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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Proper Names

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chiefly of the Old Testament. It is interesting, as well as useful, to know the original signification of proper names. The chief use which accrues from an accurate knowledge of them is that we are by their means enabled to attain a more lively apprehension of the truth of ancient history; for in ancient, especially Scriptural, times they were employed with greater discrimination than they are at present.

I. Form of Proper Names. The first fact that strikes us, on a general view of them all, is that the ancient Hebrews always retained the greatest simplicity in the use of names. In reality there is always only one single name which distinguishes a person. Where it is necessary, the name of the father is added; sometimes that of the mother instead, in case she happens to be more celebrated (thus the three heroic brothers, Joab, Abishai, and Asael, are always called after their mother Zerujah [1 Chronicles 2:16]); or the line of descent is traced further back, often to the fourth generation, or even further. Mere epithets, like "David the king," "Isaiah the prophet," always express the actual and significant dignity of a man. The instances in which a person receives two names alternately, as Jacob-Israel, Gideon- Jerubbaal (Judges 6-9), are casual and rare, and are not to be ascribed to a general custom of the people.

1. The simple names exist in great abundance; and their signification, as to the mere word itself, is generally evident: as דָּן, Dan, "judge;" יָמַין, Janmin, the Latin dexter, an ancient name, according to Genesis 46:10; 1 Chronicles 2:27; שָׁאוּל, Saul, "desired," also an ancient name, according to Genesis 46:10; comp. Genesis 36:37; גֶּבֶר , Geber, "hero" (1 Kings 4:19). Thus most of them express an honorable sense; although examples are not wanting of the direct contrary, as עַקֵּשׁ, Ikkesh, "crooked" (2 Samuel 23:26). With what ease also feminine words become names for men is shown by cases like אִיָּה, Aiah, "vulture" (2 Samuel 3:7; 2 Samuel 21:8; comp. Genesis 36:24); יוֹנָה, Jonah, " dove," which are just as applicable to men as the masculine שׁוּעָל, Shual, "fox" (1 Chronicles 7:36). Diminutives, which are so frequently used as proper names by the Arabs, are rare among the Hebrews; but are by no means wanting, as is proved by זְבוּלוּן or זְבוּלֻן, Zebulun, the name of the son of Jacob, and יְדוּתוּן or יְדַיתוּן, Jedithun, the name of the singer of David. All those names which are formed with a prefixed yod are to be considered as especially ancient, because this nominal formation became entirely obsolete in the language, and recurs almost only in proper names, as is shown not only by the well known names יעקב, Jacob, יוס , Joseph, יהודה, Judah, יצחק, Isaac, but also by a number of less common ones, as יָשׁוּב, Jashub (Numbers 26:24); יָרַיב, Jarib (1 Chronicles 4:24);: יִמְלֵךְ, Jamlech (1 Chronicles 4:34); יִעְכָּן, Jachan (1 Chronicles 5:13); יַצְהָר, Izhar (Exodus 6:18); יבְחָר, Ibhar (2 Samuel 5:15); יְפֻנֶּה, .Jephunneh (Numbers 13:6; 1 Chronicles 7:38); יְרחָם, Jeroham (1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Chronicles 8:27); and others. There is an ancient adjectiveending, that in iam or unm, which has fixed itself most firmly in proper names, as אֲחֻזָּם, Ahuzzam (1 Chronicles 4:6); גִּזָּם, Gazzam (Ezra 2:48); מַרְיָם, Miriam, the sister of Moses, and גֵּרְשׁוֹם, Gershom, his son; כַּמְהָם, Chimham (2 Samuel 19:38), which not only exists also in the form כַּמְהוֹם, Chimhom (Jeremiah 42:17), but in כַּמְהָן, Chinzhan (2 Samuel 19:40), according to customary changes.

2. The compound names, however, are more important for history, because they express more complete and distinct ideas than the simple names. Some of them are altogether isolated, as פַּינְהָס, Phinehas, properly "serpent's mouth," the grandson of Aaron; יַשָשְׂכָר, Issachar, the son of Jacob; Oholiab (Exodus 31:6), "father's tent," a name resembling the Greek Patroclus. But most of them bear a general resemblance to each other, and follow in shoals certain dominant opinions and customs; and these last are what we must particularly consider here.

A great number of them owe their origin to the relations of the house, as the sense of the first word of the compound shows. Most of these have the word אֲבַי, abi, "father," for their first member, as Abiezer, Abital, Abigail. Fuirst (Handworterbuch, p. 7, 50) regards these words as names for the Divine Being, rendering such a name as Abimelek, Ab (i.e. God) is king; Abidan, Ab (God) is judge; and so Achitub, Ach (God) is good. Others deny any reference to the Deity in these words, but cannot agree whether they are to be taken literally or figuratively. The Easterns use the word ab (father), etc., to express the possession of any quality. The fox is abu lhusain ("father of the little fort," i.e. the burrower). The mosquito is abu lha s (" father of the axe"), from its sharp instrument of incision. The camel is cbu aeyyub ("father of Job"), from his patience. Many therefore think that such a name as Abinoam ("father of kindness") means merely very kind. Others, as Ewald, regard the words ab, ach, ben, etc., as at least at one time expressive of real relationship, and think such names exhibit an approach to our family names. It sometimes happens that a person appears with the name both in its simple as well as its compound state. For example, Nadab, as well as Abinadab, Ezer and Abiezer, and Abner ("father of Ner") was son of Ner. This seems to imply that something like the present Arabic practice had begun to prevail among the Hebrews. Certain names become hereditary in a family, and a man is expected to name his son by the traditional name. To such an extent is this custom carried that a man whose son should have been called "Yusuf" is styled "Abu Yusuf," even if he has no son; and a woman who is childless rejoices in the name Umm Musa ("Mother of Moses"), because, had she had a son, he would have borne the name "Musa." In all likelihood these words, ab, etc., have not always the same meaning; the connective vowel i is not always a sign of the genitive, but merely of the construct or state of composition. We could more easily admit a metaphorical sense in the compounds with son, since בן is really often used in a highly metaphorical sense. Bathsheba is certainly not the daughter of a man named Sheba (2 Samuel 11:3). Such compound names with son, however, are, on the whole, rare, and are only found in some frequency in 1 Kings 4:7 sq. (See AB)-; (See BEN)-.

Under this class we may also include אישׁ, Ish, "man," with which several names are compounded. Another, but a smaller, class consists of names compounded with עִם, Am, "people," resembling the many Greek compositions with λαός and δῆμος; and just as in Greek δῆμος is placed first or last (Demosthenes, Aristodemos), so also Am is at one time found in the first, and at another in the last place; only that, according to the laws of the Shemitic language, the sense of one of these positions is exactly the reverse of the other. As all these compounds must be conceived to be in the state construct, so likewise we are probably to take the names י רָבְעָם, Jeroboam, properly "people's increaser," a suitable name for a prince, and י שָׁבְעָם, Jashobeam, "people's turner" or "leader;" for, as was observed above, the simple names are often formed with a prefixed jod; and we actually find יָשׁוּב, Jashub, as a simple name in Numbers 26:29; 1 Chronicles 7:1.

Many compound names endeavor to express a religious sense, and therefore contain the divine name. Here we at the same time find a new law of formation: as these compounds are intended to express a complete thought, such as the religious sentiment requires, a name may consist of an entire proposition with a verb, but of course in as brief a compass as possible; and indeed shorter compounds are made with a verb than with a passive participle, as נְתִנְאֵל, Nathanael (in the New Test. Ναθαναήλ, properly "God-gave," i.e. whom God gave, given by God, θεόδοτος or θεόδωρος ), sounds shorter than נְתוּנַיאֵל, Nethuniel, with the participle, which would certainly express the same sense. But since the finite verb, as also any other predicate, can just as well precede as follow, accordingly a great freedom in the position of the divine name has prevailed in this class; and this peculiarity is preserved, in the same case, in the following period: but indeed the Greeks use Δωροθεός as well as θεόδωρος. Thus נְתִנְאַל, Nethaneel (1 Chronicles 2:14), or אֶלְנָתִן, Elnathan (Jeremiah 36:12). The two names are there generally assigned to two different persons; nevertheless, both combinations may form names for the same person, as עִמַּיאֵל, Amnmiel (1 Chronicles 3:5), and אֵַליעָם, Eliam (2 Samuel 11:3), belong to the same individual.

3. Lastly, many proper names have assumed the derivative syllable ι, or - ai (which appears to be only dialectically different from ι, and is chiefly frequent in the later periods); and we must certainly consider that, in some cases, this syllable may possibly form mere adjectives, and therewith simple names, as אֲמַתִּי, Amittai, "trueman," from אֵֶמת, Emeth, "truth," and Barzillai, "Iron," or "Ironman," the name of a celebrated Gileadite family (Ezra 2:61; 2 Samuel 17:27); or that it is derived from a place, as בְּאֵרַי, Beeri (Hosea 1:1; 1 Chronicles 7:36), "he of the well," or he of a place known as the well. But it undoubtedly very often also expresses a genealogical relation, like the Greek ending - ιδης and presupposes a previous proper name from which it is derived; thus the name הוּרַי, Houri (1 Chronicles 5:14), as surely presupposes the above-mentioned Char, as the Greek Philippides does Philippos, and as Ketubai (2:9), one of the descendants of Judah, is connected with the Ketul in 4:11. It is remarkable that the genealogical relation appears to be sometimes expressed by the mere אָּה of motion, as יִעֲקְֹבָה, Jaccobah (v. 36), which would be equivalently expressed by a German name, Zu-Jacob; יְשִׁרְאֵלָה, Isharelah, De Israel (25:14; comp. 1 Chronicles 5:2); and most distinctly in חִשְׁבִּדּ נָה, Hashbadanah, "reckoned to Dan" (Nehemiah 8:4; comp. יָשְׁבְּק שָׁה, Joshbekashah, in 1 Chronicles 25:4).

Among the names of women, the oldest as well as the simplest which are found are actually only suited for women, as Rachel, "Ewe;" Deborah, "Bee;" Tamar, "Palm-tree;" Hannah, "Favor," the mother of Samuel. Those which express such a delicate and endearing sense as Qeren Happuk, "box of eye-ointment" (Job 42:14), and חֶפְצַיבָה, Hephzibah, "my delight is in her" (2 Kings 21:1), betray that they were generally formed in much later times. It appears indeed to have been customary, at an early period, to form names for women from those of men, by means of the feminine termination; as חִגַּית, Haggith (2 Samuel 3:4), besidesחִגַּי, Haggai (Numbers 26:15); מְשֻׁלֶּמֶת, Meshullemeth, i.e. Pia (2 Kings 21:19), besides מַשֻׁלָּם, Meshullam, Pius (1 Chronicles 5:13; 1 Chronicles 8:17), and שְׁלֹמַית, Shelomith, Friederike (Numbers 24:11), besides שְׁלֹמֹה, Shelomoh, Friederich. But we must not overlook the fact that all these are instances of simple names; or of those also in which the masculine has already dropped the second member; for Chanani and Zabdi, as is shown below, are. shortened from Chananjah, Zabdijah: no single example occurs from a compound man's name. As the same compound names, however, are sometimes used both for men and women, and as even those very names are applied to women which could not originally have been applicable to any but men, as Abigail, Achiznoam, accordingly we must assume that the plastic power of the language had already exhausted itself in this remote province, and that, for that reason, the distinction of the feminine was omitted.

II. Symbolical Import of Proper Names. As the name was the "sign" of the thing, it expressed as nearly as possible its character; it was the expression of the impression which was produced by the thing named on the beholder. The truer the expression was to the impression, and the truer the impression was to the object, the more nearly did the name represent the thing named. Hence the name in Hebrew is used to signify the collected attributes or characteristics of the object named. This is particularly the case with the divine name. "The Lord descended in the cloud and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious," etc. (Exodus 34), where all these terms furnish but the exegesis of the word name. The use is similar in the New Test. Our Lord says, "I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world" (John 17:6); where name embraces the whole divine nature revealed by the Son, who hath "declared" the Father. In general the name was the result of an effort to embody in language as nearly as possible the nature of objects. When the whole nature could not be taken in, the chief characteristic was seized upon-what struck the eye or any of the senses mainly -and hence arose such names as Esau ("hairy"). When there was no outstanding attribute to seize and embody, some incident was laid hold of connected with the object named, e.g. Moses ("drawn out" of the water); or some feeling in the mind of the namer at the moment of imposing the name, as Benoni ("my son of sorrow"). Even the names of natural objects are full of meaning, often full of poetry, often having reminiscences of ancient times and deeds floating about them. The river names are very suggestive. The Jordan (Yarden, yarad, "to come down" [comp. Ganges, Rhenus]) is the two rapids, one into the Sea of Galilee, and one into the Dead Sea. The Arnon is the stream that "sings" (ranan, to "make a tremulous sound") among the mountains. Jabbok, that which "belches" ("byoks") through the rocky gorge. The Cherith, that which "cuts" its way. So are the names of mountains. Lebanon is the Mont Blanc of Syria, but perhaps named less from its snowy mantle than its bare white ribs of naked stone. Sirion, the "breastplate" of rock. The whole land is full of Abels (grassy meads), Beers (wells), Ayins (fountains); and in the evening the maidens danced in the meads, and called them Abel-meholah (Judges 7:22); and the kids around the fountain, and it was named En-gedi (Joshua 15:62); and the scorpions basked in the sunny slopes, and their haunts were named Akrabbim; and the gazelles bounded across the heights, and men called their favorite resorts Ajalon. See each of the above terms in its place.

For the philological questions involved in the above examination, see the Hebrew lexicons. More special treatises are the following: Redslob, Die alttestam. Namen (Hamb. 1846); Farrar, Proper Names of the Bible (Lond. 1844); Jones, Names in the Old Test. (ibid. 1856); Wilkinson, Names in the Bible (ibid. 1865). (See NAME).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Proper Names'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/p/proper-names.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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