Many of us start thinking about what we’ll name our future children when we’re basically still children ourselves. With youthful-yet-earnest contemplation, many young people choose the names of their future sons and daughters based on such things as an inspiring book character, a beloved geographical location, or (cringe) the pop culture craze of their era.
Some people go on to give their children the names they’ve held dear over the years. Others lament when their spouses put the kibosh on a favorite moniker. Yet others discover that life’s unexpected circumstances steer them toward names they hadn’t considered for their child at all.
This fascination with names reflects the fact that names carry weight.
Names can tie us to our origins and traditions. Names can also allude to our circumstances or stand for something that mattered to our parents in choosing what others would call us.
The importance of a person’s name is especially evident in the Bible, making Scripture a longstanding go-to resource for parents when choosing a baby’s name. In fact, names from the Bible have grown in usage and have been trending in recent years!
So, what is the meaning and importance of a Biblical name?
Names in the Bible can signify origin.
Biblical names are rich in symbolism. Some names signify origin. Scripture opens with the Book of Genesis detailing the beginnings of Creation. The word “genesis” itself means “origin.”
God named the first human “Adam,” likely derived from the Hebrew word for “ground” and reminding us that Adam, as the first human, was created from the ground’s dust (Genesis 2:7). Adam then named his wife Eve, a name that means “living” and commemorates Eve’s role as “the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20).
Names in the Bible can signify purpose.
Other Biblical names denote purpose. A fisherman called Simon (which name means “that hears or that obeys”) became one of the first people to hear Jesus’s call and become His disciple. Jesus changed Simon’s name to “Peter,” meaning “rock.” When Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus blessed Peter and announced that on that “rock” He would build His church (Matthew 16:18).
The name of Christ Himself is also steeped in symbolism. The name “Jesus” means “savior” and “deliverer.”When Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told Joseph to raise the child as his own and name the child Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:18-21).
Names in the Bible can describe a person’s characteristics or circumstances.
Still, other Biblical names depict a person’s traits or environment. When God told Abraham, then 100-years-old, that his 90-year-old wife Sarah would give birth to a son, Abraham and Sarah laughed (Genesis 17:17). Sarah went on to give birth to a son named Isaac, which means “laughter.”
Isaac grew up to have twin sons. The first of the twin boys was named Esau, which means “hairy” because of how hairy Esau was at birth. (Genesis 25:25). The second of the twin sons was born grasping at Esau’s heel and was, thus, named Jacob, which means “that supplants” (Genesis 25:26).
True to his name, Jacob would go on to rob his older brother Esau of their father’s blessing of the firstborn (Genesis 27). Jacob, thereafter, would go on to wrestle with God and be renamed Israel, which means “wrestles with God” (Genesis 32:28).
Names in the Bible honor God.
Many parents give their child a name that honors God in some way. You may have planned to choose a name that honored God all along, or you may have experienced difficulties in conceiving or during pregnancy that turned your eyes desperately or joyously upward.
Whatever your reason for honoring God through your child’s name, two of the most popular searches for Biblical names are for names that mean “a gift from God” or “God is with us.”
What name means “a gift from God?”
Boys’ names and their variants that mean a “gift from God” include: Jonathan, Matthew, Matthias, Mateo, Nathanael, and Theodore.
Girls’ names and their variants that mean a “gift from God” include: Dorothy, Dora, Doreen, Mattea, Thea, and Theodora.
What name means “God is with us?”
A boy’s name and its variants that mean “God is with us” include: Emmanuel, Immanuel, and Manuel.
A girl’s name and its variants that mean “God is with us” include: Emmanuelle and Manuela.
There are numerous other names that celebrate God or that simply refer to Scripture as a way to exalt His Word. Here are ten significant Biblical names and their meanings for males and females, followed by a sampling of Biblical names from A to Z:
10 significant male biblical names and their meanings:
A prophet under King Nebuchadnezzar’s rule who bravely refused to stop praying to God despite being thrown into (and surviving) the lion’s den. Daniel means: God is my judge.
A young shepherd who conquered Goliath, was anointed king of Israel, and authored many of the psalms. An ancestor of Jesus. David means: Beloved.
A prophet who was vital in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the worship of the Canaanite deity Baal. Elijah means: Yahweh is my God.
A prophet best known for his writings about the coming Messiah, hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Isaiah means: The salvation of God.
The son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham, and the traditional ancestor of the people of Israel. Jacob means: That supplants.
John the Baptist was a prophet who baptized people, including his cousin Jesus, in the Jordan River. John the Apostle was one of Jesus’s twelve apostles and the author of the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. John means: God is gracious.
Joseph the favored son of Jacob was sold into slavery by his brothers but eventually became an official in the Egyptian kingdom, allowing Joseph to save his brothers and their people from famine. Joseph the carpenter was Mary’s husband and the earthly father of Jesus. Joseph means: Increase or addition.
Author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke means: Luminous or white.
An archangel and leader of the heavenly hosts who defeat Satan in the Book of Revelation. Michael means: Who is like God?
Hero of the Biblical flood story and builder of the ark. Through Noah, God promised to never again destroy all life on earth with a flood. Noah means: Rest or repose.
10 significant female biblical names and their meanings:
A prophet who encounters Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem and recognizes the infant Jesus as the future promised Redeemer. Anna means: Gracious.
A prophet and Israel’s only female judge. Deborah inspired the Israelites to defeat their Canaanite oppressors. Deborah means: Bee.
Jacob’s daughter whose assault caused her brothers to plunder the city of Shechem. Dinah means: Judged or vindicated.
Mother of John the Baptist and cousin of Jesus’s mother Mary. Elizabeth means: God’s oath.
A wealthy woman who, along with others, helped to financially support Jesus’s ministry. Joanna means: God is gracious.
Jesus’s mother and a witness to the Crucifixion. Mary is known as the “Second Eve,” bringing the redemption of sin into the world in the person of Jesus. Mary means: Rebellion.
A widow whose children had died. Her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth remained with her and, through Ruth’s second marriage, Naomi became the grandmother of Obed, who was an ancestor of Jesus. Naomi means: Pleasantness.
One of Jacob’s wives and the mother of Joseph, who was the favored son of Jacob. Rachel means: Sheep.
After her husband’s death, Ruth leaves her own people and, instead, lives with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth then remarries and bears Obed, who became the ancestor of Jesus. Ruth means: Friend.
The wife of Abraham, grandmother of Isaac, and great-grandmother of Jacob. As promised by God, Sarah became “the mother of nations” (Genesis 17:16). Sarah means: Princess.
List of Biblical names from A-Z, with typical male (M) or female (F) designations:
Aaron (M): A teacher; lofty; mountain of strength
Abigail (F): The father's joy
Abraham (M): Father of a great multitude
Adam (M): Ground; earthy
Alexander/Alexandra (M/F): Defender of men
Andrew (M): Astrong man
Anna (F): Gracious
Ariel (F): Light or lion of God
Asher (M): Happiness
Barnabas (M): Son of the prophet
Bartholomew (M): A son that suspends the waters
Baruch (M): Who is blessed
Benjamin (M): Son of the right hand
Bernice (F): One that brings victory
Bethel (F): The house of God
Calah (F): Completion; maturity
Candace (F): Who possesses contrition
Chloe (F): Green herb
Christian/Christianne (M/F): follower of Christ
Daniel/Daniella(M/F): God is my judge
David (M): Beloved
Diana (F): Luminous
Dora/Doreen (F): A gift from God
Dorothy/Dorothea (F): A gift from God
Eden/Edna (F): Pleasure; delight
Eleazar (M): Help of God
Eli (M): The offering or lifting up
Elijah (M): Yahweh is my God
Elisha (F): God’s salvation
Elizabeth (F): God’s oath
Emmanuel/Emmanuelle (M/F): God is with us
Ephraim (M): Fruitful; increasing
Ethan (M): Strong; the gift of the island
Eve/Eva (F): Living
Ezekiel (M): The strength of God
Ezra (M): Help; court
Faith (F): To trust
Felix/Felicia (M/F): Lucky; successful
Gabriel/Gabriella (M/F): God is my strength
Gaius (M): To rejoice
Grace (F): Favor; blessing
Hannah (F): Gracious; merciful
Hope (F): Expectation
Hosea (M): Salvation
Immanuel (M): God is with us
Isaac (M): Laughter
Isaiah (M): The salvation of God
Ishmael (M): God that hears
Jacob (M): That supplants
Jason (M): He that cures
Jeremiah/Jeremy (M): Exaltation of the Lord
Joanna (F): God is gracious
Joel (M): He that wills or commands
John (M): God is gracious
Jonah (M): A dove
Jonathan (M): A gift from God
Joseph (M): Increase; addition
Joshua (M): Asavior; a deliverer
Josiah (M): The Lord burns; the fire of the Lord
Judah/Judith (M/F): The praise of the Lord; confession
Julian/Julia (M/F): Soft and tender hair
Kemuel (M): God is raised up
Kenan (M): Buyer, owner
Keturah (F): Incense
Lazarus (M): Whom God helps
Leah (F): Weary
Lemuel (M): God with them
Lillian/Lily (F): Lily, purity
Lois (F): Agreeable
Lucas/Luke (M): Luminous; white
Lydia (F): Beauty
Malachi (M): My messenger, my angel
Marcus/Mark (M): Polite, shining
Matthew/Matthias/Mateo (M): A gift from God
Mercy (F): Reward
Michael (M): Who is like God?
Moses (M): Drawn out or saved from the water
Myra (F): Sweet-smelling oil
Naomi (F): Pleasantness
Nathan (M): Given
Nathanael/Nathaniel (M): A gift from God
Nehemiah (M): Consolation; repentance of the Lord
Neriah (F): Light; lamp of the Lord
Noah (M): Rest; repose
Obadiah (M): Servant of the Lord
Omar (M): He that speaks; bitter
Omri (M): Sheaf of corn
Orpah (F): The neck or skull
Paul/Paula (M/F): Small
Pauline (F): Small
Peter (M): A rock
Philip (M): Warlike; a lover of horses
Phineas (M) Face of trust or protection
Phoebe (F): Shining; pure
Priscilla (F): Ancient
Quartus (M): Fourth
Rachel (F): Sheep
Reuben (M): Who sees the son; the vision of the son
Ruth (F): Friend
Samson (M): His sun; his service; there the second time
Samuel (M): God has heard
Sarah (F): Princess
Sharon (F): His plain; his song
Shiloh (F): Peace; abundance
Silas (M): Three
Simon (M): That hears; that obeys
Solomon (M): Peaceful; perfect; one who recompenses
Stephen/Stephanie (M): Crown; crowned
Susanna (F): Lily; rose; joy
Tabitha (F): Clear-sighted; deer
Thaddeus (M): That praises or confesses
Theodore/Theodora (M/F): A gift from God
Thomas (M): A twin
Timothy (M): Honor of God; valued of God
Tobias (M): The Lord is good
Uriah (M): Light of God
Uzziah (M): Strength of God
Victor/Victoria (M/F): Victor; victory
Zacchaeus (M): Pure; clean; just
Zebedee (M): Abundant; portion
Zachariah/Zachary (M): The Lord remembers
Zina (F): Shining; going back
Dolores Smyth writes on faith and parenting. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Stockbyte