Hebrew Names

Hebrew names are fascinating in the way they express attributes of God. Although not all Hebrew names contain reference to God, many do. There are two things worth noting concerning this category of names. The Hebrew for ‘God’ and ‘the LORD’, are the components used in proper names. The Hebrew for ‘God’ is ‘Elohim’, however only the initial ‘el’ element is used in names.

The Hebrew that in English usually translates into ‘the LORD’ is YHWH. There are two abbreviated versions of this in proper names. As can be seen, YHWH only contains consonants, reflecting the Hebrew consonantal script. Vowels were added later to facilitate reading and preserve interpretation, however YHWH was left voweless in keeping with rabbinic tradition not to pronounce the name of God. Most English-language translations of the Hebrew Bible uphold this tradition by translating ‘the LORD’, the capital letters being indicative of the underlying Hebrew.

In Hebrew proper names the two parts of YHWH used are ‘yo’ and ‘ah’. This may be indicative of the vowels considered going with the consonants found at the beginning and end of the word. Finally, in most English versions of Hebrew names ‘y’ is rendered ‘j’.

Basically then, the collocations we are looking for in Hebrew names referring to God (in English translations) are: ‘jo’, ‘ah’ and ‘el’.

Joseph (יוסף)- Let’s start off with a false friend. The ‘y’ prefix to the three consonantal verbal root is generally considered as expressing ‘imperfect’ aspect (in BH often equivalent to future tense or in the jussive expressing a wish). ‘Joseph’ is indeed an example of such a verbal form. As an aside, the ‘i’ in ‘Isaac’ (again, Hebrew ‘y’) has the same function.

The three consonantal verbal root is *ysf which, especially in the causative, means “to increase”. This was of course the name given to Joseph by his mother Rachel as she was desperate to have more children (in competition with her sister):

And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!” (Gen 30:24 ESV)

Although “Joseph” does not contain the name of God (Yhwh or Elohim), the meaning “may he increase” nevertheless has God as its subject. Who does Joseph model? Jesus! In Jesus the Son God certainly increases the sons (and daughters) of God.

More Hebrew names to come…


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