What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? Capulets and Montagues notwithstanding, we say that there is (or should be) quite a lot in a name.  In many cultures, a name either describes a person’s character or gives voice to what the parents hope and pray (or what God promises) regarding the future character of the one named.  Biblically, names are very important.

Abram the childless may have been (ironically?) called “father” but Abraham was the “exalted father” of many nations, and through his “seed” (namely, Jesus) all nations have been and are being blessed.  Sarai was certainly “contentious” but Sarah was a “princess” from whom descended many kings.  Jacob the “heel grasper” was a sneaky liar and a cheat, but Israel struggled with both men and God and overcame.   Hosea prophetically named a son Lo-Ammi and a daughter Lo-Ruhamah because God was declaring in judgment that Israel was “not my people” and that he would therefore have “no pity” on her.  (This was, of course, later redemptively reversed.)

Most importantly of all, God’s name reveals to us his character and the very name of Jesus (“the LORD saves” or “the LORD is salvation” or “the LORD heals”) proclaims the foundation of the good news.

So when we prayerfully named each of our children, we were paying close attention to the meanings of their names.  With one exception, we have chosen Hebrew names.


Alitzah Charis

Alitzah means “joyous delight.”  It comes from a Hebrew verb that frequently occurs in the Psalms:  “rejoice” or “exult.”  Charis is the New Testament Greek word for “grace.”  Our prayer is that she will be full of the joy of the Lord’s salvation, that her delight will ever be in the Lord, that she will come to be as full of grace as our Lord, that the grace of God will work not only in her but also through her, and that our Lord will delight in her.

(NoteAlitzah rhymes with “pizza”, and is not hard to say.  Charis is pronounced as “Car-reese.”)


Hannah Gail Shirah
…………. גָיִל
………………… שִׁרָה

Hannah means “gracious” or “graciousness” and Gail means “joy.”  Shirah means “song” or “lyric melody” or “melody that tells a story” and is descriptive of many of the biblical psalms.  (For example, the word for the “songs” of ascents, Psalms 120-134, is shirim, the masculine plural form.)  Our prayer is that her life will be full of grace and truth, that the joy of the LORD will ever be her strength, that she will find and keep the joy of salvation in Christ, and that she will be a song of joyous praise to our God and Savior.

(Note:  “Hannah Gail” is her first name; “Shirah” is her middle name.)



Eliana Tzipiya
………… צִפִּיָה

Eliana means “my God answers” or “my God has answered.”  Tzipiya is one of the Hebrew words for “hope.”  So her name is a sentence:   My God answers:  ‘Hope!’ Alternatively, because our God answers, we are able to hope.  Our prayer is that God will ever hear and answer her, that her life may be a testament to God’s faithfulness, that she may ever seek God and be found by God, and that she may ever cling to our hope which “does not disappoint us.”


Zerachiah Joshua
…………….. יְהוֹשֻׁעַ

Zerachiah (note:  NOT Zechariah) means “the dawning light of the LORD” or “the LORD is a dawning light.”  (In Maa, this translates as “Oloyeku to Laitoriani.”)  Joshua, of course, has the same meaning as the name Jesus (see above).  We pray that he will bring glory and honor to the name of Jesus, whose name he shares, that he will ever keep watch for the dawning of the Lord, for the coming of the One who saves us, and that he will awake from his “sleep” that Christ may shine on him, in him, and from him.

(NoteZerahiah is listed in 1 Chronicles and Ezra as one of the returning exiles from the priestly families.  In Hebrew, this name is “Zerachiah” with the “ch” as in the German name “Bach” and not a simple “h.”  In the ancient Greek translation, the Hebrew letter ḥethח, like the German “ch” – was mistakenly read as though it were the letter ה, like our –h-.  The old Latin translation kept this mistake, and the King James Version followed the Latin rather than the Hebrew.)

Ahaviah Zahorah

………….. זָהֹרָה

Ahaviah means “the love of the LORD” or “the LORD loves.”  Zahorah means “to shine” or “to illuminate” or “brightness” or “light.”  Our LORD’s love shines brightly and illuminates the darkness.  We pray that this love of the LORD will fill our Ahaviah with its light and that she truly be a daughter of the light which the darkness cannot conquer.  Then this same love will also shine out through her to others.


Shalviah Tzadika
…………. צַדִּיקָ

Shalviah (alternatively spelled Shalviyah) means “shalom of Yahweh” or “the LORD’s peace.”  Tzidika means “justice” or “righteousness.”  It is impossible to have one without the other.  Complete justice, true righteousness cannot be found apart from a relationship of shalom (peace, wellness, wholeness) with the LORD, the Creator of heaven and earth, in whose image and likeness we have been made.   We pray that her life will be full of both.


(Note:  For those who don’t know, shalom –  שָׁלוֹמ – is the hebrew word for “peace.”  But it means far more than a mere absence of strife (though it certainly includes this).  Derived from the verb meaning “to be complete, whole, sound,” it refers to peace, wholeness, harmony, completeness, wellness, health, prosperity [or the archaic meaning of “wealth”], safety, fulfilment.  It indicates being in right relationship with what surrounds you, both people and things.  Biblically, shalom “is the result of God’s activity in covenant” and “the state of fulfilment which is the result of God’s presence.” 1  It is a rich and beautiful term.  For more, see our post on the Maa term osotua.”



Incidentally (and for the record), the meaning of Joshua is why I prefer the full form of my name over the shortened Josh.  The meaning of “Joshua” reminds me of who I am and who I am called to be in Christ.  But if you look up “josh” in the dictionary, you’ll read that it means merely (as a noun) “good-natured banter” or (as a verb) “to tease in a good-natured way.”  For the curious:  the Hebrew form is “Yehoshua.”  In Aramaic that became “Yeshua” and then “Yesous” (Ιησους) in Greek.  If you like, read more here.




1 Phrases in quotations taken from the article on שָׁלוֹמ (Shalom) in the Theological Wordbook of the OT by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke.