1. Names of places.—These may be divided into two general classes—descriptive and historical. The former are such as mark some peculiarity of the locality, usually a natural one, e.g., Sharon, “plain”; Gibeah, “hill”; Pisgah, “height.” Of the second class of local names, some were given in honor of individual men, e.g., the city Enoch, Gen. 4:17, etc. More commonly, however, such names were given to perpetuate the memory of some important historic occurrence. Bethel perpetuated through all Jewish history the early revelations of God to Jacob. Gen. 28:19; 35:15. So Jehovah-jireh, Gen. 22:14; Mahanaim, Gen. 32:2; Peniel, etc. In forming compounds to serve as names of towns or other localities, some of the most common terms employed were Kir, a “wall” or “fortress”; Kirjath, “city”; En, “fountain”; Beer, “a well,” etc. The names of countries were almost universally derived from the name of the first settlers or earliest historic population.
2. Names of persons.—Among the Hebrews each person received but a single name. In the case of boys this was conferred upon the eighth day, in connection with the rite of circumcision. Luke 1:59; comp. Gen. 17:5-14. To distinguish an individual from others of the same name it was customary to add to his own proper name that of his father or ancestors. Sometimes the mother’s was used instead. Simple names in Hebrew, as in all languages, were largely borrowed from nature: e.g., Deborah, “bee”; Tamar, “a palm tree”; Jonah, “dove.” Many names of women were derived from those of men by change of termination: e.g., Hammelech, “the king”; Hammoleketh, “the queen.” The majority of compound names have special religious or social significance, being compounded either (1) with terms denoting relationship, as Abi or Ab, father, as Abihud, “father of praise,” Abimelech, “father of the king”; Ben, son, as Benoni, “son of my sorrow,” Benjamin, “son of the right hand”; or (2) nouns denoting natural life, as am, “people,” melech, “king”; or (3) with names of God, as El, “God,” and Jah or Ja, shortened from “Jehovah.” As outside the circle of Revelation, particularly among the Oriental nations, it is customary to mark one’s entrance into a new relation by a new name, in which case the acceptance of the new name involves the acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the namegiver, so the importance and new sphere assigned to the organs of Revelation in God’s kingdom are frequently indicated by a change of name. Examples of this are Abraham, Gen. 17:5; Sarah, Gen. 17:15; Israel, as the designation of the spiritual character, in place of Jacob, which designated the natural character. Gen. 32:28.