Names were rich in meaning in the ancient days. You didn’t just name your children wily nily whatever-sounds-good-at-the time names.
A hodge podge assimilation of syllables or fleeting cultural icons would never do for a child’s name way back when (ie I’ve ran across more than one “Nike” or “Mercedes”). A regrettable upward trend in 2010 girl baby names shows that “Kendra” and “Kourtney” with a “K” are becoming more popular among young parents. Why? Because of the notorious reality shows of Kourtney Kardashian and Kendra Wilkinson (former playmate).
In the olden days of biblical history, a child’s name held a certain foreshadowing weight to it. Bestowing a name on a child was a prophetic declaration, a visible sign of God fulfilling his covenant promises to the individual families of Israel.
Biblical names revealed much about a person’s past, expected future character, or life in general:
Adam means “man, clay or dust.” Eve means “first woman.”
Abraham means “father of multitude,”; after billions of “children” have come from his seed I would say that prophetic name has rang true. Abraham named his son “Isaac”, which means “laughter” (which is what the elderly Sara did when she found she would be pregnant with him!)
Biblical names didn’t always have endearing overtones attached to them. Look at the tragic names of the children of prophet Hosea for more on this (the boy named “Sue” was lucky compared to them). Isaac’s son, Jacob, name means “trickster or deceiver”, which is what he ended up doing to Esau to obtain his birthright. Jacob later wrestled with the Lord to obtain his new name, Israel, which means “straightened by God” (Genesis 32). So in the case of Jacob, his respective names reflected that a deceitful crook got straightened out by the Holy One of Israel.
“Samuel” means “heard from God” which is what he did as a prophet to Israel.
Peter’s name means “The Rock”, as in one of the foundational apostles the early church would be built on.
So in many cases, biblical characters are given names (prophetically and retroactively) that reflect their personal qualities.
My wife and I are not trying to be hyper-spiritual, but we do believe our son’s names should be meaningful to us, just as a baby’s name was meaningful to the biblical families of old. We decided on the names “Josiah” (our two-year old) and “Gideon” (due March) for various reasons. Though most people complement the uniqueness of the names, we do get some semi-puzzled looks that seem to intimate certain questions such as “Are you Jewish?” or “Are you Amish?” or “Are you weird?”
“Josiah” was one of the few righteous kings in Israel’s history in a long line of royal charlatans and chumps (2 Kings 22:2). “Josiah” means “Jehovah heals/saves” and in the anglicized version of the Hebrew it means “Fire of God.” He became king at the ripe age of eight after his father, Amon, was assassinated. He was the last good thing to happen to the nation of Israel before it was utterly destroyed in 586 B.C by Babylon. At the young age of 20, King Josiah began a building campaign to restore and repair the Temple which was neglected by kings past. During construction the “Book of The Law” was discovered and its commands struck the young king like a knife in the heart. By repenting of idolatry on behalf of his nation, and preaching the newly found word of God, the bold Josiah began a massive reformation in the life of Israel (2 Chron 34:21-33).
Gideon was a “mighty man of valor” and a warrior judge for the nation of Israel. “Gideon” literally means “mighty warrior.” By trusting in God he carried out great exploits for his nation even when the odds were stacked ridiculously against him (Judges 7:4-7). Through supernatural means, Gideon led the outnumbered Israelites to victory over the Midianite forces, and purged the Israeli camp of Baal worship. After 40 years of relative prosperity and peace under Gideon Israel tried to coronate him king, but he refused, insisting only God should hold such honor.
We hope and pray our son’s names are like prophetic declarations that bear fruit similar to the lives of the biblical Josiah and Gideon. I hope Josiah is not necessarily political royalty, but rather a zealous repentant leader who preaches the word and longs for revival. I hope Gideon is not necessarily a military leader, but rather a courageous and humble spiritual warrior who fights for the soul of his family and community while violently destroying the idols in his own life.
But more than anything, I want them to fall in love with Jesus (or “the one who saves”), and make it their aim to know Him and make His name known (Matt 1:21). Ultimately, Jesus is the name above every other name, and all who confess Him will find true significance, and most importantly, salvation in His mighty name (Phill 2:9-11).