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What's in a Name?

Names in the Bible often have significance, telling us something about the person's attributes or circumstances. Mary named her baby Jesus, which means "the Lord saves" (Mt. 1:21). Several people in the Bible were given new names, usually after they or their situations changed. Test your knowledge of these famous biblical name changes:

  1. The patriarch Abram was 99 years old when God changed his name to Abraham. The new name signified God's promise to give Abraham:

    1. the land of Israel

    2. many offspring

    3. a son

  2. Abraham's wife, Sarai, was 90 years old when God changed her name to Sarah. Her new name revealed God's promise to make her:

    1. part of God's covenant

    2. a mother

    3. the mother of kings

  3. After Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord all night, God changed his name to Israel. His former name, Jacob, reflected the fact that he was:

    1. unfaithful

    2. a deceiver

    3. not the chosen heir

  4. Jesus changed his disciple Simon's name to Peter, which meant:

    1. rock

    2. fisher of men

    3. chosen one

  5. After her circumstances changed, Ruth's mother-in-law, Naomi, changed her own name to Mara which meant:

    1. widow

    2. pleasant

    3. bitter

  6. The prophet Daniel's name was changed to Belteshazzar after he:

    1. was taken captive

    2. survived the lion's den

    3. was made a ruler

  7. In the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul is called Saul, at first. The name change coincided with:

    1. his conversion

    2. his acceptance by Peter

    3. his first missionary journey

  8. The men of Gideon's hometown changed his name to Jerub-Baal because he:

    1. defeated the Midianites

    2. tore down Baal's altar

    3. saw an angel

  9. Joshua, famous for the Battle of Jericho, had his name changed from Hoshea to Joshua by:

    1. God

    2. Moses

    3. the King of Jericho


  1. (b) many offspring (Genesis 17:5). Abram had only one son when God changed his name ("exalted Father") to Abraham ("father of many") saying, "You will be the father of many nations" (NLT). Besides Israel, Abraham fathered other nations through his son Ishmael (21:18), the sons of his wife Keturah (25:1-4), and his grandson Esau.

  2. (c) the mother of kings (Genesis 17:15-16). The name change was subtle. Sarai means "my princess," a personal title, while Sarah means "a princess" and speaks of God's promise that "kings of peoples will come from her."

  3. (b) a deceiver (Genesis 25:26; 32:28). Jacob ("he grasps the heel") was born clutching his twin's heel as if trying to be born first. He continued to "grasp," deceiving Esau to gain his birthright, Isaac to gain his blessing, and Laban to gain his inheritance. God changed Jacob's name to Israel ("he struggles with God") after he admitted it was God he needed.

  4. (a) rock (John 1:42; Matt 16:16-18). When Jesus first met Simon, he changed his name to Cephas (Aramaic) or Peter (Greek). Both names mean "rock." Jesus reconfirmed the name after Peter confessed "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus said, "I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock [Peter's confession] I will build my church."

  5. (c) bitter (Ruth 1:20). Naomi, whose name meant "pleasant," was left destitute after the deaths of her husband and two sons. Returning home with her daughter-in-law Ruth, Naomi told everyone to call her Mara, meaning "bitter," because "the Almighty has made my life very bitter."

  6. (a) was taken captive (Daniel 1:7). Carried into captivity, Daniel ("God is my judge") was renamed Belteshazzar after Babylon's god, Bel. Faced with pagan customs, beliefs, and food, Daniel stayed faithful to God and was judged "ten times better" than the king's other officials (v. 20). Daniel's old name, like his faith, remained.

  7. (c) his first missionary journey (Acts 13:9). Saul is a Hebrew name, Paul a Roman (Gentile) one. Arriving on Cyprus, Saul preached in the synagogue, then to the Roman proconsul, and is thereafter called Paul (Acts 9:15).

  8. (b) tore down Baal's altar (Judges 6:32). Gideon's first act as Israel's leader was to destroy Baal's altar. The people demanded his death, but Gideon's father said, "If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself." The people changed Gideon's name to Jerub-Baal ("let Baal contend") and worshiped God.

  9. (b) Moses (Num. 13:16). Joshua, Moses' aide, had witnessed God's salvation from slavery in Egypt. Moses changed his name from Hoshea ("salvation") to Joshua ("the Lord saves") after choosing him as one of the 12 spies who explored the Promised Land.

A Christian Reader original article.

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