Daniel 1:7 “The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.”
Working in health care for 30 years has given me some perspective, one aspect of people that I find interesting is the myriad of names I encounter. From a family with the last name of ‘Human’, to an understanding of major names prevalent to certain countries such as Vietnam and the Nguyen family, characteristics of names gives rise to questions such as origin. The Surnames are so diverse, it’s interesting to discover how these originated.
A surname is a hereditary name common to all members of a family, as distinct from a given name. The surname Sure/Sures is derived from the biblical female personal name Sarah. The meaning of the name is “Sarah’s son/husband/household”. The biblical Sarah/Sarai was the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac (Genesis 11-23). Her name has produced numerous popular diminutives, nicknames and family names.
In some cultures, a surname, family name, or last name is the portion of one’s personal name that indicates one’s family, tribe or community. Practices vary by culture. For instance, In many parts of Asia and in some parts of Europe and Africa, the family name is placed before a person’s given name.
China was one of the earliest civilizations to use surnames. People there reportedly took on family names over three thousand years ago to help improve their census. Last names didn’t come to Europe until later. They can be traced to the Middle Ages. At that time, most Europeans lived in small villages separated by large areas of farmland. People rarely met those from other areas. Everyone knew all others who lived in their village, so there wasn’t really a need for last names. Over time, though, these villages and populations grew. People traveled more. They traded with other places. Soon, they needed a way to tell the difference between people with the same name. Last names started as a way to separate one “John” from another “John.” European last names had many sources. However, they can be put into four groups: patronymic, locative, occupational or status, and nicknames. The first surnames were quite simple. They became more diverse and complex over the years.
Patronymic names identify people as their fathers’ children. For example, a father named Richard might have a daughter named Brooke. She might have become known as Brooke Richards. Locative surnames identify people based on where they were born, lived, or worked. For example, Sara York was probably the Sara who lived in the town of York.
Occupational or status names were also common. They were based on jobs or social status. Andrea Baker was probably the Andrea in the village who was a baker. Robert Knight might have chosen his surname to reflect his social standing as a knight.
Other common last names were based on nicknames. These were usually words that helped to describe a person in some way. These may have been based on size (long, short, little) or a personality characteristic (stout, stern, jolly).
Many last names have been forgotten over time. This was especially common when people were brought from Africa to be enslaved in the United States. Slave owners often stripped these people of both their first and last names. Over generations of enslavement, their original surnames were forgotten.
So why the long introduction over names?
Names have been important in history, matter of fact even God ordained.
Biblical Importance to Names
When Jesus was to be born, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and made sure he knew what to call the Messiah.
Matthew 1:21 “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
The name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew name Yeshua/Y’shua, which is based on the Semitic root y-š-ʕ (Hebrew: ישע), meaning “to deliver; to rescue.
Names often indicated the purpose by which a person was called; Other times, a name would be changed to indicated a status that God ordained for that person.
God changed Abram’s name, meaning “high father,” to “Abraham,” meaning “father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5). At the same time, God changed Abraham’s wife’s name from “Sarai,” meaning “my princess,” to “Sarah,” meaning “mother of nations” (Genesis 17:15).
When the Lord told the very aged couple of Abraham and Sarah they were going to have a son, Abraham laughed, it says, and thus they were to name their son Isaac, meaning ‘laughter’. When Abraham thought he would need his lineage to come through someone who could conceive children, he slept with his mistress Hagar. When she conceived of Ishmael, it says “And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the LORD has heard your cry of distress.”
Names had significance and if someone’s life began to take a turn for the better or worse, the name would often be changed to reflect the decisions they made in life.
God changed Jacob’s name, which meant “supplanter,” to “Israel,” meaning “having power with God” (Genesis 32:28). This happened after Jacob had taken Esau’s birthright (Genesis 25) and stolen Esau’s blessing (Genesis 27).
In the New Testament, Jesus changed Simon’s name, meaning “God has heard,” to “Peter,” meaning “rock” when He first called him as a disciple (John 1:42).
We see this culture of names not only found in Israel, but in other kingdoms such as Babylon.
When Israel was overthrown by King Nebuchadnezzar, many people were taken to Babylon to serve. The young men commonly known as Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel had ancestral names that were changed on their arrival.
Daniel=God is my judge.
Daniel was changed to Belteshazzar=Bel(Babylonian god) protects my life.
Hananiah=The Lord is gracious
Hananiah’s name was changed to Shadrach=under the command of Aku(Babylonian god of the moon)
Mishael=Who is like our God?
Mishael’s name was changed to Meshach=Who is like Aku?
Azariah=The Lord Helps
Azariah’s name was changed to Abednego=servant of Nebo(god of art and vegetation)
The culture often dictated the name, the God of Israel was represented in HIs people’s names and so idolatrous nations would change the names to honor their own gods.
If names are so significant, what does that say about us today?
God’s name is to be Revered
Exodus 20:7 “You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”
The New Living translation version of the 3rd commandment gives a sacred notation to God’s name. Some versions describe the commandment as taking God’s name in vain.
In the book “Desiring God” by John Piper, he reminds us of God’s name as declared to Moses “I Am” sent you. Built on the verb “I Am” is the term Yahweh, and in several verses we see God declaring His name as Holy.
John goes on to say “But the very fact that the name Yahweh has a meaning reminds us that, in the Bible, someone’s name tells decisive things about the person. They are not mere labels that help you distinguish one person from another. They are expressions of a person’s reality.”
The reality of God is expressed in His name, thus if we use His name inappropriately, we offend the expression of who He is.
Isaiah 57:15 “For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
A warning goes forth: “Don’t take God, or anything that his name expresses about his reality, in vain.”; He is a jealous God, He must be supreme in our affections and honor, His name must be exalted.
What does it mean to take God’s name in vain?
- Jeremiah 2:30: “In vain have I struck your children; they took no correction.”
- Jeremiah 4:30: “In vain you beautify yourself. Your lovers despise you.”
- Jeremiah 6:29: “In vain the refining goes on, for the wicked are not removed.”
- Jeremiah 46:11: “In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you.”
- Malachi 3:14: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge?’”
So, in vain means futile, empty, pointless, wasted: You spank the children, but there’s no correction. You put on makeup, but there are no lovers. You put the wicked through the refiner’s fire, but there’s no repentance. You take the medicine, but there’s no healing. You serve God, but there’s no profit. It all happens in vain.John Piper/Desiring God
When Jesus was giving perspective to His disciples regarding what is important, He reminded them of the eternal value of how God establishes your name.
Luke 10:20 “Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
You may ask, why would our names be written in Heaven and where would God write them?
Only those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb may enter in…for those who have been sanctified, God knows their names.
Revelation 21:27 “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”
The process of making a name for yourself in God’s Kingdom is not reliant upon your ancestral heritage, your great accomplishments, or your career; the names in God’s book are placed there only by the blood of Jesus.
For all who have rejected so great of a salvation, their names are written under the conviction of the law. To all who have accepted the grace of God in Jesus Christ, their names have been exonerated and placed within God’s book of the redeemed.
We, God’s people, who have descended from an ancestry of faith in God, carry on the name of Christ in our testimony. We become ambassadors of the King and His name is written on our hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:2,3 “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”
What name will be your heritage into eternity?
Will your name be exemplified by how you glorified yourself, or how you glorified the One worthy to be glorified?
Whatever you do, consider this….your legacy will continue forever.