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Name / Naming a Child


The Hebrews considered a person’s name equivalent to that person signifying his worth, character, reputation, authority, will, or ownership. In the Bible, the name of a person stands for that individual (Rev 3:4) and the name of the Lord stands for God or Jesus himself (Prov 16:10; Ps 18:49; 86:12; Mal 3:16; Mt 10:22; 19:29; Jn 3:18). So, they did not dare to use the name of God. Instead, they used the word “LORD.”

Name that stands for a person has different meanings in the Bible:
1) To forget God’s name was equal to deviating from Him (Jer 23:37).
2) To name a person shows one’s ownership of that person (Gen 1:5, 8,10; 2:19-20; 2 Sam 12:28; Am 9:12).
3) To speak or write in one’s name shows authority (Ex 5:23; 1Kgs 21:8).
4) To act in someone’s name was to represent that person (Deut 25:6).
5) To blemish someone’s name is to destroy that person (Deut 9:14; 2 Kgs 14:27; Isa 14:22; Rev 3:5).
6) Name signified a person’s reputation (Mk 6:14; Rev 3:1), and his or her character (Eccl 7:1; Mt 6:9).
7) Christ revealed the Father’s name, meaning that He has made God known to the humanity (Jn 17:26).
8) To believe in the name of Christ is to believe in the person of Christ (Jn 1:12; 2:23).
9) To gather in Jesus’ name is to gather in His mind, will, and purpose (Mt 18:20).


The name Jesus in English is equivalent to Joshua. It means “Savior.” God, through Angel Gabriel, asked Joseph and Mary to name the child Jesus because “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Thus, the name Jesus expressed his special mission in this world. Joseph named Jesus according to the revelation he received from the Angel of the Lord in his dream (Mt 1:21). Thus, Joseph accepted Jesus to his family and acknowledged him as his legal son.


The name of Jesus is most used in prayers and baptism. We start prayers in the name of the Most Holy Trinity by saying, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We usually conclude a Christian prayer saying, “We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord” because Jesus taught us to pray in his name. “And everything you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (Jn 14:13).

According to Jesus’ instruction, (Mt 28:19) every person should receive baptism in the Trinitarian formula by saying “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Apostles performed miracles in Jesus’ name (Acts 4:10; 16:18). Thus, Christians prayed and were baptized in Jesus’ name from the early church onwards.


Exceptional people had the privilege to receive name or change of name from God:

1. Adam: God “created them male and female. When they were created, he blessed them and named them humankind” (Gen 5:2).

2. Ishmael: The Lord’s angel told Hagar: “You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael, For the LORD has heeded your affliction” (Gen 16:11).

3. Abraham: God changed the names of Abram and his wife Sarai. “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen 17:5).

4. Sarah: “God further said to Abraham: As for Sarai your wife, do not call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah” (Gen 17:15).

5. Isaac: God told Abraham, “Even so, your wife Sarah is to bear you a son, and you shall call him Isaac” (Gen 17:19).

6. Israel: After Jacob wrestled with a man, he told Jacob, “You shall no longer be named Jacob, but Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed” (Gen 32:29).

7. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz: Isaiah wrote about his son’s birth, “The LORD said to me: Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz, for before the child learns to say, ‘My father, my mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria shall be carried off by the king of Assyria” (Isa 8:3-4).

8-10. Children of Hosea: Gave named Prophet Hosea’s son Jezreel (Hos 1:4), daughter Lo-Ruhamah (Hos 1:6), and his second son Lo-Ammi (Hos 1:9).

11. John the Baptist: Angel Gabriel asked Zachariah the name of his son John (Lk 1:13).

12. Jesus: Angel asked Mary in her vision (Lk 1:31) and to Joseph in a dream (Mt 1:21) to name the child to be born as Jesus.


Jesus renamed Simon’s name to Peter (Mt 16:18). Jesus gave a common nickname for James and John. “He appointed the twelve: Simon, whom he named Peter; James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom he named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder” (Mk 3:16-17). Unlike Peter, Boanerges is not used elsewhere.


The Jews named a male child near the birth or at the time of circumcision on the eighth day. They named girls within 30 days of their birth. The Jews gave the grandfather’s name, and in exceptional cases, the father’s name, to the male child. They gave the father’s name when they were unsure of his name’s continuation to the next generations. The priest and relatives considered giving Zechariah’s name to his child. Otherwise, his name could not extend to the next generation because John was his only son who will remain single with Nazirite vow.

The name of a person expresses his personality. Parents named a child on the basis of their perception, divine role in the birth, the child’s birth order, character, probable future mission, physical traits, or place of birth. For example, Adam means man, a human being, or red (colour of the earth) (Gen 2:7), Noah means rest or comfort (Gen 5:29), Abraham means father of a multitude (Gen 17:5), Moses means drawn out of the waters (Ex 2:10), David means beloved (1 Sam 13:14) John means “Yahweh has shown favour” and Jesus means saviour or ‘Jehovah is salvation’ (Mt 1:21).

A child’s father names the child according to the names of the forefathers in the family, declaring that the child was his beloved one. However, there are exceptions in the Bible when God decides the name of a child before or after birth. Examples of persons God named before birth are Ismael (Gen 16:11), Isaac (Gen 17:19), Solomon (1 Chr 22:9), Josiah (1Kgs 13:2), Jezreel (Hos 1:4), Lo-Ruhamah (Hos 1:6), Lo-Ammi (Hos 1:9), Cyrus (Isa 44:28), John the Baptist (Lk 1:13), Jesus (Mt 1:21; Lk 1:3). These naming by God with significant meaning demonstrate God’s authority over the children to be born and their role in God’s redemptive plan. Examples of God renaming are Abram to Abraham (Gen 17:5), Sarai to Sarah (Gen 17:15), Jacob to Israel (Gen 32:29; 35:10), Solomon to Jedidiah (2 Sam 12:24-25) and Jesus renamed Simon to Peter (Mt 16:17-18).

In the Biblical tradition, either the mother or the father could name the child. For example, Leah and Rachel named their children and their maidservants’ children (Gen 29:31–30:24). Rachel had named her second son Benoni at her deathbed. However, Jacob, the child’s father, renamed him Benjamin (Gen 35:18). Hannah named her son Samuel (1 Sam 1:20). Abram named his son Ishmael from Hagar (Gen 16:15). Moses named his son Gershom (Ex 2:22). There were exceptions when others also named children: Pharaoh’s daughter named her adopted son Moses (Ex 2:10). Naomi’s female neighbours named her son Obed (Ruth 4:17).


God asked not to use His name in vain to avoid disrespect to God. We use Jesus’ name in our prayers, seeking favors from God based on the merits of His Son, Jesus. We wish others to use our name with respect and honor. Similarly, we have to avoid dishonoring the reputation of others. With our limited wisdom and knowledge, we are unworthy to judge others. Let us leave that to God and respect all.

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