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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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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.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Names'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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