From History of Christian Names, by
Charlotte M. Yonge, 1884.
Hebrew, the sacred
language, and the medium of all our earliest knowledge of the word and of man,
furnishes almost all of the first names known to us, which are in general,
verbs, substantives, or adjectives from that tongue, suggested either by
inspiration or by some of the natural motives observed in the former chapter.
minute history of the naming of the twelve patriarchs, furnish the best
illustrations of the presaging spirit of early nomenclature.
"behold a son," cries the mother in her first pride; Simeon, "He
that heareth," because He had heard her prayer; Levi, a joining, in the
trust that her husband would be joined with her; Judah, praise, in praise of Him
who had given these four sons, and Judah, "thou are he whom thy brethren
shall praise," is repeated by Jacob; Dan, a judge, is so called by
his adoptive mother because her cause is judged, "and Dan shall judge
his people" is his father's blessing; Naphtali commemorates Leah's
wrestling with her sister; Gad is one of the troop round Leah, "and
a troop shall overcome him," saith Jacob; Asher, is blessed,
and Moses cries, "let Asher be blessed;" Issachar, is hire; and
Zebulon, a dwelling, because Leah hope her husband would dwell with her,
and his promise from his father is that he shall dwell. Rachel
cannot name her long-desired first-born without a craving that God would add to
her another son, and thus Joseph means an addition, and when that second
child was given, and she felt that it was at the cost of her own life, she
mourned over him as Benoni, son of my sorrow; but his father with more hopeful
augury called him (probably at his circumcision) Benjamin, son of my right hand.
earlier names were very simple, such as Leah, weary; Adah, ornament. But
about the time of the going into Egypt compound words were employed, family
names began to grow traditional, and several of Egyptian etymology were
Aramaic became the Jewish vernacular, and so continued after the return from
Babylon, nor has it ceased to prevail, under the name of Syriac, among a
considerable portion of the natives of the East.
the Greek invasion of the East, and the establishment of the Macedonian
dynasties of Egypt and Syria, rendered the Grecian the language of foreign
relations and of literature, and caused it to be understood by all who pretended
to polite education, or meddled with politics and commerce. The
Septuagint, or Alexandrian version of the Scriptures, was used in private by the
Græcized Jews, and was the form in which their sacred books known to those of
foreign nations who took interest in them.
The Roman conquest in like
manner brought in a certain amount of influence from the Latin language, though
not to the same extent, since all cultivated Romans were by this time instructed
in Greek as part of their education, and even those of inferior rank used it as
the medium of communication with the people of the East.
in the time of the Gospel history, the learned alone entered into the full
import of the old Hebrew names, nor were new ones invented to suit the occasion,
with a very few exceptions, and these few were formed from the vernacular
Aramean. The custom was to recur to the old family names belonging to
ancestors or kindred, and in the account of the circumcision of St. John the
Baptist we see that a deviation from this practice excited wonder.
Tradition and change of language had, however, greatly marred these old
Hebraisms; Jehoiadah, (j pronounced y,) (known of God,) had after
the captivity lost its significance in the form of Jaddua, then was
Ἰωδαέ, (Hiodae,) and was Latinized as Jaddeus! These
corrupted ancient appellations were the favourites, but imitation and compliment
caused some Greek ones and even some Latin ones to be adopted, some persons
using their national name at home, and bearing another for their external
relations, such as John or Mark, Saul or Paul.
The persons most revered
by Christians, and who have had the most influence on nomenclature, thus bore
either corrupt Hebrew, or else Aramean, Greek, or Latin names, which all have
been handed down to us through the medium of Greek authorship, afterwards
translated into Latin, and thence carried by word of mouth into every Christian
land, and taking shape from the prevalent pronunciation there.
Christians have gone directly to the Greek; but the Western Church used nothing
but the Vulgate translated from the Septuagint and from the original New
Testament. Thus the Old Testament personages, as well as those of the
Gospel, were known to mediæval Europe, and are so still to the greater part of
the continent in their Greco-Latin shape.
But King James I. caused
his translators to go back to the fountain-head, using the original Hebrew and
Greekand only applying to
the Septuagint and Vulgate as means of elucidation, not as authorities. In
consequence, many of the Old Testament names assumed their original shape, as
far as it could be expressed by English letters, but these were mostly those but
slightly known to the world, not those of the principal characters, since the
translators were instructed not to make needless alterations such as should make
the objects of ancient veneration appear in a form beyond recognition.
Therefore it is that some English Old Testament names are unlike those of other
were at work on the New Testament, however, left the ancient names, there
occurring, as they found them in the Greek, and thus arose the disparity we
remark in the title given to the same individual, Noah or Noe, Korah or Core,
Uzziah or Ozias.
the most part Old Testament names, as such, have had little prevalence excepting
under the influence of Calvinism. The Roman Catholic Church neglected them
because they did not convey patronage, and Lutherism has not greatly adopted
them, but they were almost a badge of the Huguenot party in France; and in
England, about the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, a passion for the most
extraordinary and unusual Scripture names prevailed, for which the genealogist
must have carefully searched. William L'Isle, in 1623, complains of some
"devising new names with apeish imitation of the Hebrew," and in
effect there are few of these that do not give an impression of sectarianism or
Puritanism. In England and American, the more obscure and peculiar ones
are chiefly adopted by the lower classes; in Ireland several prevail for another
cause, namely, their supposed resemblance to the native Erse appellations that
were long proscribed by the conquerors.
that were borne by the remnant of faithful Jews, who were the stock on which the
Christian Church was grafted, have gone out into all lands, infinitely modified
by the changes they have undergone in their transit from one people to another.*
Books consulted:Max Müller's Lectures on Language; Proper Names of
Scripture; Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.