and plants, many of these names appearing in compound form. Among these were Aijalon (“place of deer or harts”), En-gedi (“spring of the kid”), En-eglaim (“spring of two calves”), Beth-hoglah (“house or place of the partridge”), Akrabbim (“scorpions”), Baal-tamar (“lord of the palm tree”) and En-Tappuah (“spring by the apple trees”).
“Beth” (“house”), “baal” (“master,” “owner”) and “kiriath” (“city”) 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. (Luke 1:59; 2:21) Usually either the father or mother named the infant. (Gen. 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 (“servant,” or, “one serving”). (Ruth 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”) (Gen. 16:11), Isaac (“laughter”) (Gen. 17:19), Solomon (“peaceable”) (1 Chron. 22:9) and John (“Jehovah has been gracious”).—Luke 1:13.
Especially did names given at divine direction often have prophetic significance. The name of Isaiah’s son “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (“Hasten, O spoil! He has come quickly to the plunder”; or, “Hastening to the spoil, he has come quickly 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. (Hos. 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. (Hos. 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.—Matt. 1:21; Luke 2:30.
The name given to a child often reflected the circumstances associated with its birth or the feelings of the father or mother. (Gen. 29:32–30:13, 17-20, 22-24; 35:18; 41:51, 52; Ex. 2:22; 1 Sam. 1:20; 4:20-22) Eve named her firstborn Cain (“acquisition,” or, “something acquired”), for, as she said: “I have acquired a man with the aid of Jehovah.” (Gen. 4:1) Regarding him as a replacement for Abel, Eve gave the son born to her after Abel’s murder the name Seth (“appointed, substituted”). (Gen. 4:25) Isaac named his younger twin son Jacob (“supplanter”; “taking hold of the heel”) because at birth this boy was holding onto the heel of Esau his brother.—Gen. 25:26; compare the case of Perez at Genesis 38:28, 29.
Sometimes what an infant looked like at birth provided the basis for its name. The firstborn son of Isaac was called Esau (“hairy”) on account of his unusual hairy appearance at birth.—Gen. 25:25.
Names given to children were often combined with El (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 (“may Jah give joy”), El-nathan (“God has given”), Jeberechiah (“Jah blesses”), Jonathan (“Jehovah has given”), Jehozabad (“Jehovah has bestowed”), Eldad (“God has loved”), Abdiel (“servant of God”), Daniel (“God is [my] judge”), Jehozadak (“Jehovah is righteous”) and Pelatiah (“Jehovah has provided escape”).
“Ab” (“father”), “ah(i)” (“brother”), “ammi” (“kinsman”), “bath” (“daughter”) and “ben” (“son”) were a part of compound names such as Abida (“father of knowledge”), Abijah (“my father is Jah”), Aharah (“brother of Rach,” or, “after a brother”), Ahiezer (“my brother is help”), Ammihud (“my kinsman is majesty”), Amminadab (“my kinsman is generous”), Bath-sheba (“daughter of an oath”; “daughter of abundance”) and Ben-hail (“son of strength”). “Melech” (“king”), “adoni” (“lord”) and “baal” (“master, owner”) were also combined with other words to form such compound names as Ahimelech (“brother of the king,” or, “my brother is king”), Adonijah (“Jah is my Lord”) and Merib-baal (“contender against Baal,” or, “Baal contends”).
The designations for animals and plants were yet another source of names for people. Some of these names are Deborah (“bee”), Dorcas or Tabitha (“gazelle”), Jonah (“dove”), Rachel (“ewe”), Shaphan (“rock badger”), Tamar (“palm tree”) and Susanna (“lily”).
As indicated by the repetition of certain names in genealogical lists, it apparently became a common practice to name children after a relative. (See 1 Chronicles 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.—Luke 1:57-61; see GENEALOGY (Repetition of names or different names of the same person).
In the first century C.E. it was not uncommon for Jews, especially those living outside Palestine or in cities having a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, to have a Hebrew or 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 [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!” (Gen. 27:36) Abigail observed regarding her husband: “As his name is, so is he. Nabal [senseless] is his name, and senselessness is with him.” (1 Sam. 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.”—Ruth 1:20.
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 (“son of my sorrow”), but her bereaved husband Jacob chose to name him Benjamin (“son of the right hand”). (Gen. 35:16-18) Jehovah changed the name of Abram (“father of exaltation [or height]”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”) and that of Sarai (“contentious”) to Sarah (“princess”), both new names being prophetic. (Gen. 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 [“God contends” or “Contender (Perseverer) with God”], for you have contended with God and with men so that you at last prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28) This change in name was a token of God’s blessing and was later confirmed. (Gen. 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.—Isa. 62:2; 65:15; Rev. 3:12.
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. (Gen. 41:44, 45) Pharaoh Nechoh, when constituting Eliakim as vassal king of Judah, changed his name to Jehoiakim. (2 Ki. 23:34) Likewise, Nebuchadnezzar, in making Mattaniah his vassal, changed his name to Zedekiah. (2 Ki. 24:17) Daniel and his three Hebrew companions, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, were given Babylonian names after being selected for special training in Babylon.—Dan. 1:3-7.
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 (“red, ruddy”) from the red lentil stew for which he sold his birthright.—Gen. 25:30-34.
NAMES OF ANGELS
The Bible contains the personal names of only two angels, Gabriel (“an 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.—Gen. 32:29; Judg. 13:17, 18.
The material creation testifies to God’s existence, but it does not reveal God’s name. This appears to be the thought behind Agur’s words: “Who has ascended to heaven that he may descend? Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of both hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in a mantle? Who has made all the ends of the earth to rise? What is his name and what the name of his son, in case you know?”—Prov. 30:4; compare Job 28:12-28; Romans 1:20.
For an individual to know God’s name signifies more than a mere acquaintance with the word. (2 Chron. 6:33) It means actually knowing the Person—his purposes, activities and qualities as revealed in his Word. (Compare 1 Kings 8:41-43; 9:3, 7; Nehemiah 9:10.) This is illustrated in the case of Moses, a man whom Jehovah ‘knew by name,’ that is, knew intimately. (Ex. 33:12) Moses was privileged to see a manifestation of Jehovah’s glory and also to ‘hear the name of Jehovah declared.’ That declaration was not simply the repetition of the name “Jehovah” but a statement about God’s attributes and activities. “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, preserving loving-kindness for thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin, but by no means will he give exemption from punishment, bringing punishment for the error of fathers upon sons and upon grandsons, upon the third generation and upon the fourth generation.” (Ex. 34:6, 7) Similarly, the song of Moses, containing the words “for I shall declare the name of Jehovah.” recounts God’s dealings with Israel and describes his personality.—Deut. 32:3-44.
When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ‘made his Father’s name manifest’ to his disciples. (John 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.” (John 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. (John 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.”—John 14:9.
This clearly shows that the only ones truly knowing God’s name are those who are his obedient servants. (Compare 1 John 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.” (Prov. 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 (Gen. 12:8), give thanks to (1 Chron. 16:35), swear by (Deut. 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 (Ps. 52:9) in the name is to do these things with reference to Jehovah himself. To speak abusively of God’s name is to blaspheme God.—Lev. 24:11, 15, 16.
Jehovah is jealous for his name, tolerating no rivalry or unfaithfulness in matters of worship. (Ex. 34:14; Ezek. 5:13) The Israelites were commanded not even to mention the names of other gods. (Ex. 23:13) However, 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. (Ezek. 43:8; Amos 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 Psalm 74:10, 18; Isaiah 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.—Ezek. 36:22-24.
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.” (Phil. 2:5-11) All those desiring life must recognize what that name stands for (Acts 4:12), including Jesus’ position as Judge (John 5:22), King (Rev. 19:16), High Priest (Heb. 6:20), Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) and Chief Agent of salvation.—Heb. 2:10; see JESUS CHRIST.
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.”—Rev. 19:11-16.
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.” (Gen. 48:16; see also Isaiah 4:1; 44:5.) Jehovah’s name being called on the Israelites indicated that they were his people. (Deut. 28:10; 2 Chron. 7:14; Isa. 43:7; 63:19; Dan. 9:19) Jehovah also placed his name on Jerusalem and the temple, thereby accepting them as the rightful center of his worship. (2 Ki. 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.—2 Sam. 12:28.
A person dying without leaving behind male offspring had his name “taken away,” as it were. (Num. 27:4; 2 Sam. 18:18) Therefore, the arrangement of brother-in-law marriage outlined by the Mosaic law served to preserve the name of the dead man. (Deut. 25:5, 6) On the other hand, the destruction of a nation, people or family meant the wiping out of their name.—Deut. 7:24; 9:14; Josh. 7:9; 1 Sam. 24:21; Ps. 9:5.
To speak or to act ‘in the name of, another denoted doing so as a representative of that one. (Ex. 5:23; Deut. 10:8; 18:5, 7, 19-22; 1 Sam. 17:45; Esther 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. (Matt. 10:41, AV, 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.—Matt. 28:19.
REPUTATION OR FAME
In Scriptural usage “name” often denotes fame or reputation. Bringing a bad name upon someone meant making a false accusation against that person, marring his reputation. (Deut. 22:19) To have one’s name ‘cast out as wicked’ would mean a loss of good reputation. (Luke 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. (Gen. 11:3, 4) On the other hand, Jehovah promised to make Abram’s (Abraham’s) name great if he would leave his country and relatives to go to another land. (Gen. 12:1, 2) Testifying to the 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.—1 Sam. 18:30; 2 Sam. 7:9.
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. (Prov. 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. (Acts 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. (1 Ki. 1:47; 11:6, 9-11) Thus, of those making a name for themselves as loyal to the end, the psalmist says: “Precious in the eyes of Jehovah is the death of his loyal ones.” (Ps. 116:15; compare Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:4, 5, 12, 13.) However, “the very name of the wicked ones will rot,” or become an odious stench. (Prov. 10:7) For this reason a good name “is to be chosen rather than abundant riches.”—Prov. 22:1.
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.” (Rev. 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. (Luke 11:48-51) Abel’s name would evidently be the first one recorded on that symbolic scroll.
The list of 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.—Rev. 3:5; 17:8; compare Exodus 32:32, 33; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3.
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. (Rev. 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.’ (Rev. 13:2; compare John 8:44; Revelation 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.’ (Gen. 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.—Rev. 21:27.
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. (Rev. 13:8; John 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.—Rev. 14:1-5.