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To the Israelites of Bible times, the name of a person had much more significance than it does in most countries today. This applies to the giving of names and the usage of names.

Names given for a purpose

Many factors influenced Israelite parents in their choice of names for their children. In some cases the name was connected with happenings at the child’s birth (Genesis 10:25; Genesis 25:24-26). In other cases parents gave names that expressed their joys or sorrows at the time of the birth (Genesis 29:32-35; Genesis 35:16-18), or expressed their hopes for their own or the child’s future (Genesis 30:24). God at times directed parents to give names that were a prophecy of coming events (Isaiah 8:3-4; Isaiah 8:18; Hosea 1:4; Hosea 1:6; Hosea 1:9).

People in positions of power could give new names to those within their authority as indications of blessing or appointment to places of honour (Genesis 17:5; Genesis 17:15; cf. Philippians 2:9). In some cases a new name may have been given to indicate a new character (Genesis 32:28).

Where there was such a connection between name and character, the request to know a person’s name was a request to know the character indicated by the name (Genesis 32:29; Exodus 3:13; Judges 13:17). Sometimes people remembered a new revelation of God’s character by calling him by a special name that summarized the revelation in a few words (Genesis 22:14; Exodus 3:14; Exodus 17:15; Judges 6:24). To know a person’s name (in this sense) was to know the person (Exodus 33:12; Psalms 9:10; Psalms 79:6).

The name meant the person

Since the name represented the person, Israelites considered it important to have descendants to carry on the family name (Numbers 27:4; Deuteronomy 25:5-6; see INHERITANCE). It was a matter of great shame for the family name to be blotted out (Joshua 7:9; 2 Samuel 14:7; Proverbs 10:7). To honour a person’s name meant to honour the person; to dishonour a person’s name meant to dishonour the person (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 18:21; 1 Kings 1:47; Isaiah 29:23; Matthew 6:9; Romans 2:24; 1 Timothy 6:1).

When an Israelite was called by the name of another person, it meant to be associated so closely as to belong to that person (Deuteronomy 28:9-10; Isaiah 4:1; Jeremiah 14:9; Jeremiah 15:16; Jeremiah 25:29; Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 1:13-15). In the same way, to speak or act in the name of another person meant to speak or act as if one were that person (Deuteronomy 18:20; 1 Samuel 25:5; Matthew 18:20; John 16:23-24; Acts 3:6; Acts 3:16; Acts 9:27-29; Colossians 3:17).

According to this common biblical usage, to make known a person’s name meant to make known the person’s character and activity (Psalms 22:22; Psalms 99:3; John 17:6; Acts 9:15). Anyone who did something for the sake of a person’s name acted as the person’s representative and therefore was concerned with upholding the person’s good character (Psalms 109:21; Acts 9:16). To call upon a person’s name had the same significance as actually calling upon the person (1 Kings 18:24; Psalms 99:6; Acts 2:21). Therefore, those who called upon the name of the Lord could be assured that the Lord himself would save them (Psalms 54:1; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:13).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Name'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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