What’s in a Name?

Why are names such a universal concept? In every culture, names play a role, whether it be the sign of a special family member or the significance of a marriage between two people in love or in some cultures the absence of a name can be prevalent as well. In the Bible, we are introduced to some characters whom later have a significant event: a name change. It may not seem like a big deal in some cultures, but the reasoning behind every name change could make all the difference in the world.

In the Torah, we are introduced to some big names who play an important role in the Bible and in the Jewish history. In Genesis Chapter 17, we are told about the infamous covenant that God makes with Abram, at the time. God tells Abram, “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of nations.” (17:4-5). This is not the only case of a name change in the Bible. Along with God changing Abram’s name, in the same instance he changes his wife’s name from Sarai to Sarah. Another important name change is when God is renewing his covenant with Jacob, changing his name to Israel. Those are just a few instances of name changes in the Bible, which leads me to believe that when God changes someone’s name, it means that they are important in his plan and will play a huge role in the lives of the Hebrews. They are God’s specific chosen ones who will help lead the Hebrews on their current quests, with each quest changing from leader to leader. Even God Himself has many different names. The main name changes I will focus on in this paper will be the most prevalent (to me at least) which are Abram, Sarai, and Jacob. For these instances in the Bible, I will use the Bible as a source along with some articles, such as Name Changes in the Bible by Thomas McDaniel and Professor Emeritus and a different source that it also called Name Changes in the Bible.

Name changes are not just important in the Bible, but in many other cultures as well. In this paper, I will also focus on name changes in other cultures and societies, as well as their importance. In addition to name changes, I will also focus on the importance of names in general, and how they can play a role in connecting and identifying people. In some cultures, it may have the same reason as for the name changes in the Bible and in others the reasons won’t be similar in any way. In American alone, there is quite a number of reasons for a person to change their name. As stated above, it could mean a unity between two loved ones or a child being named after a grandparent or another important person in their parent’s lives. Names allow people to connect new acquaintances with other friends, coworkers, or other acquaintances that they already know just based on their name alone. People may compared families by their names, whether it be good or bad. Also, name changes could also be part of a specific time in history. Many immigrants names were changed when they entered into America and given new identities.

I’m planning on using a few Anthropological books and peer reviewed papers for the topic of name changes. I think that using these sources will be the most reliable and contain the most information pertaining to name changes. Some of these peer reviewed articles are titled Cultural contact and change in naming practices among the Aari of southwest Ethiopia and Name Changes and Kinship Ideology in Japan.

The ideas above are the main points I’m planning on talking about in my paper. Names are a universal concept, whether it be the changing of names, a family history or tree, or even the absence of a name showing how some cultures don’t even give some of their citizens the right to own a name. Names are a prevalent part of every culture and history and most of the time we don’t even notice or recognize it.

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About bethanyschuler

She is a sophomore at UK and majoring in kinesiology and pre-physical therapy. She loves to play volleyball and also loves to hang out with her family and friends!
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5 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Da'Keisha Jett says:

    Great! I like your topic. Name changes in the Bible or in culture like you mentioned are important it will be interesting to see what you find and how you put it together.

  2. marysticklen says:

    I think this is a unique and intriguing idea. As an Anthropology minor I’ve read a lot on the varying importance of names in different cultures and the difference names can have on different kinship relationships. I think it would be interesting to see what you find on why there are so many name changes in the Bible and the effects it has on those people. I think it would also be interesting to see how it relates to other instances throughout the world.

  3. S.Donoho says:

    This is a really well thought out topic. It’s great that you have already began gathering facts from scholarly sources! I’ve always been interested in anthropology and never thought to incorporate name changes as being so significant. I think this paper will be very interesting!

  4. Kristina Strine says:

    I really like your ideas on this topic! Name changes are very important in the Old testament and I’m interested to see what information you come across when researching your scholarly sources. This is random, but do you ever wonder what your name would be if you had to change it? hah.

  5. Brandon Nelson says:

    Good topic with a lot to talk about. The first thing I think of when I think of name changes is marriage, being a sort of modern thing we can relate to. It’s a really big deal to change your name, even when you get married, as a name is this way of identifying someone.

    There are a ton of times in the Bible where something will happen at a certain place and so it will be named something in Hebrew/Aramaic/other? which describes sort of what happened to make it such a special place. God sort of does the same thing with peoples’ names, such as the establishment of the covenant with Abraham, and the changing of his name to something indicative of what He has done. I can see the potential for a discussion of the anthropology behind the importance of names in different cultures and how it applies to the Bible and modern times.

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