NAME. The first and most important experience which a newborn Heb. underwent was the receiving of a name. Just as God completed His creation by naming “heaven,” “earth,” “day,” “night,” “sea,” the creatures (Gen 1:3-10) and each star (Isa 40:26), so He likewise gave to man, the creature made in His image, this high privilege of naming each of the animals (Gen 2:20) and each of His children (Gen 4:1, 2, 26).


The word “name” occurs in the OT as a tr. for שֵׁם, H9005, from 770 times in the sing. and 84 times in the pl. The LXX has ὄνομα, G3950, appear in over 1000 vv., of which approximately 100 are in the Apoc., while the NT has almost 200 examples of this Gr. word for name. There are a few related words which will be discussed below, but the statistical data for this concept is indeed impressive and thereby indicates the importance of the “name” in the Bible.

In Biblical Heb.

The second term is by far the more infrequently used of the two terms. The etymology of the Heb. root zkr still remains unsolved even though a great deal of effort has been expended on solving the problem. Gesenius’ first edition of his Thesaurus, represented the major consensus up to that time when he connected zkr, “to remember” with the noun zāḵār, “male,” since the male was thought to be the sex by which the memory of parents and ancestors was preserved. Gesenius changed that opinion in later editions of his lexicon and argued that the root idea was one of pricking or piercing and from that came the noun as the membrum virile. Memory was, on this theory, a penetrating or fixing in the mind. This theory and others have all failed due to a lack of positive evidence, e.g., there is no evidence to suggest that the Sem. noun ever carried the idea of piercing.

The verb zāḵar, “to remember,” appears in the hiphil stem as a set formula with the noun šēm as a direct object six times (Exod 20:24; 24:21; 2 Sam 18:18; Ps 45:17; Isa 26:13; 49:1). In four other cases it appears with the preposition be and the noun šēm all of which has led scholars like B. Jacob, J. Begrich and B. S. Childs to interpret the hiphil of this verb as a denominative of zēḵer, “to name the name,” an act of utterance rather than an act of remembering as in the qal stem.

The other root, šēm is the common word in Heb. for “name.” In 1872 Redslob (ZDMG, 751-756) argued that it was derived from the root šmw, “to be high,” and therefore its basic meaning was one of height and then (1) a monument (Gen 11:4; 2 Sam 8:13; Isa 55:13) or mausoleum (Isa 56:5), and (2) excellence or majesty (Ps 54:1). However, P. Lagarde (Buildung der Nomina, 160) and W. R. Smith (Kingship, 213) argued for the Arab. root wšm, “to mark or brand,” and therefore the word šēm originally meant a “sign” or “token.” Which root was the original meaning of our root is uncertain, but the development of the word includes both sets of ideas in its range of meanings.

The prepositional combinations with šēm are instructive. The idiom “to call the name (of some one) over” (preposition ’al) is found eighteen times. Isaiah 4:1 describes a future day in a depopulated Jerusalem when seven women shall ask one man, “only let us be called by your name,” i.e., the husband’s protection and ownership as signalized by his name. In 2 Samuel 12:28 it referred to David’s calling his name over a conquered city. In Amos 9:12 God’s name is called over the heathen just as it extends over Israel (Isa 63:19). Fifty-six times lĕšē occurs (usually with reference to the name of Yahweh) and some 130 times bĕšēm appears. Rounding out these figures Bietenhard (TDNT, V, 252-253) noticed the following prepositions: min partitive and comparative (three times), lěma’an, “for the sake of” (sixteen times), , “as” (seven times) and ba’ăbūr “for sake of” (once).

In LXX Gr.

In NT Gr.

Name in the OT

Essential to the being, existence, and character of God and man are their names. A person is concentrated in a name (1 Sam 25:25: Nabal was like his name, he was a “fool”).

The giving of a name

To a person.

Usually the first experience a newborn child underwent was the naming custom. It was only in later times that this event was withheld until the eighth day after birth when the child was circumcised. That takes place in NT times (Luke 1:59; 2:21), but the OT gives no evidence of this custom.

Hebrew has a set expression or formula for “to give a name” or “to call one’s name.” It is the verb qara’: “to call, name” with the accusative šēm (“name”) sometimes preceded by the direct object sign and the inseparable preposition before the person, place or thing. This expression for giving a name is to be distinguished sharply from the formula “to appoint a name” (sĩm šēm lě, in Judg 8:31; 2 Kings 17:34; Neh 9:7) which is used in the sense of conferring a new name.

Ideally, the name was either descriptive of the parents’ wishes or prophetic of the personality to be manifested by one so named. These types of names are particularly in evidence when individuals are renamed, e.g. Jacob being renamed Israel (Gen 35:10). They are integral parts of one’s character and fortune. Other names are given for incidental reasons or a particular circumstance which attended the birth of the son: Rachel, as she died in childbirth, called her son Ben-oni, “son of my sorrow” (Gen 35:18); while Moses as a “resident alien,” a ger, in a foreign land named his son Gershom (Exod 2:22).

Frequently, the OT supplies names and then comments on the name in such a way as to pun on the name. This usually takes the form of assonance or similar sounding words or ideas that make a particular point. Many classify these names as folk or popular etymologies, but there is no need to resort to this explanation. The custom of punning and using word play on names is seen also in ancient Egypt; e.g., the Westcar Papyrus gives the names of each of the triplets born to the wife of a priest. These three children are marked for the kingship of Egypt and each does take the throne, according to the story, as the Fifth Dynasty begins, but the interesting feature which is repeated elsewhere, is that each receives his name as he is born and a punning statement which plays upon the sound or idea of that name. The Heb. prophets are examples of this love for punning and word play: Micah 1:10-15; Jer 1:11, 12; Hos 1:4, 5; etc. Taking all proper names at once, there are seventy-nine passages where a name is given and some specific explanation, comment, or wordplay is given along with the name (A. F. Key, JBL [1964], 57, 58).

To a place.

Many of the place names in Canaan are older than the Israelite contacts or occupation of that land. The chief evidence for this statement comes from the Execration Texts, the Tell-el-Amarna letters written by the city-state kings of Canaan to Egypt, the Karnak inscr. of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II’s two military expeditions and the lists of Seti I, Ramses II, and Merneptah. In the Thutmose III list alone, which is the most detailed information extant on the land of Canaan, there is evidence for some fifty place names found in the OT in a list extending to 119 names in two copies and 350 in a third.

The OT traces the names of some of these places back to the eponymous hero who settled in that region or who captured the site (Gen 4:17; ch. 10; Num 32:42; Deut 3:14; Josh 19:47). When Joab was about ready to capture the town Rabbah, he warned David to capture the city lest he should do so and the city then be called after his name (2 Sam 12:28). Thus the proclaiming of one’s name over a place signified one’s ownership of that town.

The change of a name.

This reminds one also of “the new name” to be given to Jerusalem at its future restoration (Isa 62:2) and, according to Isaiah 65:15, of the fact that God will call his servants “by a different name” (LXX “new name”). This announces a corresponding change of dignity.

The signifiance of the name.

As it already has been indicated in some of the above discussion, the name is more than the distinguishing title of God or man. The people of Israel were aware of the significance that could be attached to a name and therefore their usage of the concept demonstrates this broad range of meanings.

The name and personality.

It would appear that the Heb. term which comes closest to our modern occidental concept of “personality,” i.e. the total picture of man’s organized behavior, is šēm, “name.” Thus the sum total of a person’s internal and external pattern of behavior was gathered up into his name. In this way, one could give honor to the person of God (Ps 5:11; 7:17). Knowing the name of a person was equivalent to knowing his essence, for the believing “know the name” of their God (Ps 9:10; 91:14).

To change the name was to imply a change in the character and mission, thus the dozen or more examples referred to above. Not only does the changing of the name indicate the close ties that the name has with the person and his personality but the person was so intimately connected with his name that “to cut off the name” was tantamount to cutting off the man or the place (1 Sam 24:21; 2 Kings 14:27; Ps 83:4; Isa 14:22; Zeph 1:4). One’s existence in his earthly form was bound in with his name. When the name had been destroyed, the man had for all intents and purposes also been dealt a death blow. What else does a man actually own, in the last analysis, beside his personality? To have these things is to have the man.

The name, since it was the person, also could act and speak. Often Israel, as representatives of the name of God, fought and acted magnificently with His strength. God’s name was more than mere approbation of the mission; it was the power, strength, courage and presence of God Himself. Thus Israel was successful because the name acted and won (Ps 44:5; Mic 4:5; 5:3). The name of God can support, defend, hide and give comfort to the righteous, and all who will run to it (Ps 20:1; Prov 18:10). So also was the matter of speaking in His name. Frequently this meant that one was God’s representative, but it also meant in reality that if one would dare speak in the name of the Lord, this would be the same as if the person whose name was being used had actually spoken himself (Deut 18:19; Jer 26:20; 44:16).

Even the names of cities had a personality inherent in their names, e.g. Jerusalem is called “the city of righteousness” (Isa 1:26), “City of the Lord” (Isa 60:14), “my delight is in her” (Isa 62:4) and the “sought out” one (Isa 62:12): new names for an old city which gives a new character and pattern of behavior.

Name and authority.

When one gives a name to another, he thereby establishes a relation of dominion or possession to him. Already in Eden, Adam demonstrated that part of the imago Dei which promised to him the subjugation and rulership over all things upon the earth by naming the animals (Gen 2:19f.). This right is held on loan from God who already has not only made the world, but named it as well (Gen 1:5, 8, 10). Man in turn names his wife “Woman” (Gen 2:23). The psalmist (Ps 8) cannot contain himself as he reflects on the magnificence of man in this capacity as sovereign over the works of God’s hands. The excellence of God’s name (Ps 8:1) is witnessed in all the earth, yet he has set all these things under man’s feet!

Whatever a man owns, he names, whether it be a conquered city (2 Sam 12:28), his land (Ps 49:11), or his wives (Isa 4:1). Even children are important to one’s name, for they preserve the memory of that name (Ps 72:17). The whole institution of levirate marriage was just for this reason: to keep the family name and the family alive in Israel (Deut 25:5-10; Ruth 4:5).

Name and reputation.

The name of Yahweh.

A great theological theme is to be found in the name of Yahweh. It appears most frequently with the Heb. inseparable prepositions “to” and “in.” One may “call upon,” “speak in,” “prophesy in,” “bless,” “serve,” and “crush their enemies” and “walk in” the name of the Lord.

1. The revelation of the name. Few passages in the Bible have been made so pivotal for our modern understanding of the OT as Exodus 6:2, 3. Even so, the passage was indeed a crucial one for Moses and Israel as they received a further development to the promise theology of the patriarchs: God now would redeem His people from the bondage of Egypt. The modern question is, simply put: had God previously withheld His name Yahweh from the patriarchs in favor of using as His self-designation the name El Shaddai? Does He here declare that He now will make Himself known as Yahweh? The proper answer to this question lies in denying to the patriarchs the knowledge of the significance of the name Yahweh; not in denying to them the knowledge of the name. The two verbs “to appear” and “to make known” are both niphal reflexive verbs, i.e. “I showed myself” and “I did not make myself known.” The Heb. preposition before El Shaddai and the absence of any Heb. preposition before Yahweh is most crucial. The tr. will demand some preposition in the second case and we believe those trs. to be best which view the first preposition as extending the same force and meaning of the second term that it does over the first. This preposition is the Heb. Beth Essentiae which is to be tr. “as” and means that “God showed himself to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob in the character of (with the attributes of) El Shaddai, but in the character of my name Yahweh, I did not make myself known to them.” The name plays an important function here: it reveals the character, qualities, attributes, and essence of the name. See Names of God.

The correctness of this interpretation can be checked by noting the question asked earlier by Moses when God promised that He would be with him. He queried: Suppose the people ask of this God who has sent me to lead them out, “What is his name? What shall I say to them?” (Exod 3:13). As Martin Buber and others have noted, the interrogative māh, “what,” is to be distinguished from mĩ, “who.” The latter only asks for the title or designation of an individual, while the former, esp. since it is associated with the word “name,” asks the question of the character qualities, power, and abilities resident in the name. What does the “God of our fathers” have to offer in a situation as complex and difficult as ours, was the thrust of their anticipated question. This is precisely the question God answers by declaring His name to be Yahweh, i.e. the God who will be present there in that situation for them.

Parallel to this is the fact that Yahweh places his name at designated spots and tabernacles, or tents there (šākan; rather than the permanent type of dwelling [yāšab] in heaven, as Frank Cross has pointed out already). See Exodus 20:24; Deuteronomy 12:5; 14:24; 2 Samuel 7:13; 1 Kings 3:2; 8:17; 2 Kings 21:7; etc.

3. The doctrine of God. At times the name of God is used to indicate the whole system of divine truth and doctrine revealed in the Scriptures. The psalmist seems to have intended this when he wrote, “I will tell of thy name to my brethren” (Ps 22:22) which the NT quotes in Hebrews 2:12. The Messianic Psalm refers to the life and doctrine of the promised One who was to come. When He came, He said, “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me” and “I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known” (John 17:6, 26). Obviously the proclamation of the name was the declaration of the doctrine of God. Thus it was possible for the people to live according to the teaching appointed and approved by God: “For all the peoples walk each in the name of its God, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever” (Mic 4:5).

4. The theological development. Von Rad (Studies in Deuteronomy, 37-44) views the appearance of a “name-theology” as the distinctive contribution of the deuteronomic movement which replaces the older “Glory-of-the-Lord Theology” associated with the Ark and the phenomena of the cloud and fire. Yet he too is aware of passages like Exodus 20:24 which appear earlier (p. 38). Rather than saying with von Rad that the ideas move from a crude concept of Yahweh’s material presence to a more sophisticated tendency toward hypostasis, we believe the concepts of the Ark, the angel, the face, the glory of God and the name of God are intended as a representation and pledge (earnest) of Yahweh’s presence. This removes the developmental idea away from an identity concept to a representation concept. Thus the name comes to represent the presence of God Himself, e.g. in the Temple, but while He is there present, He is not contained within that Temple (Vriezen, Outline, 248).

Name in the Apoc., the Pseudep.

The Apoc. has some 100 verses illustrating the uses of ὄνομα, G3950, which are almost identical to those seen in Heb šēm. Neither does the Pseudep. illustrate any new features when compared to the OT. Its most frequent reference is to the name of God, otherwise it does not exhibit any noteworthy features for the purposes of this article (see TDNT, V, 261-264, 266, 267).

Name in the NT

Often when the NT gives instances of the “name,” it actually is quoting the OT and therefore the above discussion would hold true for this section of the Scriptures as well (Matt 6:9; 12:31; 23:39; John 17:6; Acts 2:21; Rom 15:9; Heb 2:12). A few distinctive examples can be given now.

Name and personality.

Name and authority.

Name and reputation.

This usage is rare in the NT. The only references are these: Mark 6:14; Luke 6:22; Revelation 3:1; and perhaps Philippians 2:9.

The name of Christ

Belief in the name.

Baptism in the name.

Prayer in the name.

Miracles in the name.

Persecution in the name.

Proclamation in the name.


J. Pedersen, “Name,” Israel I-II (1926), 245-259; G. von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy (1953), 37-44; J. A. Motyer, The Revelation of the Divine Name (1956), 3-31; G. T. Manley, Book of the Law (1957), 33, 34, 131ff.; Th. C. Vriezen, An Outline of OT Theology (1958), 246-249; B. S. Childs, Memory and Tradition in Israel (1962), 9-30; A. F. Key, “The Giving of Proper Names in OT,” JBL (1964), 55-59; H. Bietenhard, “ὄνομα, G3950,” TDNT (1967), 242, 283.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(shem; onoma; Latin nomen (2 Esdras 4:1); verbs onomazo; Latin nomino (2 Esdras 5:26)): A "name" is that by which a person, place or thing is marked and known. In Scripture, names were generally descriptive of the person, of his position, of some circumstance affecting him, hope entertained concerning him, etc., so that "the name" often came to stand for the person. In Ac 1:15; Re 3:4, onoma stands for "persons"; compare Nu 26:53,55.

I. Old Testament Word and Use.

1. General:

"To name" is sometimes ’amar, "to say" (1Sa 16:3); dabhar, "to speak" (Ge 23:16); naqabh, "to mark out" (Nu 1:17); qara’, "to call" (Ge 48:16; Isa 61:6).

2. The Divine Name:

II. New Testament Word and Use.

1. Character and Work of the Person:

2. In Relation to Prayer: