What’s in a Name?

morning time - bible, lamp, coffeeThis morning I am sitting on my back patio, listening to the rain fall by lamplight. It’s “winter” here in south Florida, which means the sweltering heat is gone and we can enjoy some outdoor activity and not be instantly soaked in sweat. I’ve got a citronella candle going (because while the heat takes a break, mosquitos never do) and a hurricane lamp by which I am reading the Word, as it is still dark outside.

This is my favorite time of year and my favorite time of day. It is the time that I spend talking to my Abba and reading His word. But this morning I am bothered by what I am reading in the Scriptures.

Oh, it’s not the Word of God that bothered me, but the translation of names.

I am currently using the Tree of Life version, which is a Messianic version of the Word. My own rabbi, Matthew Salathe, assisted in the translation. So I was quite surprised to find the term ‘the devil’ in Matthew 4:1 rather than ‘the satan’ or haSatan. So I googled the etymology of devil.

Old English dēofol (related to Dutch duivel and German Teufel ), via late Latin from Greek diabolos ‘accuser, slanderer’ (used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew śāṭān ‘Satan’) – Google results

Okay, not so bad since satan means ‘enemy’ or ‘adversary’. So I moved on in my reading.

I didn’t get much further, when I was bothered again. Matthew 4:21 says:

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, Jacob the son of Zebedee and John his brother. They were in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them.

I had to shake my head because something did not compute. I’ve been reading the Word a long time now, yet it was always ‘James the son of Zebedee’ not Jacob. I already knew that Yeshua’s brother’s name is Jacob, not James (as the title of his epistle is so called). But seeing John’s brother called Jacob jarred me in a way I cannot explain, other than to say it bugged me that all this time I’ve been calling this guy, who was instrumental in my coming to salvation, by the wrong name.

Wait, what was that? Instrumental in my coming to salvation? Yes. If it weren’t for the disciples of Yeshua being used by God to spread the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, then I would still be a pagan and so would you. Yet, we call these guys by names that aren’t theirs. And it’s not simply translation to another language.

For instance, my given name is Rosemarie. It’s not Rose. It’s not Rosemary. It’s not even Rose Marie. It’s Rosemarie – one word ending in ‘ie’. I’ve always disliked being called ‘Rose’, which is the default of most people. My family and friends calls me ‘Ro’ and that I like. It implies familiarity, love, and acceptance.

Having been born into the Catholic faith (and named after my grandmother and step-grandmother) I googled what the name means to Catholics. Rose is the symbol for Mary, and obviously Marie is a form of Mary.

The first time I visited Israel, I learned that my name in Hebrew is Shoshana Miriam. Yet, if you were to call me Shoshana, I wouldn’t respond to it. Why? Because I’m not used to it. Yet, it would be accurate if someone were to translate this blog into Hebrew. Yet the Word of God, translated into English, gives inaccurate names to the very guys who spread the Gospel.

So I looked at the list of disciples in Matthew 10:2-4 in various versions:

Tree of Life

first, Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew; Jacob the son of Zebedee and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; Jacob, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judah the man from Kriot, the one who also betrayed Him. 

Complete Jewish Bible

First, Shim‘on, called Kefa, and Andrew his brother,
Ya‘akov Ben-Zavdai and Yochanan his brother,
Philip and Bar-Talmai,
T’oma and Mattityahu the tax-collector,
Ya‘akov Bar-Halfai and Taddai,
Shim‘on the Zealot, and Y’hudah from K’riot, who betrayed him. 

King James Version

The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

Amplified Bible

first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew (Nathanael); Thomas and Matthew (Levi) the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus (Judas, not Iscariot); Simon the Cananaean (Zealot), and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

purple roseYou might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? A rose by any other name still smells as sweet.” Well, I googled that too, and here’s what I found:


The importance of a person or thing is the way it is; not because of what it is called. Simply, it means the names of things cannot affect what they actually are. This line is, in fact, very profound, suggesting that names are just labels to distinguish one thing from another. It neither has any worth, nor gives true meanings. – literarydevices.net

That’s all well and good for the secular world, but when we look at the Word of God, we find that names are important to Him. His name is so important that we are not to take it in vain. Every name of God describes His character, it teaches us something about Him.

Then there’s the names He gives His people. They are significant. If not, why bother changing them or being concerned with what a child is called? For instance, Abram was changed from ‘exalted father’ to Abraham meaning ‘father of a multitude’. Sarai was changed from ‘my princess’ to Sarah, meaning ‘Princess’. Jacob was changed from ‘God is my heel‘ to ‘triumphant with God’ (Israel).

And let’s not forget the name that is above all names – Yeshua. The long version of His name is Yehoshua, which means ‘God is salvation’ but that is not what He is called. He is Yeshua, which literally means salvation.

So you see? Names really do make a difference.

And I sit here wondering why in the Apostolic Scriptures, the name ‘Yakov’ is translated James, yet in the Hebrew scriptures it is translated Jacob. Some say it’s because King James wanted his name in the Bible. Others that it’s just etymology. But that doesn’t hold up when we look at the Septuagint (which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures).

One more point. Today there is a lot of focus in schools and on-line about bullying. How does bullying start? Usually with name calling. If it doesn’t matter what you call someone, if it is only a label ‘to distinguish one thing from another’ but has nothing to do with one’s character or persona, what’s all the fuss?

What’s in a name? Everything. And I think it’s time we start calling the followers of Yeshua by their rightful name, even if it is Anglicized. I think they deserve that kind of respect, don’t you?

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