Names Have Meanings—Especially God’s
Names identify us, and some believe they can shape our personality. Yet some do not take names seriously. Here’s why we should take names more seriously.
One of the first duties of parents is to name their child. My wife and I have given considerable thought in choosing names for our children. The names some people choose can be—to put it kindly—surprising. When our niece was born, we visited her and her mother in the hospital. Across from her was a bed with a baby named “Notorious.” An interesting choice …
New Zealand’s Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages released a list of baby names that were attempted and denied in 2017. The office rejects names that are deemed offensive; are unreasonably long; sound like a title; or are punctuation, numbers or letters. Some names that were rejected include “.” (would that be pronounced “Full Stop”?), “/” (“Back Slash”), “Lucifer,” “V8,” “Lady,” “King” and “Saint” (to name a few).
But the article explains that New Zealand is not the only country that bans controversial baby names. Here are a few that other nations forbid:
- Malak/Angel (Saudi Arabia).
- Facebook (Mexico).
- Ikea (Sweden).
- Nutella (France).
- Judas (Switzerland).
- Adolf Hitler (Germany).
- Smelly Head (Malaysia).
We may have a laugh with these, but names should be taken seriously. Bad names can subject a child to years of ridicule. Alternatively, a good name can inspire an individual to live up to the meaning of his or her name.
Names in the Bible
Names in the Bible weren’t just words that sounded good, but meant nothing. They had meaning. Sometimes they described the individual or circumstances that surrounded his or her birth. Here are some examples:
- “Adam” was named “ruddy” because he was created out of reddish earth (Genesis 2:19).
- “Peleg” means “division” because the “earth was divided” during his days (Genesis 10:25). This may refer to the scattering of the world’s population (Genesis 11:1-9).
- Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi renamed herself “Mara,” meaning “bitter,” to describe the sad time in her life when she had lost her husband and two sons (Ruth 1:3-5, 20).
- “Isaac” was named “laughter” because his father Abraham laughed when God told him he and his wife would have a baby at such an old age (Genesis 17:17-18, 19).
- “Jabez” means “sorrow.” God answered his prayer requesting that he not live up to the meaning of his name (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).
- “Nabal” means “fool.” Unlike Jabez, he did live up to the meaning of his name because of his treatment of David’s men (1 Samuel 25:25).
Instead of having just one name, God has many names that reveal different aspects of His power and character. Here are just a few of His names and what they mean:
- Elohim: a plural word that reveals God is a family, presently composed of the Father and Son (Genesis 1:1).
- El Shaddai: meaning “Almighty God,” showing His might and power over everything (Genesis 17:1).
Instead of having just one name, God has many names that reveal different aspects of His power and character.I AM THAT I AM: meaning the One who exists forever and has no beginning or parentage (Exodus 3:14).
- YHWH (or YHVH): the tetragrammaton, usually translated as “LORD” in the New King James Version. It is sometimes written in English as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” (though the exact spelling and pronunciation is unknown). The name means the “Self-Existent One.”
- YHWH Yireh: meaning “The LORD Will Provide.” This is what Abraham called God when He provided a sacrificial ram as a substitute for Isaac (Genesis 22:14).
- YHWH Nissi: meaning “The LORD Is My Banner.” This name recognizes God as the One who goes before us and brings victory (Exodus 17:15).
To learn more, read our article “Names of God.”
Proper respect for God’s names
- “Oh my God,” “Oh my” or “OMG.”
- “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” “jeez” or “jeepers.”
- “Gosh,” “gee” or “golly.”
- “My goodness.”
- “Holy …” (e.g. cow, etc.).
To learn more about the problem with using substitutions for God’s name, read “Euphemisms.”
The Third Commandment also forbids us from misusing God’s name in other improper or senseless ways. For example, we are not to make false vows in His name (Leviticus 19:12) or speak lies in His name (Jeremiah 27:15).
We should take names seriously, especially God’s name. The Third Commandment warns us that God “will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). We should use God’s name respectfully and give honor to it when we pray (Leviticus 22:32; Matthew 6:9).