Posted in theology

What’s in a name?

By Elizabeth Prata

I love names. The Bible is filled with weird sounding names, genealogies, and unnamed people. I will be anxious to learn the Ethiopian Eunuch’s name, the Woman at the Well, the Woman with 12 years of blood, the Gadarene Demoniac, and the Thief on the Cross.

In addition, we will be given a new name after the final judgment of all things:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Revelation 2:17).

Jesus gave Simon a new name, Cephas which means Peter. So too Levi, he became known as the Apostle Matthew. God renamed Abram to Abraham, his wife Sarai was given the name Sarah. Jacob was renamed by God as Israel. Many more were renamed, went by another name, or had a nickname (like James, Jesus’ disciple, nicknamed Boanerges, Son of Thunder.) The angel Gabriel told Zacharias to name his son John (the Baptist). (Luke 1:13).

Naming a child is interesting. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 1173–1174) says,

“NAMING In biblical tradition the task of naming a child generally fell to the mother (Gen. 29:31–30:24; 1 Sam. 1:20) but could be performed by the father (Genesis 16:15; Exodus 2:22) and in exceptional cases by nonparental figures (Exodus 2:10; Ruth 4:17). The last son of Jacob and Rachel received a name from each parent, Jacob altering the name Rachel gave (Gen. 35:18). Naming could be attributed to God originating through a divine birth announcement (Gen. 17:19; Luke 1:13). Naming took place near birth in the OT and on the eighth day accompanying circumcision in NT narratives (Luke 1:59; 2:21).” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 1173–1174).

“The biblical concept of naming was rooted in the ancient world’s understanding that a name expressed essence. To know the name of a person was to know that person’s total character and nature. Revealing character and destiny, personal names might express hopes for the child’s future. Changing of name could occur at divine or human initiative, revealing a transformation in character or destiny (Genesis 17:5, 15; 32:28; Matthew 16:17–18).” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 1173–1174).

“The act of naming implied the power of the namer over the named, evidenced in the naming of the animals in Genesis 2:19–20 or Pharaoh’s renaming Joseph (Genesis 41:45; cp. Daniel. 1:6–7; 2 Kings 24:17).” End Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 1173–1174).

We also remember that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon used his power to rename his captives, Daniel became “Belteshazzar,” while Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became “Shadrach,” “Meshach,” and “Abednego.”

One of my favorite names for Jesus is Shiloh. This name is a title, a prophecy, AND a place. It is found in Genesis 49:10. The verse moves me every time I read it. I glory in pondering the future prophecies, of peace in the world and seeing the face of Jesus, who I worship.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples

With the coming of Messiah there will be paradise-like splendor. Kidner says that every line of Genesis 49:11–12 “speaks of exuberant, intoxicating abundance: it is the golden age of the Coming One, whose universal rule was glimpsed in [v.] 10c.

Source: The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures.

When that Day comes, we shall receive our new name, we shall see Him for who He is, and some of that “exuberant abundance” will be praises, songs, and joy. What a Day that will be!


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.