Israelite Names—Witnesses of Deity


Israelite Names—

We in the latter-day church of Jesus Christ have a number of ways to help us remember the Lord and our covenants: daily personal and family prayers, the scriptures, the sacrament, weekly Church meetings, monthly fast days, and temple ordinances, for instance.

Ancient Israelites also had methods of remembering God and his commandments: prayer times, regular festivals, fast days, feast days, times of sacrifice, and phylacteries (tiny scrolls of scriptures they carried with them.)

In addition, many had another method of remembering God, one that is particularly interesting to know about as we read the Old Testament: they often named their children after God, his gifts, and his attributes.

The Lord himself gave names with significant meanings to many of his chosen servants. For example, he gave Abram the new name Abraham, which means “Father of a Multitude.” Abraham’s new name reflected the covenants and rich promises God had made with him.

Naming Children after an Aspect of Religious Life

Of the approximately fourteen hundred personal names preserved in the Bible, more than one-fifth, or some three hundred, contain the name of God (either El, whose plural is Elohim and whose name is often translated into English as God; or Yah, short for Yahweh or Jehovah, the English version of the Old Testament name for Jesus Christ). These names had well-defined grammatical forms and meanings that reflected certain attributes, qualities, virtues, and character traits of God.

The convention of naming children after deity was not unique to the Israelites. Many ancient societies observed the practice. But the Israelites often used names that revealed the unique nature of their God. The custom resembles the early English and American practice of naming daughters after Christian virtues, such as patience, hope, faith, or charity. Many Israelite daughters were similarly named. The Israelites often went one step further. For instance, instead of naming a child Faith, the parents would give him a name that meant “God Is full of faith.” A few examples follow:

Some names refer to vital doctrines, such as Asaiah (“Jehovah has made”) and Ammiel (“People of God,” or “My kinsman is God”). Some refer to God’s blessings to us, such as Hezekiah (“My strength is Jehovah,” or “Jehovah strengthens”) and Elidad (“My God has loved”). Some refer to his attributes, qualities, and virtues, such as Jozadak (“Jehovah is just,” or “Jehovah is righteous”) and Eliada (“God knows”). Some refer to his majesty and glory, such as Athaliah (“Jehovah is exalted,” or “Jehovah is strong”) and Eliphaz (“My God is fine gold”). Some refer to his omnipotence, such as Jahaziel (“God sees”).

The names of many of the Old Testament prophets were also witnesses of God and his powers and attributes: Daniel (“God is a judge”), Elijah (“My God is Jehovah”), Elisha (“God shall save,” or “God is salvation”), Ezekiel (“God strengthens”), Isaiah (“Jehovah is salvation”), Jeremiah (“Jehovah raises up”), Joel (“Jehovah is God”), Michael (“One who is like God”). (See accompanying chart “Hebrew Names and Their Meanings.”)

Although many of the ancient Israelites were simply following established custom in so naming their children, others undoubtedly used names this way to help themselves and their children observe the first great commandment among Saints of all ages—to love the Lord their God. (See Deut. 6:5–7.)

The Name of the Lord

In our society today, naming our children after qualities and attributes of God—except as the words are concealed in Hebrew or other foreign-language names—seems strange to some people. Still, Church members are all known by the Lord’s name, and we covenant weekly to take his name upon us. In the sacramental prayer, we “witness” unto God that we “are willing to take upon [us] the name of [his] Son.” (D&C 20:77.)

This practice also dates back to Old Testament times. The Lord said to Abraham, “I will take thee, to put upon thee my name.” (Abr. 1:18.) To Moses he declared, “[Aaron and his sons] shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” (Num. 6:27.)

King Benjamin taught that “there is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ. …

“Whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.” (Mosiah 5:8–9.) We not only take upon us the Lord’s name, but we will also be called by that name.

Who will call us by His name? Benjamin answers that it is the Master himself: “Remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, … that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.” (Mosiah 5:12.)

Alma reiterated this important principle: “The good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ.” (Alma 5:38.)

Many of us are not given names that remind us to follow the Lord and live the gospel. But the Lord’s name, which we have covenanted to take upon us, can provide both model and motivation. By remembering that we are called after the greatest Man who ever lived, and by seeking to become more like him, both we and our children can more consistently walk the straight path that leads us back to our Father.

Hebrew Names and Their Meanings

The following are Hebrew given names that tell us something about God. Each teaches a different principle, helping us to better understand the significance of names in the Old Testament and giving us renewed witnesses of God himself. (The Hebrew form of the name most often used is Yah. More familiar is the English form, Jehovah, which is the one used in this article. For El, the article uses God.) Note: Most of these names were given to sons, a few to daughters, and several to either sons or daughters. Many names have been translated differently by different scholars. Where significant differences exist, alternate translations are supplied.

Names that Teach of the Atonement

Athaiah—Jehovah has succored or has made Eliphelet—My God rescues Elishua—My God is salvation Isaiah—Jehovah is salvation Izrahiah—Jehovah will arise Jeremiah—Jehovah raises up Joshua—Jehovah saves or helps Mehujael—God causes to live, or Smitten of God Paltiel—God is my deliverance Pedaiah—Jehovah ransoms Pelaliah—Jehovah has mediated or arbitrated or interceded Raphael—God has healed

Names that Teach of God’s Relationship to Us

Abijah—Jehovah is my father Adonijah—Jehovah is my Lord Adriel—Flock of God Ahijah—My brother is Jehovah Ammiel—People of God, or My kinsman is God Daniel—God is a judge Dodavah—Beloved of Jehovah Eldaah—God has called or loved Eleazar—God has helped Elijah—My God is Jehovah Gabriel—Man or warrior of God Hodiah—Praise of Jehovah, or God is my splendor, or Splendor is of Jehovah Jedidiah—Loved by Jehovah Lemuel—Belonging to God Malchiel—My king is God Micah (and Michaiah)—Who is like Jehovah Michael—One who is like God Mikneiah—Possession of Jehovah Obadiah—Servant of Jehovah Reuel—Friend of God

Names that Teach of God’s Blessings to Us

Ahaziah—Jehovah upholds or holds firm Amasiah—Jehovah has borne Anaiah—Jehovah has answered Ananiah—Protected or covered by Jehovah Azaziah—Strengthened or helped by Jehovah Azriel—My help is God Barachel—God blesses Elhanan—God shows favor or is gracious Eliakim—God sets upright or raises up Eliashib—God causes to return or restores Elidad—My God has loved Elisha—God shall save or is salvation Elisheba—God of the oath Elnathan—God has given Gaddiel—My fortune is God Gamaliel—My reward is God, or Recompense of God Gedaliah—Jehovah has magnified Haggiah—Jehovah is my festival Hananeel—God has shown favor or is gracious Hashabiah—Jehovah has taken into account or considered Hezekiah—My strength is Jehovah, or Jehovah strengthens Ibnijah—Jehovah builds Igdaliah—Jehovah makes great or is great Immanuel—God is with us Ishmael—God hears Israel—God contends, or He strives with God Jehoiakim—Jehovah raises up Jehoshabeath—Jehovah is an oath, or Abundance or Wholeness of Jehovah Joezer—Jehovah is help Johanan—Jehovah has shown favor Jonathan—Jehovah has given Josiah—Jehovah supports or gives Jozabad—Jehovah has bestowed, or Jehovah is a gift Nathanael (or Nathaneel)—God has given Nedabiah—He whom Jehovah fills to overflowing Nehemiah—Jehovah consoles, or Comfort of Jehovah Pekahiah—Jehovah has opened, or Jehovah open his eyes Semachiah—Jehovah has sustained or supported Shelumiel—God is my peace Shemariah—Jehovah has guarded or kept or preserved Uriah—Jehovah is light or fire Zephaniah—Jehovah protects or has concealed or has sheltered

Names that Teach of God’s Majesty and Glory

Adaiah—Jehovah has adorned or ornamented himself Adiel—God is an ornament Athaliah—Jehovah is exalted or strong Eliphaz—My God is fine gold Eliud—My God is his praise or majesty Jehoram—Jehovah is high Jochebed—Jehovah is glory Joel—Jehovah is God Zerahiah—Jehovah has shone or arisen or dawned

Names that Teach of God’s Qualities, Attributes, and Works

Amaziah—Jehovah is mighty or strong Asahel—God has made Asareel—God has bound Chenaniah—Jehovah is steadfast Elead—God has testified Eliada—God knows Elizur—My God is a rock Elkanah—God has created or taken possession Elnaam—God is pleasantness or gracious Elpaal—God has acted Hasadiah—Jehovah is faithful Hazael—God has seen Jabneel—God causes to be built, or God is builder Jahdiel—God rejoices Jahzeel—Jehovah divides Jathniel—God has given or is constant Jecoliah—Jehovah can Jehoaddan—Jehovah is pleasing Jehoiachin—Jehovah has established or raises up Jehoshaphat—Jehovah judges or establishes justice Jezreel—God sows Joed—Jehovah is witness Jonadab—Jehovah is generous or noble Jozadak—Jehovah is just or righteous Maaziah—Jehovah is a fortress or a refuge Mehetabel—God does good Pethuel—Vision or Sincerity or Youthfulness of God Tabeel—God is good Zechariah—Jehovah remembers

Sources

Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. E. Robinson, 2d. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951).

Madeleine S. Miller and J. Lane Miller, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 8th ed. (New York, N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1973.)

O. Odelain and R. Seguineau, Dictionary of Proper Names and Places in the Bible, trans. Matthew J. O‘Connell (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981).

[illustration] Illustrated by Mark Robison

Jay A. Parry serves as bishop of the South Cottonwood (Utah) Third Ward.

His brother, Donald W. Parry, is an instructor in biblical Hebrew at Brigham Young University and Scout committee chairman in the Grandview Fourth Ward, Provo, Utah.