Throughout the Bible, names are full of meaning. Scholars have long recognized that both for ancient Israel and the ancient Near East as well as for early Judaism and Christianity, the name of a person, place, or thing was somehow connected to and descriptive of its essence and/or personality. Thus names of individuals expressed their personality and status or nature. This is reflected in those stories where an individual's name is changed in recognition of a changed nature, personality, or status. Examples include Jacob's name being changed to Israel following his successful all‐night wrestling match with an unnamed (!) divine being (Gen. 32.22–32) and Abram's name being changed to Abraham after the institution of the covenant (Gen. 17.1–8). The same phenomenon occurs in the name change or assumption of an additional name or throne name by kings in ancient Israel, as when Mattaniah is renamed Zedekiah (2 Kings 24.17). The names of a newborn children seem normally to have been carefully chosen to reflect the circumstances of their birth as well as to indicate something of their personality or status.
Types of Names.
Names may be divided into two categories: personal names and place names. Within these two categories we may also speak of simple names, consisting of one element, and compound names, consisting of two or more elements. Simple names for individuals may be taken from the names of plants and animals (Deborah = bee/hornet; Huldah = weasel). Compound names may be formed from nouns, but most compounds are sentence names that bring together a form of the divine name (Yo‐[Jo‐] or Yeho‐ [Jeho‐] and ‐yah[u], all derived from “Yahweh”; or El; see Names of God in the Hebrew Bible) or a title of God (father, king, etc.) plus a verb, noun, or adjective descriptive of God (e.g., Elijah = Yah[weh] is God [ʿēl]). Names that incorporate a divine name, called theophoric names, can also occur in a short form in which the divine name is omitted; this short form is called a hypocoristicon (e.g., Jonathan/Nathan; Berechiah/Baruch).
Process of Naming.
In the Hebrew Bible, children are regularly named by the mother shortly after birth (Gen. 4.1, 25; 16.11; 19.37–38; 29.32–35; 30.6–24; 35.18; 38.4–5; Judg. 13.24; 1 Sam. 1.20; 1 Chron. 4.9; 7.16), but the father or others could and frequently did also name the child (Gen. 4.26; 5; 3.28–29; 16.15; 17.19; 21.3; 35.18; 41.51–52; Exod. 2.22; Judg. 8.31; 1 Chron. 7.23; Hos. 1.4, 6, 9; Ruth 4.17). Genesis 30.6–24 preserves the stories of the births and namings of seven of the sons and one daughter of Jacob. In each case, punning or wordplay in the giving of the name is evident. Usually English translations supply the reader with notes that elucidate the wordplays found in the Hebrew text. Whether wordplay always played an important role is uncertain.
In the Hebrew Bible children were named shortly after birth, but in the New Testament the practice of waiting eight days to name a male child at his circumcision is attested (Luke 1.59; 2.21). Luke's story of the naming of John the Baptist also attests to the development within ancient Judaism of naming a newborn boy after either his father or grandfather. In the Second Temple period the latter practice is well attested in the family of the high priests.
From at least the Persian period onward, Jews often were given a non‐Hebrew (Babylonian, Greek, Latin, etc.) name in addition to their Hebrew name. Biblical examples include Hadassah/Esther (Esther 2.7), Simon Peter (Matt. 4.18; Acts 10.5), John Mark (Acts 12.12), and Saul/Paul (Acts 13.9).