“Call me Ishmael.”
With the exception of Herman Melville’s reference in Moby Dick, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the name Ishmael used before – except in the Bible.
You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to know there are some pretty strange names in the Scriptures, and yet, there are some of the most common names too! How is it that we’ve embraced some and neglected so many others?
Let’s start with the first name mentioned in the Bible – Adam. I don’t know many guys named Adam, but it’s certainly not unusual or strange. As the first one of all of us, it seems fitting that his name would survive.
Unfortunately, the first woman didn’t fare as well. I only associate Eve with Christmas and New Years and feminine hygiene products. The years have not been kind to Eve’s name and I can’t say I’ve ever met an Eve.
Noah – Here’s a guy who ends up saving all of humanity by building a big boat, but his name didn’t survive the flood. OK, there are a few Noahs out there, but with an easy going name like that, you’d think there would be a few more.
Abraham is a huge part of the Old Testament and it seems only Mrs. Lincoln found the name suitable in modern times. I’m sure there are others, but even after being the Patriarch of the Jews, Muslims and Christians – He could only muster the 16th President for famous Abrahams.
Isaac and his son Jacob – Two user-friendly names. Now Jacob had 12 kids (actually 13, but most don’t count his daughter Dinah) Of the 12 boys we did manage Joseph and Benjamin – Of course they were Jacob’s favorites, so maybe that had some bearing on their popularity. Dan is popular enough, but he didn’t get much traction with Issachar, Naphtalia, Gad or Asher. Now I suppose there is something to be said for use of Reuben, Simeon, Zebulun and Levi. And what would we do without Judah? Where would the Beatles have been without Hey Jude – Well, pretty far I’m sure, but without Jude, we’re minus one Beatles hit.
God didn’t do Jacob any favors when he changed his name to Israel. Oh sure, he gets an entire nation named after him, but it’s so impersonal. Even though I know someone named Israel, I have to believe there are way more Jacobs in the phone book than Israels.
Don’t want to forget the ladies of these Patriarchs. Abraham’s wife’s name was Sarah – very nice, Isaac’s wife was Rebekah – we revised the spelling, but kept the spirit. Jacob’s wife’s name was Rachel. Jacob had to work for Rachel’s father for seven years to win her hand – that’s love!
Don’t think I’ve ever met anyone named Moses even though he wrote the first five books of the Bible and led an entire nation out of Egypt. Then he wandered around with them for 40 years in the wilderness and listened to them whine. Perhaps the most popular figure of the Old Testament, but his name apparently got left at the parting of the Red Sea or the top of Mount Sinai.
Joshua (he took over for Moses) obviously had parents that were concerned about his legacy and gave him a popular name. Even his friend Kaleb is gaining some ground in common name use.
But what about queen Esther? Here’s a gal that becomes a queen, saves the entire nation of Israel from slaughter and no one found it necessary to name their kid Esther? She must have had a dark side.
David – Powerful, impressive king and warrior and his name remains a staple. I guess if you’re “a man after God’s own heart,” as David was said to have been, your name will always have top billing.
The wisest and richest man ever to live had it ‘going on’, but his name didn’t. Solomon – He really impressed the ladies with hundreds of wives and concubines, but apparently the ladies didn’t think enough of him to pass on the name. That’s what you get when you’re a ‘playa’!
Not too many kids named Ezekiel, Nahum, Hosea, Obadiah or Micah – all prophets without legacy. I think Elijah is a great name, and I know my brother had friend named Eli, but that’s as close as I’ve seen.
As much as we talk about the patience of Job, we didn’t feel a need to hang that name on our offspring. Sounds like an old man’s name, doesn’t it?
I think we fare a lot better in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are easy enough, though Luke is more of a middle name. Luke wrote his Gospel to a guy named Theophilus. That mention in the Bible did not win Theophilus any favors in the name game.
Peter and Paul – Solid. Even though some find it necessary to rob one to pay the other, they’re both great names. Then there’s Mary and Martha, one that worked too much, and the other that chose the ‘better’ things. As many times as I’ve heard that story, I still get them confused – either way, both names survive for the working, overworked and the lazy.
There’s no confusing their brother’s name – Lazarus – this guy get’s raised from the dead, but his name must have been buried in the tomb on his second death.
How ’bout the 12 Apostles. There’s Peter, John, James (two of them), Andrew, Phillip, Matthew and Thomas – of ‘doubting’ fame. Those eight names seem to have done pretty well. The same cannot be said for Thaddeus and Bartholomew, and perhaps Simon.
Then there’s Judas. He ruined a perfectly good name with the ‘betrayal of betrayals’ and a suicide. Let’s face it, calling your kid or anybody else, Judas is not really complementary. Jude – OK. Judas – Them’s fightin’ words!
My confirmation name is Mathias – now that is a solid name from the New Testament! I think I’m the only bearer of that name besides the original Mathias.
Then there’s Jesus – What to do with this name…
The world has been trying to decide about Him from the beginning. “The Name which is above every name,” according to the Scriptures, and so it should remain.
We don’t go around naming our kids Yahweh (Hebrew name for God), so it would seem Jesus would fall in the same category. But somehow, if you’re from Mexico, it’s an acceptable name to use. Not sure how that came to be, but it seems pretty common across the border. I remember the first time I saw the name Jesus on a baseball card; I think I burned it.
There’s lots to be said about a name, but I think the Scriptures say it best, ”A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches,…” Proverbs 22:1
Hope yours suits you well!