Madge Van Ness, one of our fellow read the Bible in a Year participants, is our blogger this week.
I have been doing the Bible in a year challenge, and I’ve been thinking about Old Testament names. Hundreds of names I haven’t heard of — and none of the ones I have are in the current top 20 for girls. For boys, there are more: names tend to be of heroic characters, Noah, Elijah, Jacob, Daniel, Joseph, Samuel, David. They tend to be short and no more than 2, at the most 3, syllables.
I can see why people don’t name their child Balaam for instance, guy came to a bad end. Not to mention being made a fool of by a donkey. And some of the names are exceedingly difficult to say for this 21st century English speaking people, with strings of vowels and 5 syllables. And others are part of archaic slang expressions, like Great Jumping Jehosaphat! That might result in teasing. As a singer, I’d like to think I would have named a second boy Jubal, since he supposedly invented musical instruments; besides, it’s short, easy to pronounce and spell and one of my favorite literary characters is named that.
Hebrew personal names (as well as place names), at least as the footnotes in my study Bible indicate, have meaning. I’ve gathered the impression that the ones which end in -el are saying things like Sword of God, or Peace of God. Those who end in -ah might also be indicating something about God’s relationship to the child. We know that Jacob was renamed Israel, wrestles with God, Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Saul (NT) to Paul. Esau, Jacob’s brother, was hairy at birth and that’s what his name means.
Do any of us know what our name means? Desire to Protect, Daisy, Flower, Beloved, Father rejoices - are hidden under the name William, Margaret, Fleur, Amanda & Mary, Abigail.
Many magic tales are based on someone finding a “true name”. The protagonist needs the demon's or villain's true name in order to control them. Or their own true name to fully access their power. (Or they need to conceal it, see previous sentence. ) It’s seems, now that I think about it, that we assume our baptismal name is the name God knows us by, our “True Name." I’m told our Roman siblings get or choose an additional name at confirmation - and in some orders of monastics, they are given a “name in religion” upon entering. I feel sorry for people in Witness Protection, because they give up their real names: but what if changing their name makes it easier to change their way of life?
And what about all the kids who feel that there are expectations, positive or negative, that go with their name? Thomases are skeptical but Tommy-s are youthfull, Marthas are strait=laced but Marty-s are adventurous. Allens are peaceful but Als are cocksure. We twist our birth names to better suit our image of ourselves. As parents, we give names that we hope will honor our family, or suggest some quality that we hope the child will live up to.
I wish there was a dictionary of Biblical names accessible so if we want a child to have a certain trait in relationship to God, we could look it up. In the meantime, maybe we could look into our own birth names, not just the literal meaning but the implications. Margaret means “Daisy”, but what is a Daisy? A flower of the field, toiling not nor spinning, but trusting in God to provide. William is close to Protector - but what does a protector do? Who or what do they protect? And why did Father rejoice at the birth of Abigail?
What's in a Name?
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The Rev. William L. Packard
I am excited to read the Bible with you, not only for the knowledge and ability to say, "I've read the whole thing," but for the wonderful things that occur when Scripture is read intentionally each day.
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