Sunday, August 6, 2017

Book Review: The Book of Bible Names

Soon to Become A Fair Trade Book


Title: The Book of Bible Names

Author: Pamela L. McQuade

Date: 2011

Publisher: Barbour

ISBN: 978-1-61626-20-5

Length: 153 pages

Quote: “For every person named in the King James Version...you'll find...the number of men and/or women by that name; the number of times that name is mentioned; a brief biography for the most prominent individuals; related scripture references (one for every person by that name); name meanings, if from the Hebrew or Greek.”

“Name meanings” are of course a source of endless, though seldom angry, controversy. With a name like “Abraham” we're on fairly firm ground: Ab raham could also have meant “father of compassion” or “father of female body parts” or, improbably but not impossibly, “wandering Brahmin,” but in the Bible we know it means “father of a multitude” because Abraham reported a vision that explained his name that way.

What about “Barak”? Forms of this name are found in Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic, Swahili, and all languages into which the Bible and/or Koran have been translated. It's not the most common name in any country, but it's found all around the world. It's related to a batch of Hebrew, Arabic, etc., words that all relate to the concept of a flash of light, burst of energy, show of divine power, in some way. Words in this group include ordinary words used for things like kneeling or bowing in prayer, a flash of lightning, or an elder's blessing. So when you look up names like Barak, Baraka, or Bereket in different “dictionary” lists you get one-word translations like “lightning” (as in this book), “blessing” (as in Dreams of My Father), “prayer” and many more, and if your native language does not cluster these ideas together you might wonder what on earth all these dictionary writers think they're talking about. Ex-President Obama's first name is relatively easy to link to a single idea, however disparate the possible English translations may seem.

Then there are the names the ancient Hebrews gave to foreign people. One of the foreign kings who demanded tributes that oppressed ancient Israel appears in the Bible as “Chushan-Rishathaim.” Chushan may not have been, and Rishathaim almost certainly was not, what his parents called him. Rishathaim is a Hebrew word translated as “of double wickedness.” “Delilah,” which may be related to Hebrew words meaning “languishing, voluptuously swooning, sighing, wheedling,” or “hair,” or “poor,” sounds suspiciously like a nickname acquired after the events in the story, but she was foreign, so who knows what her original name was or meant, or whether it sounded like “Delilah.”

Then there are names, and words, that have ambiguous meanings. Sar is a masculine noun translated by “prince, lord, champion, war chief.” Sarah is the corresponding feminine noun, and sarai is an adjective form. We know, because the Bible mentions it, that in the case of the Bible character who used this name the little pen stroke that distinguished “Sarai” from “Sarah” was important. Sarah was the boss; Sarai had not yet been recognized as the boss and was merely bossy. In other cases we don't have this information. “Rosh” as a word is often translated as “first, leader, beginning” (as in Rosh Hashanah, beginning of the year) but “Rosh” as a name is translated, in The Book of Bible Names, as “to shake the head”--also a Hebrew word.

So, the study of name origins is not an exact science. Even when the original meaning given names had for the individuals' parents has been known, it's often invited puns and variations. Elizabeth's and Zacharias' families didn't say “'John,' or 'Jochanan,' meaning 'God's gracious gift,' is an inappropriate name” (apparently very few people in ancient Judea said that) or “'John' is an overused name” (it was), but “None of your close relatives is called John.” For them, as for many Americans, given names weren't understood as having dictionary-type meanings of their own so much as identifying a child with an older person the parents wanted to honor. The only way people knew what their name really "meant" to their parents was for their parents to tell them.

This may explain some Bible names, which, if they seem to have an obvious meaning in Hebrew, seem to have one few people would have chosen: “Buz” is translated as “disrespect,” “Tola” as “worm,” and “Ispah” as “he will scratch.”

If you're a fellow Names Maven, The Book of Bible Names is a treasure, listing all the names of obscure Bible characters that no one seems to have wanted to honor after the characters' own time, with at least possible explanations for nearly all of them.


If you're not, The Book of Bible Names will be a useful reference book, listing each time a character's name is used in the Bible...in stories, in genealogies, in prophecies, in odd fragments of text.

You can still buy new copies from the publisher on Amazon, actually for less than the minimum price for Fair Trade Books. Kudos to Value Books for that. Use that book image while you can. The number of new copies available on Amazon is limited, though, and if this book doesn't go into a second printing you may want to buy it as a Fair Trade Book: $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, from which Pamela McQuade or a charity of her choice will receive $1. You could fit at least twelve copies of this little book into one $5 package, maybe more, but this web site would prefer that you mix up other Fair Trade Books and allow us to support more living authors (or their charities). Click on "A FAIR TRADE BOOK" (below this paragraph) to open the last few books by living authors this web site has discussed, or you could just tell salolianigodagewi @ yahoo which living authors you would prefer to support. (This web site discusses recent books when we've received copies, as in the case of The Book of Bible Names, for resale, but Fair Trade Books are normally books that are no longer available from the publisher under the original publishing contract--our goal is to encourage writers that have lost support from publishers, not to sabotage the publishers that are continuing to support books.)