Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Saul to Paul, we know of the many name changes that occur in the Bible, but we don’t often understand the reason or significance for these transformations.
Names in the Bible had a much stronger significance than how and why we choose baby names today. People in biblical times wouldn’t choose a moniker based on whether it “sounded nice” or even, “Well, this fill-in-the-blank relative had this name, and we thought we’d pass it down.”
No, names went far beyond that. And a name change often meant a completely altered life from the one the person had lived before.
In this article, we’ll explore the importance of name changes in the Bible, examples of name changes, and what this means for us as believers today.
The Meaning of Name Changes in the Bible
Names often signified a person’s character. Let’s explore the meaning of some popular names in the Bible.
1. Daniel: God is my judge. Daniel witnessed prophecies that often condemned — from kings to entire nations.
2. David: Beloved. This follows David’s character as a man after God’s own heart.
3. Cephas (Peter): Rock. Jesus said Peter would be the rock upon which the church stands when he changes Simon’s name to Cephas (Matthew 16:18).
4. Gabriel: Strong man. This angel appears in visions to announce any news — both great and terrible. A part of the angelic armies, Gabriel emulates the word strong in every way.
So, we get the point. Names in the Bible have deeper meanings. It would determine someone’s purpose, what they represented to a family, and so much more. Moreover, we also have to analyze what a name change means.
Name changes, most often given by God, establishes a new identity and purpose God wants its user to embody.
People can change their own names in the Bible. We see this in the example of Naomi when she encounters so many tragedies that her name now reflects her circumstances. We also see this in Paul who changes his name from Saul, to show the transformation he has experienced as a born-again Christian.
The person who names has power over the person being named.
So, when God changes a person’s moniker in the Bible, he shows he has control over their lives and circumstances, but he also reveals his power.
This is the reason why Nebuchadnezzar gave Daniel and his friends Babylonian names in Daniel 1. He wanted them to be subdued under his reign and might. And as we can see, name-change practices don’t just happen in the nation of Israel.
Examples of Name Changes in the Bible
Along with the examples listed above, let’s explore a few more instances of name changes in the Bible.
Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed (Genesis 32:28).
The trickster Jacob receives a life-changing name-swap to “Israel,” and becomes the father of the Israelite nation.
We’ve also explored examples of Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Simon to Peter, and Saul to Paul, the most prominent examples in the Bible. For a full list of name changes, check out this article.
Why Does This Matter?
God reveals to us a number of things when he changes names in the Bible.
First of all, he shows us that we can have more than one purpose in life. Many of these figures received these name transformations late in life, simply take a look at Abraham and Sarah as a prime example of this.
Nevertheless, God never stops moving and changing us.
Secondly, the name provides security for its owner. Perhaps God has called them into a daunting task such as serving as a patriarch for the Israelite nation (in the case of Jacob).
The name given by God reminds its user who has everything under control and who will help them in their new and intimidating purpose.
Finally, the name serves as a reminder that they are not who they used to be. Whether this implies a good or bad alteration, a name change signifies a person has experienced a metamorphosis and looks very different than they had from their previous self.
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Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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