The Many Names of God


More Names of God

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Today we begin a new study, "The Many Names of God." Names are important. The Biblical idea is that the name and the person are identical. The names we use for God thus tell us who we think God is.

Now, the problem we are going to run into this quarter is that the same Hebrew or Greek name is often rendered differently in different English translations. Even more confusing, the same Hebrew or Greek name is often rendered differently in the same translation. Worst of all, sometimes different Hebrew or Greek names are rendered the same! Even in the same translation!! For this reason, I will often give you the Hebrew or Greek in addition to the English. You may want to do a daily check in the Bible you normally read to see what your translation has.

"What's in a name?" Juliet asks Romeo. "... a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Maybe, maybe not. If roses grew on ugly little flat vines in the grass and were called "stinkweed," I seriously doubt that most people would believe they smelled sweet. The fact is that names are important. One of the biggest joint decisions that married couples make is what to name the baby and it should be a big decision, because the baby's name will greatly affect not only how the baby views himself or herself but also how he or she is viewed by other people. (If you don't believe this, just try applying for a scholarship or a loan under the name "Elmer" or "Gertrude.")

Let me talk about the names in my own family for a minute. Long before my parents were going together, they both liked the name "Regina" (Re-GEE-na, definitely not Reg-EYE-na nor REG-gi-na), which is Latin and means "queen." This is an extremely rare name in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest; I never knew another Regina either growing up or in grad school. It turns out (I learned as an adult) that there was a Sister Regina in the hospital where my mother worked as a practical nurse, and where my father was a patient. Having named their first daughter "Regina," they could hardly name their second daughter with a popular name; they chose "Candace," which is Greek and means "queen." My sister and I always knew that if our parents had had a third daughter, they would have named her "Rani," which is Sanskrit and means ... "queen." The names of their daughters tell you a story about my parents.

The other thing that my sister and I knew growing up is that anyone who said "Candace" or "Regina" was talking to us. Neither one of us would ever put up with Candy, Reggie, Reg, REG-ina, Reg-EYE-na, Virginia, or Gina. In my case, anyone who did this was answered with a peremptory "My name is Regina, and if you can't pronounce that, you can call me Lee, because that's my middle name!" This happened frequently, because I was a stubborn little brat with a name so rare that strangers very often could not hear it, pronounce it, or spell it. The single best thing about Albuquerque is that while my name is still unusual I almost never have to repeat it, correct it, or spell it for anybody! I've recently been in touch with some long-lost cousins, and one remarked totally out of the blue that he used to call my sister "Candy" just because it annoyed her so much. Eventually we added "Mom" and "Grandma" to our list of names. Our names tell you stories about me and my sister.

Having grown up knowing exactly who people were talking to when we heard our names, my sister and I chose unusual and even rare names for our children. Our children in turn have chosen unusual or rare names for our grandchildren. Not one of the ten descendants of my parents has a name that was in the top 100 for either sex in the 20th-century United States! Our names tell you a story about our family.

Now, God has been around for a long time (strictly speaking, for all time) and consequently has a lot of names. Several of these names mean "God." About a dozen appear to be different names, like "Regina" and "Lee." Some of the names shade over into descriptions, like "Grandma." Usually scholars know for sure what the meaning of a name is; sometimes not. Some names occur frequently in the Bible and are familiar to us, others are rare and familiar, still others are rare and unfamiliar. One is even unpronounceable. During this quarter, we are going to look at about 60 of these names. They will tell us stories about God, about the Trinity, and about the Judeo-Christian community of faith.

More Names of God
Names of God - Introduction
Sacred Names - Part 1
Sacred Names - Part 2
Other Names - Part 1
Other Names - Part 2
Other Names - Part 3
Names of Jesus - Part 1
Names of Jesus - Part 2
Names of Jesus - Part 3
Names of Jesus - Part 4
Names of Jesus - Part 5
Names of Jesus - Part 6
Names of Jesus - Part 7
Names of Jesus - Part 8
Names of Jesus - Part 9
Names of the Spirit

Copyright 2009, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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