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Proper Names

NAMES, PROPER. Proper names as opposed to appellative or common names, consist of one element (word) or more and refer to three main categories: place names, personal names and divine names. This article will deal extensively only with the first two categories.

The history of Biblical onomatology

It will be of some major significance to see how this subject is just beginning to unfold in the latter part of the 20th cent. as the epigraphical materials uncovered by the archeologists now place in our hands a wealth of comparative materials unknown even to those living as far back in time as the centuries just before the Christian era.

Important contributors.

Neither the unscientific etymologies of Plato and Aristotle or the more systematic, but nevertheless speculative word-plays of Philo provide a solid base for our studies. They were effective in setting the tone for some fifteen centuries, as witnessed by the several Gr. onomastica, Jerome’s Lat. Onomasticon, and those produced by the Syrians. The Stoics, led by Zeno and Chrysippus, developed a whole doctrine of speech, but still included etymologizing as the means of unfolding the moral, religious and metaphysical truth in words. With the advent of scientific lexicography and grammar and comparative Semitics, major contributions to the subject began to appear under the names of M. Hiller (Onomasticum Sacrum, c. 1000 pp. [1706]); Simonis (Onomasticum [1741]); W. Gesenius (Thesaurus [1829-1842]); E. Nestle (Die israelitischen Eigennamen [1876]); B. Gray (Studies in Hebrew Proper Names [1898]); M. von Grunwald (Die Eigennamen des A.T. in ihrer Bedeutung für die Kenntnis des hebräischen Volksglaubens [1895]); G. Kerber (Die religionsgechichliche Beudeutung der hebräischen Eigennamen des A. T. [1897]); Fr. Ulmers (Die semitischen Eigennamenin A. T. [1901]); Th. Nöledeke (“Names,” Encyclopedia Biblica [1902]); M. Lidzbarski (“Semitische Kosenamen,” Ephemeris für semitische Epigraphik, II [1908], 1-23) and M. Noth (Die israelitschen Personnamen im Rahmen der gemeinsemitischen Namengebung [1928]).

Comparative onomatology.

While these studies have given great insight into Heb. onomatology, they lacked some of the necessary controls, viz. the comparisons that could be made with other Sem. languages. This gap is now being filled by the following publications, Ugaritic: Roy Uyechi (A Study of Ugaritic Alphabetic Personal Names, unpublished doctoral dissertation [1961]); C. H. Gordon (Ugaritic Textbook [1965], 61-65; 508-522); F. Gröndahl (Die Personennamen der texte aus Ugarit [1967]); Phoenician: N. Joseph Kikuchi; Amorite: T. Bauer (Die Ostkanaanäern [1926]); Herbert B. Huffmon (Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts [1965]); Assyrian: Knut L. Tallquist (Assyrian Personal Names [1918]); Johann J. Stamm (Die akkadische Namengebung [1939]); Gelb, Ignace J. Purves, Pierre M. and MacRae, Allan A. (Nuzi Personal Names [1943]); Babylonian: H. Ranke (Early Babylonian Personal Names [1905]); K. L. Tallquist (Neubabylonisches Namenbuch [1905]); Egyptian: H. Ranke (Die ägyptische Personennamen, I-II [1935f.]); Palmyrene: W. Goldman (Die palmyrenischen Personeninamen [1935]); S Arab.; G. Ryckmans (les Noms propres sud-semitiques, I-III [1934, 1935]); Horite: Feiler (“Hurritische Eigennamen im Alten testament,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie [1939]); Cappadocia: Ferris J. Stephens (Personal names from Cuneiform Inscriptions of Cappadocia [1928]); and Greek: Fritz Bechtel and A. Fick (Die griechischen Personennamen [1894]). Added to these lists are Jewish names recorded in the 5th cent. b.c. Elephantine Aram. papyri; the Lachish letters and the Samaritan Ostraca.

The structure of names

Most scholars classify Heb. names according to their formation: (1) simple and (2) compound.

Compound names.

The most common names in the OT consist of more than one element, i.e., two or more independent words. The relationship between these words may be: (1) two substantives functioning as nominative and genitive, the so-called construct state and (2) a complete sentence. In the construct bond, often the first element ends in “i.” This usually is regarded as a survival of the old case ending system, but occasionally it does indicate the presence of the first person sing. suffix, “my.” Infrequently, a preposition may appear before this noun in the construct, e.g., Bezaleel, “in the shadow of God.”

Sentence names are common in the Sem. languages and Heb. has its share of them. The names of Isaiah’s children (Shear-jashub, “the remnant shall return,” Maher-shalal-hash-baz, “plunder has hastened, spoil has sped”) and Hosea’s children (Lo-ruhamah, “she has found no mercy,” Lo-ammi, “he is not my people”) come to mind. The name Hephzibah, “I have no pleasure in her” (2 Kings 21:1) also illustrates this usage.

Simple names.

These names consist of one element and may therefore be an adjective, or abbreviation of a compound name with the divine element omitted in some instances or the noun of kinship in other cases, or a third person sing. of a verb like Nathan, “He has given.” Sometimes one element simply is replaced by an ending on the remaining element and these abbreviated and apocopated forms then become simple names.

The names of persons

There are about 1400 names representing some 2400 individuals in the OT. The Hebrews were a mononymous people; that is, each child received only one name at birth without a family name or middle name. If a distinction were necessary, the individual could be identified easily by adding the name of his father and any other ancestor’s name in ascending order as these occasions required.

Simple names.

These names are the most difficult, since there is only one element and it is generally some being, object, description or circumstance known in this cryptic form by the contemporaries but not as easily known to us.

Nature names.

There are three groups of nature names: (1) animal, (2) plant, and (3) meteorological. The first group is represented by twenty-two pre-exilic southern names of which some of the better known are: Deborah, (bee), Rachel (ewe), Caleb (dog), Huldah (weasel), Achbor (mouse), Shaphan (rock badger), Jonah (dove), and Tola (worm). In addition to these examples of Heb. animal names, there are eleven foreign names in the OT of this type including: Zeeb (wolf), Eglah (calf), Oreb (raven), Hamor (ass), Jael (mountain goat), Nahash (serpent), Epher (young gazelle) and Zipporah (lady bird). Plant names, however, are rarer. Illustrations of this class are Tamar (date palm tree), Hadassah (myrtle), Elon (oak), Zethan (olive), Rimmon (pomegranate), and NT and Apoc. Susanna (lily).

While one cannot dogmatically affirm just what the intention was in every case, it is possible to parallel these names with a plethora of animal and plant names from other lists of names in the Near E. of high antiquity. It must be said that a theory, equally as justifiable as the totem theory for which there is some support, is the idea of endearment and tenderness as the reason for using these names; this might be esp. true where small animals, albeit unclean ones, are used for names!

Some meteorological names are Barak (lightning), Samson (little sun), and Nogah (sunrise). This class may be wholly derived from pagan theophorics or slight modifications thereof.

Physical characteristics.

These few names seem to divide easily into four categories: (1) color, (2) size, (3) defects and (4) sex. Some examples are: Laban and Libni (white), Zohar (reddish white), Haruz (yellow), Edom (red), Phinehas (bronze-colored Nubian), Hakkatan (small one), Korah and Kareah (baldy), Heresh (dumb), Ikkesh (crooked), Gareb (scabby), Gideon (maimed), Paseah (halting), and Geber (male).

Circumstances at birth.

Often the name indicates something about (1) the time of birth, (2) the place of birth, (3) order of birth, and (4) the events at birth. Some examples are: Haggai and Haggith (festal, i.e., born at feast time), Shabbethai (Sabbatical; i.e., born on the Sabbath), Judith and Jehudi (Jewess or Jew perhaps originally of Judah?), Cushi (Ethiopian), Becher or Bechor (first-born), Yathom and Yathomah (fatherless, orphan), Azubah (forsaken, perhaps by mother at birth?) and Thomas (twin).


There are a few additional simple names which refer either to the qualities of the person, such as Nabal (fool) and Naomi (perhaps pleasant), or to various objects like Peninnah (corals), Rebecca (cord for tying sheep), Rizpah (pavement), Bakbuk (pitcher) and Achsah (anklet). Other names in this category are: active or passive participles: Saul (asked), Baruch (blessed), Menahem (comforting); names ending in the diminutive -on, -an, -om, or -am: Nahshon (small serpent), Samson (small sun), names ending in -ai or -i for possession or gentilics, or abbreviation: Mordecai (votary of Marduk), Omri; and those ending in -a: Gera (guest).

Compound names.

This class of names by far exceeds the former class. Especially numerous are the theophorous names, i.e., names which explicitly mention Deity.

Theophorous names.

Generally these names are sentence names formed with the divine name of El or Yahweh. The sentence may appear with a nominal predicate indicating assurance or confidence: Joel (Yahweh is God) or a verbal predicate, e.g., one in the perfect tense expressing thanksgiving: Jonathan (Yahweh has given). Since the subject may come at the beginning or the end, e.g., Nathaniel and Elnathan, often it is difficult to decide which is the subject and predicate; this is esp. true when the MT pointing may be in question on a particular name. Some verbs are in the imperfect tense or the jussive, and thereby express a wish or desire: Jehoiachim (may Yahweh establish). Some authorities even claim to find an imperative form of the verb in these names: Hoshea (save!) but this is by no means clear.

The greatest number of these compounds contain the element for Yahweh either at the beginning or end of the name. It appears as Jeho- or Jo- in the first position and -yahu (-iah) or -yah (-jah) in the second position. G. B. Gray has counted 156 different names of over 500 persons in the OT with this divine name (HPN, 149). The Elephantine papyri give evidence of this same high frequency with as many as 170 Jews bearing a Yahweh compound name.

Ranking second in the number of occurrences is the El compound name. The OT has, according to G. B. Gray, 135 names compounded with a form of El of which 113 are Heb. personal (or tribal) names (HPN, 163-165).

The meanings found in these theophorous names cover almost the complete range of God’s being, person, gifts, and works for man. T. Nöldeke in his monumental article on “Names” in Encyclopedia Biblia arranges these meanings according to the following groupings: God’s sovereignty: He is just, rules, judges, is possessor, and the Lord; God’s gifts: He gives, increases, opens the womb, and gives freely; God’s graciousness: He blesses, has mercy, loves, helps, saves, is good, confers benefits, and is with man; God’s creating ability: He makes, builds, sets up, establishes, accomplishes; God’s knowledge: He remembers, knows, weighs, and sees; God’s salvation: He delivers, comforts, heals, redeems, preserves, keeps in safety, and conceals; God’s power: He holds fast, is strong, is a refuge, and strengthens; God’s immanence: He hears, answers, speaks, swears, promises; and God’s being and attributes: He is great, perfect, high, glorious, lives, is incomparable, dwells, comes, passes by, meets, contents, shoots, thunders, rises, is glad, is light, is fire. This is just a sample of the many roots and ideas.

Kinship names.

The compounds denoting kinship are Ab(i) = father, Ah(i) = brother, ’Am(mi) = kinsman, ben = son, and bath = daughter. The most important are the first two: the element Ab(i) appears in thirty-one names of which three are foreign names, four are family names and the remaining twenty-four represent forty-one individuals (HPN, 26). Ah(i) appears in twenty-six names of which five are either foreign or family names and twenty-one represent thirty-three Israelites (HPN, 37). The other names are even less frequent and represent about a dozen examples each. Examples of these forms are: Abihud, Ahihud, Amminadab, Benjamin and Bathsheba.

Dominion names.

These names include nouns designating the sovereignty of the one mentioned in the name and are therefore of great value in determining the religious character of Israel in the various periods of history. They embrace the name Melech = king; Adoni=Lord; and Baal=owner, e.g., Abimelech, Adoniram, and Jerubbaal. These forms are very frequent in other Sem. languages, esp. in Phoenician and Punic, but the OT has fourteen examples of Melech names, and even fewer examples of the other two forms: twelve Baal names of which two are an Edomite and a Phoenician, and nine Adoni names of which two are Canaanite. The reason seems obvious now in light of the comparative onomastica of Phoenicia, Ugarit and Assyria: the names were decidedly Canaanitish in their origin and formation.

Names of places

The rarity of sentence names and the obscurity of many of the pre-Israelitish place names make them much more difficult to explain. Some of these ambiguities now are being met by the onomastical lists from Egypt, but the problem often remains perplexing since many places just have a single simple name and the compound names are chiefly in a genitival relation.

Descriptive names.

Frequently a site received its name from some topographical feature for which Heb. has a rich vocabulary. These might include references to: (1) the height: Ramah, Ramoth, Rumah (height), Pisgah (height) Geba, Gibeah or Gibeon (hill), Shechem (shoulder, or ridge), and Sela (cliff); (2) the locality: Sharon (plain), Mizpah (watch tower), and Bithron (ravine); (3) the presence or absence of water: in compound names of En (spring), Beer (well), Me (water), Gihon or Giah (spring), Zion (waterless) and Abel (meadow); (4) the color and beauty of the site: Lebanon (white), Adummin (ruddy or red), Kidron (very black), Zalmon (dusky), Jarkon (yellow), Carmel (garden land), Shapir or Shepher (beautiful), and Tirzah (pleasing); (5) the condition of the soil: Argob (rich earthy soil), Arabah (desert or waste land), Bozkath (plateau of volcanic stone), and Jabesh or Horeb (dry); and (6) the size, products or industries of the place: Zoar (small), Rabbath (large), Bezer, or Bozrah (fortified place), Gath (wine press), Kir (wall), and Hazor, Kiriath, or Ir (city).

Not all of the foregoing names are absolutely certain, but these seem to be the better documented meanings.

Nature names.

G. B. Gray’s work on animal names still stands essentially unchanged since the beginning of this cent. He noted that out of some 100 animal names, thirty-three were the names of places, thirty-four were names of clans (only twenty-three were Heb.) and thirty-three were individuals (only twenty-two were Heb.) and the rest were foreign. Cf. HPN, 97, the largest proportion of animal names came from the S (at least forty-seven out of the sixty-seven town and tribal names) and twenty-two tribal and individual animal names came from foreigners.

Some of the thirty-three town names were: Aijalon (stag), Arad (wild ass), Beth-car (lamb), Eglon (calf), Ephron (gazelle), Engedi (spring of the kid), Laish (lion), Zeboim (hyena), Parah (cow), Hazar-susah (city of the horse), Ir Nahash (city of the serpent), Beth-hoglah (house of the partridge), Zorah (hornet), and Shaalbim (fox).

Names of plants, trees and shrubs also are found: Abel-shittim (meadow of the acacia), Beth-tappuah (house of the apple tree), Tamar or Baal-Tamar (date palm tree), Elah, Eloth, Elim, or Elon (oak or terebinth), Rimmon (pomegranate), Dilan (cucumber), Eshcol, Abel-cheramim or Beth-haccerem (vine), and Luz (almond tree).

Names of God

Since this topic will be covered more in detail under each of the names, it will be included here only as a reminder of its place in this discussion and of several distinctive concerns to onomatology.

Names compounded with Shaddai appear to be limited to the three names in Numbers 1:5, 6, 12: Shedeur, Zurishaddai and Ammishaddai. Elsewhere, the name occurs thirty-nine times as a divine name of which thirty-one belong to Job alone. In another six cases, it is an attribute of El. The word still refuses to yield its meaning in spite of a number of worthy suggestions.

The second item calling for special note in light of comparative Sem. onomatology is the Sem. feature of compound divine names. For several centuries now, Biblical scholarship has been using this double divine name as one of its chief criteria in the legitimate discipline of higher criticism. However, this may now be corrected in light of its abundant presence in documents which most certainly are unified literary productions employing the alternate names as literary relief. See a partial documentation, K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and the OT, 120-125.


See above under History of Biblical Onomatology. G. B. Gray, Studies in Hebrew Proper Names (1896); G. B. Gray, “Name,” Dictionary of the Bible, ed. by J. Hastings (1900), III, 478-485; G. B. Gray, “Names” (Heb.), ERE, IX-X (1928), 155-162; S. Mandelkern, V. T. Concordantiae, ed. by F. Margolinii and M. Gottsteinii (1962), 1347-1532.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Various Types

2. Vocalization

3. Transposition of Parts

4. Methods of Abbreviation


1. Personal Names

(1) Not Exclusively Descriptive

(2) Drawn from a Wide Field

(3) Influences Leading to Choice

(4) Popularity of Names: Hard to Determine

2. Geographical Names


1. Derivation of Names Manifest

2. The Narrator’s Only Concern

3. Allusions Linked with Names

I. The Form of Hebrew Names.

1. Various Types:

The Hebrew proper name consists of a single word, a phrase, or a sentence.

(1) Where the name is a single word, other than a verb, it may be

(a) a common noun, concrete, as Barak, "lightning," Tola, "crimson worm," Elon, "oak," Achsah, "anklet," Deborah, "bee" or abstract, as Uzzah, "strength," Manoah, "rest," Hannah, "grace"; or either abstract or concrete, as Zebul, "habitation";

(b) a participle, as Saul, "asked," Zeruiah, "cleft";

(c) an adjective, as Ikkesh, "perverse," Maharai, "impetuous," Shimei, "famous"; or

(d) a word that may be either an adjective or an abstract noun according to circumstances. Such are formations after the norm of qaTTul, as shammua`, which are generally adjectives; and formations by means of the ending -am or -on, as Adullam, Zalmon, Gideon, or, with the rejection of the final -n, Shilo(h) and Solomo(n).

(2) The name may be a phrase, consisting of

(a) two nouns, as Penuel, "face of God," Samuel, "name of God," Ish-bosheth, "man of shame"; or

(b) an adjective and a noun, as Jedidiah, "beloved of Yahweh" ; or

(c) a preposition and one or more nouns, as Besodeiah, "in the intimacy of Yahweh" (Ne 3:6).

When the name is a sentence, the predicate may be

(a) a noun, the copula being implied, as Abijah, "Yah is a father," Eliab, "God is a father," Elimelech, "God is king"; or

(b) an adjective, as Tobijah, "Yah is good" (Zec 6:10); or

(c) a participle, as Obed-edom, "Edom is serving"; or

(d) a finite verb. This last type exhibits five or six varieties: the subject stands before a perfect, as Jonathan, "Yahweh hath given," Jehoshaphat, "Yahweh hath judged," Eleazar, "God hath helped," Elkanah, "God hath formed"; or before an imperfect, as Eliahba, "God hideth Himself"; or the subject comes after a perfect, as Benaiah, "Yahweh hath built," Shephatiah, "Yahweh hath judged," Asahel, "God hath made; or after an imperfect, as Jezreel, "God doth sow." Very often the subject is the pronoun included or implied in the verbal form, as Nathan, "he hath given," Hillel, "he hath praised," Jair, "he enlighteneth," Jephthah, "he openeth." Occasionally the predicate contains an object of the verb, as Shealtiel, "I have asked God" (Ezr 3:2), or a prepositional phrase, as Hephzibah, "my delight is in her" (2Ki 21:1). The sentence-name is usually a declaration, but it may be an exhortation or a prayer, as Jerub-baal, "let Baal strive," and Hoshea, "save!" (Nu 13:16), or it may be a question, as Micaiah, "who is like Yahweh?" All of the foregoing illustrations have been taken from the Books of Judges and Samuel, unless otherwise noted.

2. Vocalization:

The proper name is treated as one word, whether on analysis it consists of a single word, a phrase, or a sentence; and as such it is subject to the laws of accent and quantity which govern the Hebrew word.

(1) A common noun used as a name undergoes the variations of pronunciation due to the custom of lengthening a short vowel in pause and to the laws which control the aspiration of certain labials, linguals, and palatals. Thus, the name Perez, "breach," which appears also as Pharez in the King James Version of the Old Testament, occurs in the Hebrew text in the four forms perets, parets, pherets and pharets (Ru 4:18; Ne 11:4,6).

(2) In a name consisting of a phrase the normal advance of the accent as usual causes the loss of a pretonic vowel, as is indicated by the suspended letter in Jedidiah, "beloved of Yahweh"; requires a short vowel in a closed unaccented syllable, as in Mahalal’el, "praise of God"; allows contraction, as in Beth-el, "house of God"; and occasions the return of a segholate noun to its primitive form, as in Abdiel, "servant of God," where the vowel i is an archaism which has lingered in compound names, but has generally disappeared elsewhere in speech.

(3) Names which consist of a sentence are also accented as one word, and the pronunciation is modified accordingly. The synonyms Eliam and Ammiel, "God is a kinsman," not only exhibit the common archaism in the retention of the vowel i, but the name Eliam also shows the characteristic lengthening of the vowel in the final accented syllable, so common in nouns. The four forms Eliphelet, Eliphalet, Elpelet and Elpalet, meaning "God is deliverance," represent the variations of the Hebrew due to the causes already mentioned (1Ch 3:8; 14:5,7; see the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American)). The requirements regarding the ellsion and the quantity and quality of vowels, on the shifting of the accent, are also regularly met by the various types of sentence-names in which the predicate is a verb Thus, the personal names ’elishama` and ’elnathan (subject followed by verb in the perfect); ’elyaqim, ’elyahba’, and yehoyakhin (subject and imperfect); gedhalyah, yekholyahu, barakh’el, in which the first vowel is protected by the implied reduplication of the Piel species, benayah, `asah’el, and `asah-’el, `asi’el, chazah’el and chaza’-el and pedhah’el (perfect and subject); yigdalyahu, yibhneyah, ya`asi’el, yachdi’el, yehallel’el, yesimi’el (imperfect and subject); yerubba`al and yashobh`am (jussive and subject; u in sharpened, and o in closed, syllable; in Jashobeam the first long vowel is retained by a secondary accent, marked by metheg); nathan and yiphtach, i.e. Jephthah. Ibneiah shows the customary apocopation of the imperfect of Lamedh-he verbs; and the names Benaiah to Pedahel show the methods of combining the perfect of such verbs with a following element. The short vowel of the final closed syllable of the imperfect is elided, if the final consonant is permitted to begin the syllable of the next element of the name, as in Jezreel, Jekabzeel, Jerahmeel, Ezekiel, Jehizkiah (see the Hebrew form of these names); but it is not elided in Ishmael, although the consonant is attached to the following syllable; and elision is avoided, as in Jiphthah-el, by keeping the ultimate and penultimate syllables distinct. Jehucal, a Hophal imperfect, is peculiar in not lengthening the vowel in the accented final syllable, when the verb is used as a personal name.

3. Transposition of Parts:

When the name was a sentence in Hebrew, its constituent parts could be transposed without changing the meaning. Thus the father of Bathsheba was called Ammiel, "a kinsman is God," and Eliam, "God is a kinsman" (2Sa 11:3; 1Ch 3:5); and similarly, in letters written from Palestine to the king of Egypt in the 14th century BC, Ilimilki is also called Milkili, the name in either form signifying "God is king." Ahaziah, king of Judah, is called Jehoahaz (compare 2Ch 21:17 with 22:1), a legitimate transposition of the verb and subject, and meaning in each case, "Yahweh hath laid hold."

Not only did transposition take place, but the substitution of a cognate root and even the use of a different part of the verb also occurred. Thus King Jehoiachin (2Ki 24:6; Jer 52:31) was known also as Jeconiah (Jer 24:1; 28:4) and Coniah (Jer 22:24,28; 37:1). The two names Jehoiachin and Jeconiah have exactly the same meaning, "Yahweh doth establish"; and Coniah is a synonym, "the establishing of Yahweh." The Divine name which begins Jehoiachin is transferred to the end in Jeconiah and Coniah; and the Hiphil imperfect of the verb kun, which is seen in Jehoiachin, has been replaced by the Qal imperfect of the verb kanan in Jeconiah, and by the construct infinitive of the same species in Coniah. Parallel cases occur in Assyrian and Babylonian literature, among which the two forms of the king’s name, Zamama-shum-iddina and Zamama-nadin-shum, exhibit both the transposition of constituent parts and an interchange of preterite and participle.

4. Methods of Abbreviation:

Twin forms like Abiner and Abner, Abishalom and Absalom, Elizaphan and Elzaphan, are not the full name and its abbreviation by syncopation, but are merely two variant, equally legitimate, modes of combining the constituent parts. The common methods of shortening were:

(1) contraction by the rejection of a weak consonant or the apocopation of a final unaccented vowel, notably illustrated by the divine name (c)~yeho-] at the beginning and -yahu at the end of proper names: hence, Jehoash became Joash (2Ki 12:1,19), and Amaziahu became Amaziah (2Ki 14:1, 8 Hebrew text, and 8);

(2) abbreviation of composite geographical names by the omission of the generic noun or its equivalent: Jerusalem, which to the Hebrews meant "foundation of peace," was shortened to Salem, "peace" (Ps 76:2); Kiriath-baal, "city of Baal" (Jos 15:60), to Baal or Baalah (Jos 15:9,10; compare 2Sa 6:2); Beeshterah, "house or temple of Astarte," to Ashtaroth; Beth-lebaoth, "house of lionesses," to Lebaoth; Beth-azmaveth to Azmaveth; Beth-rehob to Rehob; Beth-bamoth to Bamoth (M S, l. 27, with Nu 21:19); Beth-baal-meon to Baal-meon (Nu 32:38; Jos 13:17); the same custom existed among the Moabites who spoke of this town indifferently as Beth-baal-meon and Baal-meon (M S, ll.9, 30);

II. The Range of Proper Names.

1. Personal Names:

(1) Not Exclusively Descriptive.

Simonis in his Onomasticum, published in 1741, and Gesenius in his Thesaurus, issued during the years from 1835 to 1853, endeavored to interpret the proper names as though they were ordinarily intended to characterize the person who bore them. Embarrassed by theory, Gesenius translated Malchiel by "rex Dei, h. e. a Deo constitutus"; and Simonis translated Malchi-shua by "regis auxilium, i.e. auxilium s. salus regi patri praestita"; Ammizabad was rendered by Gesenius "famulus largitoris, h.e. Jehovae," and by Simonis "populum (i.e. copiosissimam liberorum turbam) donavit"; Gesenius translated Gedaliah "quem Jehova educavit vel roboravit," Zerahiah "cui Jehova ortum dedit," Jehozadak "quem Jehova justum fecit," and Joe "cui Jehova est deus, i.e. cultor Jehovae"; but Simonis rendered Joe by "Jehoua (eat) Deus .... vel (cui) Jehoua Deus (eat)." Now Malchiel means "God is king," Malchi-shua "the king, i.e. God, is salvation" (compare Joshua), Ammizabad "the Kinsman hath endowed," Gedaliah "Yah is great," Zerahiah "Yahweh hath risen in splendor," Jehozadak "Yahweh is righteous," and Joel, if a compound name, "Yah is God." A moment’s reflection makes clear that these names do not describe the persons who bear them, but in every case speak of God. They emphasize the important facts that personal names might be, and often were, memorial and doctrinal, and that personal names were a part of the ordinary speech of the people, full of meaning and intelligible to all, subject to the phonetic laws of the Hebrews, and obedient to the rules of grammar.

(2) Drawn from a Wide Field.

Parents named their children, and contemporaries dubbed people, from physical and spiritual traits, whether a beauty or a blemish; thus Hophni, "pertaining to the fist," Japhia, "gleaming," Ikkesh, "perverse," Ira, "watchful," Gareb, "rough-skinned," and Hiddai, "joyful." Children were called by the names of natural objects, as Peninnah, "coral," Rimmon, "pomegranate," Tamar, "palm tree," Nahash, "serpent," Eglah, "heifer," Aiah, "bird of prey," and Laish, "lion"; or after kinsfolk or remoter members of the clan, as Absalom’s daughter Tamar bore the name of her father’s beautiful sister, and as the priest Phinehas took his strange name from the noted Phinehas, who belonged to the same father’s house in earlier days. Or the name given to the child furnished a memorial of events in the national history, like Ichabod, "the glory is not" (1Sa 4:21), and probably Obed-edom, "Edom is serving" (compare 1Sa 14:47; 21:7); or it told of circumstances attending the child’s birth, as Saul, "asked," and Elishama, "God hath heard"; or it embodied an article of the parent’s creed, as Joab and Abijah, "Yah is a father," Joel, "Yah is God"; or it expressed a hope concerning the child or bore witness to a prophecy, as Jedidiah, "beloved of Yahweh," and Solomon, "peaceable" (2Sa 12:25; 1Ch 22:9). Sometimes the name of the tribe or race to which a man belonged became his popular designation, as Cushi, "Cushite." All of these examples have been cited from the records of one period of Israel’s history, the times of Samuel and David.

(3) Influences Leading to Choice.

The people in general gathered names for their children freely from all parts of this wide field, but in certain circles influences were at work which tended to restrict the choice to a smaller area. These influences were religious:

(a) In homes of piety conscious nearness to God on the part of the parents naturally prompted them to bestow religious names upon their children. The name may be without distinct religious mark in its form and meaning, as Ephraim, "double fruitfulness," Manasseh, "making to forget," and yet have been given in acknowledgment of God’s grace and be a constant reminder of His goodness (Ge 41:51,52); or the name may be religious in form, as Shemaiah, "Yah hath heard," and publicly testify to the parents’ gratitude to God.

(b) The covenant relation, which Yahweh entered into with Israel, made the name Yahweh, and that aspect of God’s character which is denoted by this name, peculiarly precious to the people of God, and thenceforth the word Yahweh became a favorite element in the personal names of the Israelites, though not, of course, to the exclusion of the great name El, "God."

(c) Among the kings in the line of David, the consciousness of their formal adoption by Yahweh to be His vicegerents on the throne of Israel (2Sa 7; Ps 2) found expression in the royal names. Yahweh, the God of Israel, was acknowledged in the personal name Abijah, borne by the son and successor of Rehoboam. But his was an isolated case, unless the name Asa is an abbreviated form. But with Jehoshaphat, Abijah’s grandson, early in the 9th century, the custom became established. Henceforth it was conventional for the king of Judah to have for his name a sentence with Yahweh as its subject. The only exceptions among the 16 successors of Asa on the throne were Manasseh and his son Amon, both of whom were notoriously apostate from Yahweh. The full name of Ahaz was Jehoahaz. Josiah’s son Shallum as king was known as Jehoahaz; and his brother Eliakim, when placed on the throne by Pharaoh-necoh, was given the name Jehoiakim.

(d) Akin to the influence exerted by the relation of the kings to the God of Israel, and manifesting almost equal power contemporaneously with it, was the influence of official connection with the sanctuary, either as priests or as subordinate ministers, and it frequently led to the choice of an ecclesiastical name containing the word God or Yahweh. During the five centuries and a half, beginning near the close of Solomon’s reign and extending to the end of Nehemiah’s administration, 22 high priests held office, so far as their names have been preserved in the records. Of these pontiffs 17 bear names which are sentences with Yahweh as subject, and another is a sentence with El as subject. The materials for investigation along this line are not complete, as they are in the case of the kings, and ratios derived from them are apt to be erroneous; but evidently the priests of Yahweh’s temple at Jerusalem not only recognized the appropriateness for themselves and their families of names possessing a general religious character, but came to favor such as expressly mentioned God, especially those which mentioned God by His name of Yahweh.

(4) Popularity of Names: Hard to Determine.

Until abundant data come to light for all periods of the history, it is precarious to attempt to determine the relative popularity of the various kinds and types of names in any one generation, or to compare period with period with respect to the use or neglect of a particular class of names. For, first, in no period are the names which have been transmitted by the Hebrew records many as compared with the thousands in use at the time; and, secondly, the records deal with the historical event which was conspicuous at the moment, and rarely mention persons other than the actors in this event.

At one time men and women from the middle class of society are asserting themselves in the national life, and the personal names current in the families of farmers, shopkeepers and soldiers obtain place in the annals; at another time, when the activities of the court are of paramount importance, it is mainly names that were current in official circles which are chronicled; at yet another period, when matters of the national worship engaged the attention of the state, ecclesiastics and laymen from pious families, whose names were quite likely to have a religious meaning, receive mention. Very few names outside of the particular circle concerned are preserved in the records. It is unwarranted, therefore, to draw inferences regarding the relative use of particular names, secular names, for instance, at different periods of the history of Israel, by comparing the number of these names found in a record of political uprisings in the army with the number of similar names in the narrative of an episode which occurred at a later date and in which only priests took part. It is comparing things that differ. It is comparing the number of certain names current in military circles with the number of the same names among ecclesiastics, in order to learn whether these names were more common among the people as a whole in the one period than in the other.

2. Geographical Names:

III. Characteristics of Biblical References.

1. Derivation of Names Manifest:

As a rule, Semitic words clearly reveal their origin and structure. The Semite might, indeed, err with respect to the particular meaning intended, where a word was current in several significations. Thus, the vale of bakha’, mentioned in Ps 84:7 (Eng. 6), is open to two interpretations: namely, "valley of Baca," so called from the balsam trees in it, and "valley of weeping," as the versions render the unusual form, regarding it as equivalent to a similar word meaning "weeping." The plural bekha’im, "mulberry or balsam trees" (2Sa 5:23,14), was understood by Josephus to denote a grove known by the name Weepers (Ant., VII, iv, 1; compare Septuagint). In those rare cases where several derivations were possible, the Israelite may not always have known which thought was intended to be embodied in the name which he heard. But he discerned the alternative possibilities; and a parent, in bestowing a name ambiguous in its derivation, might be deliberately taking advantage of its power to be the vehicle for the suggestion and expression of two thoughts (Ge 30:23,24; Joseph being derivable from both yacaph and ’acaph).

2. The Narrator’s Only Concern:

3. Allusions Linked with Names:

Allusions to proper names are made for the purpose of stating the reason for the bestowal of the name, of pointing out a coincidence between the name and the character or experience of its bearer, or of attaching a prophecy; and it is common to link the allusion with the name by employing the root that underlies the name, or a cognate

root, or some other word that resembles the name in sound:

(1) Statement of the reason for the choice of the name: In the case of Simeon, the root of the name is used (Ge 29:33). Words of this type (with the termination on) are formed from nouns and verbs, and have the force of adjectives, diminutives, or abstract nouns, and are sometimes used as concrete nouns (Stade, Lehrbuch der hebraischen Grammatik, section 296). The Israelite at once recognized the root and formation of the name Simeon, which was a favorite with the Hebrews, and he knew that it could express the abstract idea of hearing. In Ge 29:33 the narrator is not seeking to impart etymological information; but it is clear that he discerned the derivation when he gave the reason for the choice of this particular name for Leah’s second son: "(Leah) said, Because Yahweh hath heard that I am hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon." The root of the name is used as a verb in the statement of the motive. It was convenient and natural to do so, since the verb shama` was the proper word to express the idea and was one of the most common words in the language. There would be no reason to suppose that identity with the root of the name was intentional, except that care is taken by the narrator in the case of the other sons of Jacob to maintain a similar correspondence. Accordingly, that form of paronomasia is employed where a word is used that is one with the name in derivation, but differs from the name in form and grammatically is a different part of speech.

In the case of Cain a cognate root is used. The name is a segholate noun from the root qun, which means "to form," and then specifically to form at the anvil. Cain may accordingly be an abstract noun and denote formation, or a concrete noun denoting a forged weapon, or the agent in the work, namely a smith. In stating the reason for giving this name to the child, it was not feasible to use the verb qun, because of the technical meaning which had become attached to it. To avoid misunderstanding the cognate verb qanah is employed, which has radically the same significance, but is without the technical implications (Ge 4:1). The result is that kind of paronomasia which exists between words of similar sound and cognate origin, but difference of meaning.

In the case of Noah a root unrelated to the name in origin, but containing a similar sound, is used. The Biblical narrator does not state whether the name Noah is the transliteration of a foreign word or is its translation into Hebrew; he merely declares that as given it expressed the father’s hope that through this child men were to have relief from the ancient curse upon the ground. If the name is Hebrew, its root may be nuach, "rest." At any rate it promptly suggested to the ear of the Hebrew the idea of rest. But the verb nuach, is used in Hebrew, as is the corresponding verb "rest" in English, to express the two ideas of relief and cessation. Lamech did not mean that his son would cause men to cease from work, but that he would secure for them restful relief from toil due to God’s curse on account of sin (Ge 5:29, with a reference to Ge 3:17-19). The writer does not use the ambiguous word. To avoid ambiguity, yet with a view to preserving assonance with Noah, he employs the verb nacham, which has as one of its meanings the sense of comfort and relief.

(3) Attachment of a prophecy to a name: Paronomasia in all of its forms is used for this purpose. A meaning of the name, or a sound heard in it, or a contrast suggested by it may be played upon. In these several ways the prophet Micah plays upon successive names in one paragraph (Mic 1:10-15). In answer to Abraham’s prayer in behalf of Ishmael, a promise is given concerning the lad, which is introduced by a play upon his name: `As for the boy (named) "God heareth," I have heard thee’ (Ge 17:18,20). To Gad a prophecy is attached in Ge 49:19. Two cognate roots are employed: gadhadh, which underlies the word rendered troop or marauding band, and gudh, which means "to press." In the use not only of the root of the name Gad, but of a different root also that is similar in sound, it is evident that the purpose is simply to play upon the name. The brief oracle is uttered almost exclusively by means of variations in the vocalization of the two roots, producing one of the most successful word-plays in Hebrew literature.

Judah is a noun corresponding to the Hophal imperfect, and means "thing being praised," "object of praise." In bestowing this name upon her child the mother signified that Yahweh was the object of her praise; for she said: "Now will I praise Yahweh" (Ge 29:35). In Ge 49:8 a prophecy is spoken concerning Judah. The same etymology and meaning are recognized as before, but the application is different. The birth of Judah had made God an object of praise, the great deeds of the tribe of Judah were destined to make that tribe an object of praise. To quote the oracle: `"Object of praise," thee shall thy brothers praise.’ In this difference of reference and in the repetition of the significant word consists the play upon the name.

Da is played upon in much the same way. The name may be a participle, used as a noun, and be rendered "judge"; but it probably belongs to that numerous class in which the names are verbs in the perfect, and signifies, "he hath judged." His adoptive mother had called his name Dan, because God had heard her complaint and decided the cause in her favor (Ge 30:6). In attaching the prophecy, the name is played upon by changing the subject, and, in order to refer to the future, by substituting the imperfect for the perfect of the verb.: `"He hath judged" shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel’ (Ge 49:16).


John D. Davis