What’s In a Name?

The name given to us at birth forms the foundation of our identity. As unique personal markers, our name is part of who we are as a person. Being called by name makes us feel respected, recognized, and known. When we feel like just a face in the masses, hearing our name immediately grabs our attention and interest. This is why God places a particular emphasis on calling us by name.

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

Early names carried meaning using nouns and adjectives to describe. Early Biblical names had quite literal translations: Esau -“hairy”, Jacob -“to grab at the heel”, and Abram -“exalted father”. This is why name changes in the Bible are so significant, God is giving the person a new identity. Abram became Abraham – “father of multitudes” and Jacob becomes Israel “retain God”. Jesus does the same when he changes Simon “he who hears” to Peter “rock or stone”. Each of these new names indicates the role they will play in God’s plan.

But God is not like us (which he often reminds us). He is one of a kind and beautifully complex. He can’t be contained by our labels or even our understanding. He forbid idols to be formed in his image and did not supply us with a name because we can’t even begin to contemplate his nature. He only provided the name Yahweh or “I AM” to let us know he is always present. There are many other names that have been used to describe the nature of God.

He is the Potter, the Lion, the Lamb, the Gardener. He is Ancient of Days, the the Alpha and Omega, our Creator, and our Father. He is our Provider, Helper, Redeemer, and Lord. More important that any title, label, or name is who God is to us. We need to remember this when we look at brothers and sisters who may refer to our God by a different name. A name doesn’t change who God is.

The following are just a small sample of the many Hebrew names used to refer to God in the Old Testament or Torah found on Gotquestions.org

EL, ELOAH [el, el-oh-ah]: God “mighty, strong, prominent” (Nehemiah 9:17Psalm 139:19) – etymologically, El appears to mean “power” and “might” (Genesis 31:29). 

ELOHIM [el-oh-heem]: God “Creator, Mighty and Strong” (Genesis 17:7Jeremiah 31:33) – the plural form of Eloah, which accommodates the doctrine of the Trinity. From the Bible’s first sentence, the superlative nature of God’s power is evident as God (Elohim) speaks the world into existence (Genesis 1:1).

EL SHADDAI [el-shah-dahy]: “God Almighty,” “The Mighty One of Jacob” (Genesis 49:24Psalm 132:2,5)

ADONAI [ˌædɒˈnaɪ; ah-daw-nahy]: “Lord” (Genesis 15:2Judges 6:15) – used in place of YHWH, which was thought by the Jews to be too sacred to be uttered by sinful men.

YHWH / YAHWEH / JEHOVAH [yah-way / ji-hoh-veh]: “LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4Daniel 9:14) The revelation of the name is given to Moses “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). This name specifies an immediacy, a presence. Yahweh is present, accessible, near to those who call on Him for deliverance (Psalm 107:13), forgiveness (Psalm 25:11) and guidance (Psalm 31:3).

YAHWEH-JIREH [yah-way-ji-reh]: “The Lord Will Provide” (Genesis 22:14)

YAHWEH-RAPHA [yah-way-raw-faw]: “The Lord Who Heals” (Exodus 15:26)

YAHWEH-NISSI [yah-way-nee-see]: “The Lord Our Banner” (Exodus 17:15)

YAHWEH-M’KADDESH [yah-way-meh-kad-esh]: “The Lord Who Sanctifies, Makes Holy” (Leviticus 20:8Ezekiel 37:28) –

YAHWEH-SHALOM [yah-way-shah-lohm]: “The Lord Our Peace” (Judges 6:24)

YAHWEH-ELOHIM [yah-way-el-oh-him]: “LORD God” (Genesis 2:4Psalm 59:5) – a combination of God’s unique name YHWH and the generic “Lord,” signifying that He is the Lord of Lords.

YAHWEH-TSIDKENU [yah-way-tzid-kay-noo]: “The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16)

YAHWEH-ROHI [yah-way-roh-hee]: “The Lord Our Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1)

YAHWEH-SHAMMAH [yah-way-sham-mahw]: “The Lord Is There” (Ezekiel 48:35)

YAHWEH-SABAOTH [yah-way-sah-bah-ohth]: “The Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 1:24Psalm 46:7) – Hosts means “hordes,” both of angels and of men. He is Lord of the host of heaven and of the inhabitants of the earth, of Jews and Gentiles, of rich and poor, master and slave. The name is expressive of the majesty, power, and authority of God and shows that He is able to accomplish what He determines to do.

EL ELYON [el-el-yohn]: “Most High” (Deuteronomy 26:19)

EL ROI [el-roh-ee]: “God of Seeing” (Genesis 16:13)

EL-OLAM [el-oh-lahm]: “Everlasting God” (Psalm 90:1-3)

EL-GIBHOR [el-ghee-bohr]: “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6)

Although some of these names may be unfamiliar to us, the meaning remains the same. Likewise, the “Allah” of the Muslims is still our same God. We are merely praising the Lord our God in different languages. Why should we view negatively others who also worship the one true God? We have remained divided because our doctrines differ, but that does not mean we are enemies. Often it is really our pride that gets in the way. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all want to believe that their way is the “right” path. We are like the disciples arguing who among them is greatest.

An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.” first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all”.

Luke 9:46-48

Regardless of the name we use to describe our LORD, when God touches our lives the change is undisputable. Regardless of the label we use to describe his people, the expectations remain the same.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

    And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

    and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

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