What’s in a Name?

Today when babies are born they are usually given names that sound good to their parents with little thought given to the meaning of those names and whether the meaning of their name actually fits the characteristics of the child that they are bringing into this world. In the Bible names are given by the parents and sometimes given by God that had meaning and often described the person in question.

The meaning of names in the Bible often gives us clues to know more about the people that we read about in the Bible and enhance our understanding of what God is doing through these people.

We see this evident right at the beginning of the Bible in the book of Genesis. The first man that God created was named Adam. The Hebrew for man is adam which means red or ruddy and this is likely a reference to red earth since Adam was made from the dust of the ground.

We read in Genesis 3:20 that Adam called his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living which seems to imply that the name wasn’t given to her until after she became a mother or perhaps Adam was looking ahead to when she would become one.

When God made Eve and brought her to Adam we read of his reaction back in Genesis 2:23. When it says this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh the Hebrew word for now comes from pa’am which comes from a root word meaning to impel so it might be better translated as “Wow! This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called WoMan.”  

When we get down to the Flood the name of Noah’s son Ham lends some support to the view that there may have been some divine genetic intervention to preserve the races. The name of Ham means hot or burnt implying that Ham was a black man. If so, then this may indicate that God may have genetically added extra genes into Noah and his wife so they and their children would have children of all the different races as appears to have been the case with Adam and Eve according to Acts 17:26 which says “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth”.

A name that was shared by both Abraham’s grandfather and his brother was the name of Nahor. What do you think the name of Nahor means? This has got to be the funniest meaning of a name in the entire Bible. The meaning of the name of Nahor is “snorer”. What a lovely name to be called! Abraham’s brother Nahor had a couple of sons who’s names also make me giggle every time that I hear them. They were called Huz and Buz (Genesis 22:21).

At times God changes the names of certain individuals in the Bible and one example of this is when He changed the name of Abram to Abraham which we read about in Genesis 17:5. Abraham had not even had a son at this point and God gave him a new name that meant father of a multitude or nations. This illustrated a point that is found over in Romans 4:17 where it says that God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”

Abraham’s grandson was called Jacob. After his all night wrestling with God he also had his name changed by God from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 35:10). The name of Israel means “prince” or “overcomer with God”.

One of Israel’s 12 sons was called Judah and it was from Judah that the Jews descend from. The name Judah means “He shall be praised.”

The understanding of the meaning of the names of Israel and Judah is important. The apostle Paul will make an important distinction between physical and spiritual Israel and also between physical and spiritual Judah in the book of Romans and it is actually a play on the meanings of these names.

In Romans 9:6 Paul says “For they are not all Israel (meaning physically descended Israel), are of Israel.” In Galatians 6:16 when speaking of the church composed of both Israelites and non-Israelites Paul calls the church the “Israel of God”.

True spiritual Israelites are those who will truly become princes or overcomers with God.

In Romans 2:28 and 29 Paul makes a distinction between physical Jews descended Judah and spiritual Jews who he says are a Jew inwardly whose praise is not of men, but of God.

True spiritual Jews are those worthy of the praise of God.

In John 1:42 Jesus changed Simon’s name meaning “listen” to Cephas which means “stone” in Aramaic (a language similar to Hebrew). The Greek equivalent is the name we refer to him as, which is Peter.

In Acts 13:9 it says “Saul, who’s other name is Paul.” Here we have a case of a double name. The name Saul is Hebrew for “asked for”. Later in his life he is mostly called Paul which is Latin for “little” or “humble” remembering that he was a Roman citizen.

Just as God changed the name of Abram and Jacob there is an indication in Revelation 3:12 that God may do the same with each of us who become a part of His true church and who endure to the end.

I am sure that any names that He perhaps may give us in the future will be meaningful and individually fit us all. I will be happy with whatever name that God chooses to give me just so long as it is not Nahor!

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