What’s in a Name?



I am fascinated by the variety and number of names people are using for their newborns. The new names I have never heard before fall into all different responses on the spectrum for me. Some of them are lovely and lyrical. Others land with a thud on my ears. And others beyond that cause me to wonder ‘what were you thinking’. (As a former schoolteacher, I am well aware of how students respond when called on when their name is unusual.)


Most surprising in recent years has been the resurgence of what I would call “old” names that I associate with great aunts and uncles and grandparents of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Names like Edna or Mabel come to mind.


My family has not been without unique names. My mother’s first name was Delight and her sister was Gloine. I have never heard either of those names used anywhere else. Then, of course, their father’s first name was Banks!


When I am reading in passages in the Old Testament and sometimes stumbling over names, I can grow weary with reading the lists of names. Even so, I know names have meaning and significance. I am not a true student of all of the meanings, but I was very much aware of the meaning of the name, David, when we chose it for our son. I seriously was excited that when I used his name it meant “well beloved” and it was not only true, but it also conveyed to any and all that blessing.


I confess that David is a name I have always loved. It was one of my grandfather’s names and now I am blessed to have a son-in-law with that first name as well as two grandsons who have it as part of their names as either a first or second name along with our son.


Antisthenes in 400 B.C. said, “The beginning of all instruction is the study of names.”


 Reading the Bible demonstrates the value placed on names by the Israelites. The lineage of names is found in Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Matthew, and Luke. When the canon of scripture was determined, the inclusion of these sometimes-lengthy sections suggests their importance.


Biblically, names denote natural or physical qualities and might also point to an occupation. Names may point to a symbolic or prophetic feature or may be given indifferently to men and women. Certainly, names were connected with family relationships and were fixed immediately after birth with the mother usually choosing the name.


Names carried a religious relationship and significance and those names considered most important were given with intentionality.


In Proverbs 22: 1, Solomon wrote, “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches”.


Despite the seemingly endless list of new names, research shows that nearly half the people of the civilized world have names originating from the collection in the Bible.


Two names were given before their birth: John the Baptist and Jesus.


It is also of note that some names in the Bible were changed by God’s direct intervention (Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel.


I am also fascinated by the passage in Revelation 2:17 in the message to the Church in Pergamum which reads:


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”


Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says of this passage:


“The influences and comforts of the Spirit of Christ, come down from heaven into the soul, for its support. This is hidden from the rest of the world. The new name is the name of adoption; when the Holy Spirit shows his own work in the believer’s soul, this new name and its real import are understood by him.”


What’s in a name? Clearly, there can be great significance even though in our modern day we may think of it far less often.


When I was about to be married to my wonderful fiancé, I was aware my maiden last name was difficult to pronounce for many and also often misspelled. Nonetheless, it had value to me because it was one that was respected for the character and values it represented in our community as a result of my father and his family’s witness.


I am called by a number of names and nicknames by the people in my life, but the name I am most interested in is the one Jesus calls me.


 Recently I was reading about how Jesus’ disciple, John, is most often referred to in scripture. He’s called “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.


Wow! I LOVE that!


Clearly, Jesus loved all of His disciples, but none but John had this reference. What about his identity, his devotion, his character resulted in this reference being given to him alone?


Reading “the disciple whom Jesus loved” reverberates in my heart.


What name or attribute would Jesus give me?


What would He give you?




15 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I love to think about that last question…about what name God would give me. I’ve always smiled when I read John’s nickname. To be called the “the one whom Jesus loved” is the sweetest compliment.
    Thank you for linking with Grace and Truth last week!

  2. What a great post, Pam. I love looking at the names in the Bible. It adds to the richness of knowing their family and their history. It ties it all together in so many cases. I looked at the meanings of all my children’s names before I named them and we have even talked about it with them for fun. They also meant something for me to choose their names based on my own history. Such a fun read. Thank you so much for sharing with us at Sitting Among Friends on Wednesdays. I look forward to seeing you again.

    1. Thanks so much, Jaime, for checking out my link and taking time to encourage me in your response. I have only been doing this for about 6 months and looking forward to see what the Lord has in mind. I will look for you Wednesday! God bless!

  3. LOVE your blog Pam! Beautiful! The names you mentioned in your post brought a smile to my lips. Mabel, Otto, Geralda, Harvey, Elsie…all names from my family’s tree. I haven’t thought about them for quite some time. Blessings to you friend. KEEP writing! (Stopping over from #livefree. 🙂 )

  4. Wow, Pam – I found this post fascinating! Truly, great insight into names and our being called. I love the commentary you quote from Matthew Henry: “The new name is the name of adoption; when the Holy Spirit shows his own work in the believer’s soul”. Thanks for blessing me with this post!

  5. Hi Pam! Names were so important in biblical times, and in our early history. They weren’t chosen because they ‘sounded good’ or were in the family, they had meaning. I love to read about that in the bible, it’s really beautiful.
    Your family names are really unusual! How did you end up with Pam? Just think what your name could have been?
    My first name is Cecilia, and that name means ‘blind’ which I used to take exception to quite a bit. But now? Eh. We’re all blind in one way or another, right?
    Have a blessed Thursday!

    1. Hi, my friend! Yes, those family names are! My paternal grandmother’s name was Barbara and that was what she wanted me to be named, but my parents didn’t like that and chose my name from something they had read. The name Pamela is an English name invented in the 16th century to be the heroine of the book, Arcadia, written by Sir Philip Sydney. It is widely taken to mean “all sweetness”. I was not excited by it in elementary school because when the formal roll was called, it sounded so stuff and formal.
      Thanks for sharing about your own name! Looks like the Lord has redeemed your name and given you sight as I read your posts!! 🙂
      Love and blessings,

  6. Hi Pam, Your post is very interesting. I also knew that names have significance but have not looked deeper into meanings. You’ve intrigued me to look some up! Thank you.

  7. I loved how much light you shed on the significance of names, but especially the names Jesus has for us, names that are born out of His everlasting love for us. Child of God; Daughter of the King, to name a few.

    Thanks so much for sharing such an edifying post!

    1. Thanks, Karen! Exactly right! My heart never fails to swell when I am writing in my journal and hear Him respond with “My Daughter”! I so appreciate your encouragement! Blessings on your day!

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