The first full week of March is “celebrate your first name” week. This is such a fun “holiday” to me because I am fascinated by names and their meanings. And the more I study the Bible, the more I see how every significant name found in it has a meaning that couldn’t be more fitting to either who that person was, what happened to them in their life, or how God revealed Himself to them. Because of this, I take great care in choosing the names of my characters in my book, which I’ll share with you at the end of this blog. But first I want to take a look at the significance of name meanings.
Since the beginning of time, humans have named one another for various reasons: to identify a person, to identify a person’s vocation, to invoke some blessing from supernatural powers, to identify the new individual with ancestors, to describe a physical trait of the child, to mark an event, to identify the individual’s personality, and so on.
In the Old Testament we constantly find people naming their children based upon either something that happened or a desired attribute of their child. Isaac named his son Esau, meaning “hairy,” because he was a rather hairy baby. Esau’s twin brother was then named Jacob, meaning “he grasps the heel,” because that is exactly what he was doing when he came from the womb. Then you have names like Ruth meaning “loyal friend,” David meaning “beloved,” or Boaz meaning “in strength,” which are all very fitting descriptions of who these people were. There were also several names that reflected characteristics of God such as Elijah (“God saves”), Joseph (“God will supply”), Daniel (“God is my judge) and Elizabeth (“God is my oath”).
Not only did people name their children, but God chose names for some of his people. God named the first human of the earth Adam meaning “son of the earth.” Abram was renamed to Abraham meaning “father of a multitude” because he wanted Abraham to remember the promise God made with him. Abraham and Sarah were told to name their son Isaac meaning “one who laughs.” Jacob was renamed Israel meaning “he perseveres with God or let God prevail.” And in the new testament, Zachariah and Elizabeth were told to name their son John meaning “graced by God.”
In each instance people were named for particular reasons and they did not take this responsibility lightly. When you understand the meaning behind a name you get a sense of what’s important to the giver or the beholder of that name.
This concept is not just found in the Bible, but in multiple cultures around the world:
In India there are several different traditions for choosing a child’s name, but one way is based on the child’s horoscope. In the northern parts of the country, every star is associated with a letter of the alphabet, and a child’s name begins with the alphabet of the constellation they are born under or they’ll be named after the constellation itself.
In Kenya, babies born to Swahili speakers are given their first (or “birth”) name by an elderly relative. This name usually refers to the child’s appearance. Later on, the parents choose the child’s adult name.
In China a child’s may be chose to reflect the natural world around, aspects of their personality, or have mystical meanings. Sometimes, the meaning is extremely personal and only known by the parents. Boys are sometimes given meaningless names to trick evil spirits into overlooking them, while girls are usually given more elaborate or graceful names, denoting beauty and virtuous qualities.
In Native American tribes, names are chosen based on the child’s perceived personality. However, if a child’s names proves to be a bad fit as they grow older, parents will give them a new name that better suites their personality. Then at each stage of a Native American’s life they are renamed. These names can be based on their personality, experiences or incidences that have happened to them. They are also named by family and society, providing the individual with a strong social bond to community as well as family.
Names and their meanings are fascinating and it is unfortunate that many in the US seem to have lost this tradition. However, in The Search Series, I spent a lot of time looking at my characters’ personalities. I wanted to chose a name that represented their core attribute. It’s true, not all my characters were given names based on their meaning, but many were. Below you’ll find the character’s name, origin and meaning:
- Amina – Origin: Arabic — Meaning: “trustworthy/honest”
- Aiden – Origin: Irish/Gaelic — Meaning: “little fire”
- Paxton – Origin: Latin/Old English — Meaning: “one who is from a peaceful town”
- Solome – Origin: Hebrew — Meaning: “peace”
- Josiah – Origin: Hebrew — Meaning: “fire of the Lord” (note: Originally, Josiah was the main character. I eventually changed it to Amina and Aiden, but never changed Josiah’s name because I liked it too much.)
- Maya – Origin: English — Meaning: “great” (note: because I first wrote this book in college, I honestly tell you I don’t know why I chose this name.)
- Teivel – Origin: Yiddish — Meaning: “devil”
- Cecilia – Origin: Latin — Meaning “blinded”
- Ruth – Origin: Hebrew — Meaning: “friend”
- Mimi (Ruth’s alias) – Origin: Hebrew — Meaning: “rebellious woman”
- Aryeh – Origin: Hebrew — Meaning: “lion of God, has power”
- Emily – Origin: English — Meaning: “to strive or excel”
- Monique – Origin: French — Meaning: “advisor”
- Paul – Origin: Latin — Meaning: “small” (note: I chose this name not for its meaning but rather after the Apostle Paul)
- Sabaoth – Origin: Hebrew — Meaning: “God of the armies”
- Meshiakh – Origin: Hebrew — Meaning: Anointed (and was used to refer to the Messiah.)
- Notzrim – Origin: modern Hebrew — Meaning: Christian
So tell me your thoughts. Did you name your children (or if you’re a writer, your characters) based on its meaning? Or does your own name have a special meaning? I’d love to hear from you.