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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Names —Jewish children usually received their names very soon after their birth; in the case of male children, at the time of their circumcision on the eighth day ( Luke 1:59;  Luke 2:21). The name was selected in honour of a parent or relative ( Luke 1:59), or because of some circumstance connected with the birth of the child, as in the case of Thomas (Aram. Aramaic חְּאוֹמָא, Gr. Θῶμας), meaning ‘twin’; in the case of our Lord and of John the Baptist the name had been selected beforehand by special Divine communication ( Matthew 1:21,  Luke 1:13). Indeed, Jewish names generally were significant, referring to some trait in the child, actual or prophetic; some feeling or hope of the parent at the time of the birth, though this was perhaps not so generally true as in the early OT period. Such old-fashioned names still survived in names like Nathanael (Ναθαναήλ, Heb. נְחֵנְאֵל ‘God gave’); Zachariah (Ζαχαρίας, Heb. וְבַרְיָה ‘Jehovah remembered’).

Surnames were quite common in NT times. Frequently one person was distinguished from another of the same name by the adding of the father’s name, joined by the Aramaic word bar (בַּר), ‘son of,’ as in Simon bar-Jona ( Matthew 16:17), and also in such names as Bartholomew , ‘son of Tolmai,’ and Barabbas , ‘son of a father.’ The Greek idiom is frequently followed, however, as in  John 21:17 ‘Simon of Jonas’; or, written more fully with υἱός, ‘son,’ ‘Simon son of Jonas’ ( John 1:42).

The presence of two names for the same person in the Gospels is sometimes to be accounted for by the fact that many of the people of Palestine in Christ’s day were bilingual. Hence persons would have an Aramaic and a Greek name, the second translating the first, or being quite similar in sound. The Greek for Thomas (‘twin’) was Didymus ( John 11:16); for Cephas (כּיפָא ‘stone’) it was Peter (Πέτρος,  John 1:42). Many of the Jews mentioned in the Gospels are known to us only by Greek names, so widespread had the influence of that language become; cf. Φίλιππος, Philip ( John 1:45), and Ἀνδρέας, Andrew ( Matthew 4:18).

A noteworthy feature of personal names in Christ’s day—though the custom existed much earlier and was widespread (cf.  Genesis 32:28,  Daniel 1:7)—was that of changing the name or adding a new name at some important crisis in the life, or because of some manifest characteristic of the person so named ( Matthew 16:18,  Mark 3:16;  Mark 3:18).

Surnames were sometimes given from the place where one lived or from which one came, as in the case of Judas Iscariot (wh. see),  Mark 3:19; or from the party to which one belonged: Simon the Zealot (Ζηλωτής),  Luke 6:15.

On names applied to Christ see following article.

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Names, Proper’; EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] , art. ‘Names’; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. i. 47; A. Wright, Some N.T. Problems , 56 (in St. Mark), 74 (in St. Luke).

E. B. Pollard.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [2]


Names of places. - These may be divided into two general classes - descriptive and historical. The former class, descriptive, are such as mark some peculiarity of the locality, usually a natural one, for example, Sharon , "plain"; Gibeah , "hill"; Pisgah , "height".

Of the second class of local names, historical, some were given in honor of individual men, for example, the city, Enoch ,  Genesis 4:17; etc. More commonly, however, such names were given to perpetuate that memory, of some important historic occurrence. Bethel perpetuated, through all Jewish history, the early revelations of God to Jacob.  Genesis 28:19;  Genesis 35:15. So Jehovah-Jireh ,  Genesis 22:14; Mahanaim ,  Genesis 32:2; Peniel , etc.

In forming compounds to serve as names of towns or other localities, some of the most common terms employed were Kir , a "wall" or "fortress"; Kirjath , "city"; En , "fountain"; Beer , "a well", etc. The names of countries were almost universally derived from the name of the first settlers or earliest historic population.

Names of persons. - Among the Hebrews, each person received, but a single name. In the case of boys, this was conferred upon the eighth day, in connection with the rite of circumcision.  Luke 1:59. Compare  Genesis 17:5-14. To distinguish an individual from others of the same name, it was customary to add to his own proper name, that of his father or ancestors. Sometimes the mother's was used instead.

Simple names in Hebrew, as in all languages, were largely borrowed from nature; for example, Deborah , "bee"; Tamar , "a palm tree"; Jonah , "dove". Many names of women were derived, from those of men by change of termination; for example, Hammelech , "the king"; Harnmoleketh , "the queen".

The majority of compound names have special religious or social significance being compounded either

(1) with terms denoting relationship, as Abi or Ab , "father": as in Abihud , "father of praise"; Abimelech , "father of the king"; as Ben , "son": as in Benoni , "son of my sorrow"; Benjamin , "son of the right hand"; or

(2) nouns denoting natural life, as Am , "people"; Melech , "king"; or

(3) with names of God, as Jah or Ja , shortened from "Jehovah".

As outside the circle of Revelation, particularly among the Oriental nations, it is customary to mark one's entrance into a new relation by a new name, in which case, the acceptance of the new name involves the acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the name giver, so the importance and new sphere assigned to the organs of Revelation in God's kingdom are frequently indicated by a change of name. Examples of this are Abraham,  Genesis 17:5; Sarah,  Genesis 17:15; Israel, as the designation of the spiritual character in place of Jacob, which designated the natural character.  Genesis 32:28.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [3]

These are often expressive of character or of relationship. God was revealed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as GOD Almighty which indicates the character in which God was pleased to be known by them: He was not known to them as Jehovah  Exodus 6:3 . This does not mean that they had not heard of the name, but that it did not express the character of His relationship with them. To Moses He said, "I am JEHOVAH," and by this name He was known to Israel: it formed the basis of their relationship with God. When power was committed to the Gentiles under the headship of Nebuchadnezzar it was said, "The God Of Heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory."  Daniel 2:37 . In Christianity God is made known under the name of Father  John 20:17 . Much is involved in the various names by which God has been pleased to make Himself known. So the Lord Jesus has various names: Son of God, Immanuel, Son of man, etc.: they all designate one Person, but each has its own import. Throughout the N.T. His Name is the centre of all blessing.  Isaiah 9:6;  Philippians 2:9-11 .

God has authority to give names: cf.  Revelation 2:17; and the name given by God indicates that which God sees fit to express in the one to whom it is given. Hence 'name' is characteristic. He altered the names of some persons: Abram was changed to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah; Jacob to Israel; and He gave reasons why they were altered; and the Lord Jesus gave Simon the name of Peter. God also applied to Israel symbolical names: as Lo-ammi, 'not my people;' and Lo-ruhamah, 'not having obtained mercy,' to mark His attitude towards them.

In the O.T. persons often gave their children names of significance: thus the wife of Phinehas, when she heard that the ark of God was taken, and that her husband and her father-in-law were dead, called her child Ichabod, 'where is the glory?' for the glory was departed from Israel, the ark being taken. Where the reason for a name is mentioned, all is plain; but where no reason is given, the meaning cannot always be ascertained. A name may bear several meanings, by being traced to different roots. For many years lists of the O.T. proper names, with their significations, have been given in Concordances, etc. (mostly as drawn from Gesenius), and sometimes certain deductions have been drawn from those meanings as giving the character of the persons bearing the names; but it should be remembered that in many instances, several persons have borne the same name, persons who were quite different in their status and character; so that the names could have had nothing to do with their characters. It is evident also from the case of John the Baptist that it was customary to name a child after some of his ancestors. On this ground objection was made to his being called John.  Luke 1:59-63 .

Besides this, modern Hebrew scholars give very different meanings to some of the names, making their signification more and more uncertain. For instance, Abishai signifies, according to Gesenius, 'father of a gift'; but Fürst interprets it, 'Ab is existing,' or 'God is existing.' Adami signifies 'human,' Gesenius; but 'fortress,' Fürst. Adonikam signifies 'lord of the enemy,' Gesenius; but 'Adon is assisting,' Fürst. In some words other lexicographers, as Ewald, differ from both of the above.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [4]

Among the Hebrews were frequently significant; sometimes of a family trait, and sometimes of circumstances attending the birth of a child; often too they were assumed afterwards to commemorate some striking occurrence in one's history. Compare the cases of Ishmael, Esau, and Jacob, Moses, Ichabod, etc.,  Genesis 16:16   25:25,26   Exodus 2:10   1 Samuel 4:21 .

Compound names were frequent; and often a part of the name of God, JAH EL, JEHO, etc., was employed as in Eliezer,  Exodus 18:4 , Amuel, Josiah, Adonijah. Sometimes a whole phrase was formed into a name; as Elioneai, to Jehovah are mine eyes,  1 Chronicles 4:36 . The New Testament names are chiefly ancient and family names perpetuated,  Luke 1:61 . The men of the East change their names for slight causes; and hence many persons occur in the Bible bearing tow or more names,  Ruth 1:20   2 Samuel 23:8   John 1:42 . Kings often changed the names of those to whom they gave offices,  Daniel 1:6,7; hence the honor and privilege implied in a "new name,"  Revelation 2:17 . Many slight inflections of the same Hebrew name give it a very different appearance to an English eye, as Geshem and Gashmu,  Nehemiah 6:1,6 .

A Hebrew name was sometimes transferred to the Greek, with but little change: Elijah became Elias, or Elie. But sometimes it was exchanged for the Greek word of the same meaning, though very different in form; Thomas became Didymus, and Tabitha, Dorcas. The "name" of God is put for God himself, or for his perfections. To "raise up the name of the dead," is explained in  Ruth 4:1-22; while to "put out" one's name, means to extinguish his family,  Psalm 9:5 .