The Hebraic Origin of Common Biblical Names in America

Biblical names have always been common in America. These names have not lost their charm over the years as parents still prefer them to other more modern names. Having said that, very few parents know the true meaning and origin of the Biblical names they give their babies. In the lines below, I will try to shed light on some of the most common names while referring to their ancient Hebraic meaning to help readers know what lies behind them.

Sarah – The first wife of Abraham (The second was Hagar) and the first of the 4 Matriarchs of Judaism. Sarah was originally called Sarai but after God made a pact with Abraham, her name was changed to Sarah. The ‘h’ signifies the Hebrew letter ה which is used to refer to God.

Sarah comes from the word “shuro” which means “to see” in Hebrew. According to Jewish tradition, blessed by the Holy Spirit of God, Sarah was attributed with the prophetic ability to see the future.

Isaac – Abraham’s second son (after Ishmael) and one of the three Patriarchs of Judaism. The word Isaac comes from the Hebrew Ichak which means to laugh. Isaac got his name after his mother Sarah laughed in disbelief when she heard the 3 angels promising Abraham that he would have a son. Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 according to tradition – a feat only possible through divine intervention.

Benjamin – Rachel and Jacob’s second son (Joseph was the first). The Hebrew meaning of the name is “ben yamin” – the son of the right (and strong) hand.

Daniel – A Jewish prophet in the days of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon and the construction of the second Jewish temple. Daniel was of Jewish noble origin and was known for his deep understanding of the Occult. Some religious scholars see him as a lesser prophet.

The meaning of the word Daniel in Hebrew is “judged (dan) by God (el)”.

Esther – one of the most common female biblical names in the United States. Esther is the heroine of the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. As the wife of the Persian king Ahasuerus, she used all her charm and manipulations to save the Jewish People from annihilation.

The name Esther has more than one connotation. It is derived from the word “stara” – a star in ancient Persian. Some scholars think the name is derived from Ishtar who was a Sumerian goddess.  Another interpretation is based on the Hebrew word “seter” which means hidden or secret and that refers to the secret or hidden message the Book of Esther is supposed to convey.

Ethan – In the Bible, Ethan was a poet who is believed to have written Psalm 89. Ethan comes from the Hebrew word “eytan”, which means strong, durable, lasting.

Debra – Deborah was one of the seven prophets in the Jewish tradition, a judge and a military and political leader mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Old Testament (The only female who became a judge in the Bible). Debra comes from the Hebrew word “dvora” – a bee in English.

Moses – The founder of the Jewish faith and the man behind the Biblical Exodus. The name Moses is derived from the Hebrew equivalent “Moshe” whose meaning is “to pull out”. As the story goes (Exodus 2:3), Moses was pulled out from the waters of the Nile by the princess of Egypt after he was hidden in a papyrus basket to protect him from the evil Egyptians.

Joshua – Joshua took Moses place and led the Israelites through the occupation of the Land of Canaan. In Hebrew, Joshua appears as “Yehosua” which is “God will Save”.

Abigail – Abigail was one of King David’s wives and the only woman in the Old Testament who was declared to be beautiful and smart at the same time. In Hebrew Abigail appears as “Avigayil” which is understood as “my father will rejoice” (Avi = my father, gayil = will be happy).

Samuel – A prophet and the last judge in the Old Testament, Samuel made Saul the first king in Israel. Smuel in Hebrew can be interpreted as “asked from God” and indeed, Samuel’s mother, Hannah, could not bear children and asked God to give her a baby.