Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. THE FORM OF HEBREW NAMES
1. Various Types
3. Transposition of Parts
4. Methods of Abbreviation
II. THE RANGE OF PROPER NAMES
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
III. CHARACTERISTICS OF BIBLICAL REFERENCES
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" (Neh 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" (2 Ki 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.
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 (Ruth 4:18; Neh 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 (1 Ch 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" (2 Sam 11:3; 1 Ch 3:5); and similarly, in letters written from Israel 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 2 Ch 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 (2 Ki 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 ©~yeho-] at the beginning and -yahu at the end of proper names: hence, Jehoash became Joash (2 Ki 12:1,19), and Amaziahu became Amaziah (2 Ki 14:1 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" (Josh 15:60), to Baal or Baalah (Josh 15:9,10; compare 2 Sam 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; Josh 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); (3) abbreviation by the omission of the divine name: thus the name of the idolater Micaiah, which means, "who is like Yahweh?" (Jdg 17:1,4 (Hebrew)), was shortened to Micah, "who is like?" (Jdg 17:5,8); and similarly in the case of three other men, namely the prophet (Micaiah, Jer 26:18 the English Revised Version, and Micah, Mic 1:1), the Levite musician (Neh 12:35 with 11:17,22), and the father of Abdon (2 Ki 22:12 with 2 Ch 34:20).
The king of Judah, Yauhazi, as he was known to the Assyrians, i.e. Jehoahaz, "Yahweh hath laid hold," is called simply Ahaz, "he hath laid hold," in the Hebrew records. The town of Jabneel, "God doth cause to be built," was shortened to Jabneh, "he doth cause to be built" (Josh 15:11; 2 Ch 26:6; compare 1 Macc 4:15); Paltiel, "deliverance of God," was curtailed to Palti, "deliverance" (1 Sam 25:44; 2 Sam 3:15); Abijah, "Yahweh is father," to Abi (2 Ch 29:1 with 2 Ki 18:2); and Bamoth-baal, "high places of Baal," to Bamoth (Josh 13:17 with Nu 21:19). Abdi, Othni, Uzzi, and not a few other similar names, probably represent curtailment of this sort. The omission of the Divine title has parallels in Assyrian and Babylonian literature: thus Nabu-nadin-ziri and Nabu-shum-ukin were called Nadinu and Shum-ukin respectively (Dynastic Tablet number 2, col. iv, 4, 5, with Babylonian Chron., col. i, 13, 16).
(4) Abbreviation by the elision of the initial consonant, yet so that the remainder is a synonymous name of complete grammatical form. The name of King Hezekiah was written by the Hebrews both yechizchiyah, "Yahweh doth strengthen," and chizchiyah, "Yahweh is strength." The two forms interchange many times in 2 Ch 29 through 33. Similarly, Jeconiah was shortened to Coniah, as has already been noticed; the name of the town Jekabzeel, "God bringeth together," to Kabzeel, "God's bringing together" (Neh 11:25 with Josh 15:21; 2 Sam 23:20); Meshelemiah, "Yahweh is recompensing," to Shelemiah, "Yahweh's recompensing" (1 Ch 26:1,2 with 26:14); Meshullam, "recompensed," to Shallum, "recompensed" (1 Ch 9:11; Neh 11:11 with 1 Ch 6:12; Ezr 7:2).
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 Joel "cui Jehova est deus, i.e. cultor Jehovae"; but Simonis rendered Joel 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" (1 Sam 4:21), and probably Obed-edom, "Edom is serving" (compare 1 Sam 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" (2 Sam 12:25; 1 Ch 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 (Gen 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. (5) 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 (2 Sam 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:
The brine of its waters led the ancient Hebrews to call the Dead Sea the Salt Sea. Bethesda, "house of mercy," received its name from the belief in the healing virtue of its waters; Lebanon, "white," from the snows that cover its crest; Sidon on the Mediterranean Sea and Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, from their fisheries; Tyre, from the great rock in the sea on which it was built; the valley of Elah, from the terebinth tree; Luz, from the almond tree; Shittim, from the acacia groves on the eastern terrace of the Jordan valley; and Jericho, from the fragrance of its palms and balsams. The "crags of the wild goats" and En-gedi, "kid spring" (1 Sam 24:1,2), were in a desolate, rocky region where the wild goats had their home; Aijalon signifies "place of harts," and Etam denotes a "place of beasts and birds of prey." The hopes of a people and pride in their town were expressed in names like Joppa, "beauty," Tirzah, "pleasantness," Janoah, "rest," Shiloh, "tranquillity," and Salem, "peace." The resemblance of the Sea of Galilee in shape to a harp secured for it its ancient name of Chinnereth. Poetic imagination saw in majestic Mt. Hermon likeness to a soldier's breastplate, and forthwith the mountain was called Serion and Senir. The sanctuary of a deity might give name to a town, hence, Beth-dagon, Beth-anath, and Ashtaroth. Sometimes the name of a place commemorated a victory, as rock Oreb, rock Zeeb, and Eben-ezer (Jdg 7:25; 1 Sam 7:12); or enshrined a religious transaction or experience, Beth-el and Beracah (Gen 28:17-19; 2 Ch 20:26); or told of a migration, as when colonists gave the name of their native town to their new settlement (Jdg 1:23-26). Often the name of the founder or other famous inhabitant became attached to a town, and that for various reasons. It was often necessary to distinguish places of the same name from each other by this method; thus certain of the towns called Gibeah became Gibeath-saul and Gibeath-phinehas. The Jebusite stronghold captured by David was named by him the city of David, and was known by this name, as a quarter of Jerusalem, for many generations (2 Sam 5:9; 2 Ki 16:20). The practice was common among the Semitic contemporaries of Israel, as is illustrated by Dur-sharruken, "Sargonsburg," and Kar-shalmanasharidu, "Shalmaneser's fortress." A town might also be named after the tribe which inhabited it or after the ancestor of the tribe, as Dan (Jdg 18:29), and possibly under not a few geographical designations a tribal name is hidden, even when the fact has escaped record and is not revealed by the form of the name. In an inquiry after the origin of a geographical designation the first consideration is due to the causes known to be ordinarily at work in giving rise to names of the same aspect as the one under scrutiny; and only when they fail to yield a suitable explanation are less obvious causes worthy of serious attention.
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" (2 Sam 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 (Gen 30:23,24; Joseph being derivable from both yacaph and 'acaph).
2. The Narrator's Only Concern:
That the object of the Biblical writer was not to make known the derivation of the proper names is clear from cases like Esek, Rehoboth and Ishmael (Gen 16:11; 26:20,22): Isaac called the name of the well, Contention, because the herdsmen of Gerar "contended" with him; another well he called Broad Places (roomy places), because Yahweh had "made room" for him; and Hagar was directed to name the son that she was about to bear "God doth hear," because Yahweh had "heard" her affliction. The narrator's purpose was not to declare that the Hebrew word for contention, 'eceq, is derived from the Hebrew verb for "contend," 'acaq, and that the name "God doth hear," yishma`'el, signifies God doth hear, yishma` 'el. These derivations and meanings were plain. The purpose was to state the circumstances which led to the choice of the name. There are instances also where no part of the name reappears in the words that state the reason for the use of the name. For example, the name Maher-shalal-hash-baz is not explained by citing the words which compose it. One noun of the composite name appears, indeed, in the exposition of the meaning, but accidentally as it were, and without prominence or significance of position (Isa 8:3,4). Samuel is a notable example of this method. Hannah called his name Samuel, saying, `Because of Yahweh, I asked him' (1 Sam 1:20). Simonis, Ewald and Nestle derive the name from shemua`'el, "heard of God." This etymology would fully satisfy the reason given for the mother's choice of the name; but the suggested derivation is far-fetched, for it is not customary for a Hebrew word to lose the strong guttural `ayin (`). The guttural was not lost, but was distinctly heard, in Ishmael, where there is the same concurrence of sounds as in shemua`'el. Qimchi, on the other hand, suggested that Samuel is a contraction of sha'ul me'el, "asked of God"; and Ewald asserts that this origin is theory of the narrator (Lehrbuch der hebraischen Sprache, 275, note 3). This is incredible. Such a contraction is "alien to the genius of the Hebrew language'' (Driver, Text of Samuel, 13), and the absence of the two Hebrew consonants 'aleph (') and lamedh (l) before the letter "m" in the midst of the name Samuel would of itself prevent the Semite from imagining such an etymology. The derivation and meaning of Samuel were not obscure. The type was common, and was especially familiar by reason of the name Peniel, "face of God" (Gen 32:30 f). Samuel means "name of God" (Gesenius). As Jacob, upon his return from Paddan-aram, in fulfillment of his vow erected an altar at Beth-el as a memorial of God's bestowal of the promised blessings and named the place thus consecrated "The God of Beth-el" (Gen 35:1,3,7), so Hannah having by vow dedicated to Yahweh the son for whose birth she was praying, now that her prayer has been answered and the son given, calls him "The name of God" in commemoration of the Giver. The Biblical narrator states the motive which led the mother to choose the name Samuel for her child. In this explanation no part of the name is used. Moreover, the slight assonance between shemu'el and she'iltiw in 1 Sam 1:20 was unsought, for these words are separated in the Hebrew text, and the emphasis is placed on the gift's being "from Yahweh." The history of the discussion concerning this name shows how far astray criticism has been led by the false theory that the purpose of the narrator was to analyze the name and declare its derivation.
Reuben affords evidence to the same effect. The name was known to the early Hebrews in this form exclusively. It is attested by their most ancient literature (Gen 29:32; 30:14; Jdg 5:15,16), by the entire Old Testament, by the Greek translation (Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus, and Lucian), by the Targums, and by the New Testament (Rev 7:5). Yet in the 1st century Josephus, adding a Greek termination, wrote Roubelos; and later the Syriac version gave the name as Rubil, and the Ethiopic version as Robel and Rubel. The late variation is reasonably explained as a softening of the pronunciation, which had come into vogue in certain circles. The liquids, or, to speak particularly regarding Reuben, the liquids n and l, sometimes interchanged, giving rise to two forms for a word in the same language or in kindred languages (Gesenius, Thesaurus, 727; Wright, Comp. Grammar, 67; Zimmern,. Vergleichende Grammatik, section 11a). Notwithstanding the evidence furnished by the literature, preference has been given to Reubel as the original form on the ground that "the only plausible explanation of the etymology" given in Gen 29:32 "is that it is based on the form" Re'ubel = Re'u ba`al (Skinner, Genesis, 386). An exhibition of the etymology was needless, however, and was not the end which the writer had in view. His purpose was to state the occasion for bestowing this particular name upon the child; and in stating it he does full justice to the clear meaning of the good, simple Hebrew of the name Reuben. The name signifies either "vision of a son" or "Behold ye, a son!" In either case the emphatic word is "son." As Hannah, taunted on account of her barrenness, besought God to look on her affliction and give her a man-child (1 Sam 1:11), so Leah, using the same words, speaking of the same mercy already shown her, and with the same thought in mind, exclaimed: "Yahweh hath looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me," and she called the name of her son "Look ye! It's a son" (or, "vision of a son "). A male child was to her a proof of God's regard for her misery, and a guaranty of the future love of her husband for her. Moreover, the name kept the thought constantly before the mind of her husband. Gesenius remarks that Reuben means "properly, `See ye, a son!' but the sacred writer in Gen 29:32 explains it as for ra'-ah (ra'uy) be`onyi, `provided in my affliction' " (Lexicon, Thesaurus). This curious specimen of criticism may be regarded as the reductio ad absurdum of the hypothesis that the Hebrew writers intend to give the derivation of the proper names. The result of endeavoring to force the words of the explanation into an intentional etymology compels the assumption that the Hebrew writer misunderstood one of the simplest phrases of his own language and proposed a contraction impossible in itself and utterly foreign to the principles which underlie Hebrew speech.
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 (Gen 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 Gen 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 (Gen 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 (Gen 5:29, with a reference to 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.
(2) The indication of a coincidence between the character or experience of a person and his name: Naomi, returning to her home bereaved and in poverty, saw the contrast between her present condition and her name; and she played upon her name by using a word of opposite meaning, saying: `Call me not Pleasant, call me Bitter; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me' (Ruth 1:20). In whatever sense Nabal's name may have been bestowed upon him originally, at any rate his wife saw the correspondence between his name in its ordinary meaning and his conduct toward David, and she played upon it, saying: `Fool is his name, and folly is with him' (1 Sam 25:25). Likewise the agreement between Jacob's character and a meaning that his name has in Hebrew was seen, and called forth the bitter word-play: `Is he not rightly named "He supplants"? for he hath supplanted me these two times' (Gen 27:36). Isaac, so far as the formation is concerned, may be an abstract noun meaning "laughter," or a concrete noun, "laughing one," or a verb in the imperfect, "he laughs" or "one laughs" (compare Stade, Lehrbuch der hebraischen Grammatik, section 259a). Whichever specific meaning may have been in the mind of Abraham when he gave the name to his son, yet by reason of its ever speaking of laughter the name was a constant reminder to the parents of the laughter of unbelief with which they had listened to the promise of his birth (Gen 17:17; 18:12). But in due time the child of promise has been born. His name, as determined upon, is Isaac. This Sarah knows (Gen 17:19; 21:3). Accordingly, theme with which she greets his advent is laid in her mouth. She plays (puns) upon the name Isaac, using the root of the word in various forms, first as a noun and then as a verb, and giving to the verb a new subject and to the thought a new turn. Instead of the laughter of unbelief, with which the promise was received, `God,' she says, `hath prepared for me laughter (of joy), everyone that heareth (of the event) will laugh (with joy) for me' (Gen 21:6; compare Ps 126:2).
(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' (Gen 17:18,20). To Gad a prophecy is attached in Gen 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" (Gen 29:35). In Gen 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.
Dan 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 (Gen 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' (Gen 49:16).
See also GOD, NAMES OF; NAME.
John D. Davis
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'NAMES, PROPER'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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