An article in Yahoo News (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_baby_names) indicated that currently popular baby names include Cullen and Isabella, inspired by the “Twilight” series. Jacob is still a popular name, as is Emma. Emily has been a popular name, and also Matthew. Around the year 2060, the nursing homes of America will have lots of old folks named Jacob, Emily, and Matthew.
The popularity of certain names change, of course. Mildred, my mother’s name, and her brother Harold, are no longer typical, nor the pretty names of her cousins Hazel and Lydia. And yet Emma (my great-grandmother's name, in fact) was common in the 1800s, as was Emily (the name of my wife's great-grandmother).
If you’re a visitor to old graveyards, you’ll often see interesting names. “Tabitha” (Acts 9:36-42) has the obvious Bewitched connotations, but I’ve a nineteenth-century cousin by that name, buried in our family cemetery in Illinois. You don’t see many kids named Moses (although you do see "Moshe," the Hebrew equivalent, within the Jewish community). In my family cemetery, though, a blacksmith named Moses Cluxton, Sr., is interred a few yards away from Tabitha, and nearby is an ancestor of mine, named Comfort. That’s a now archaic girl’s name that surely derives from a biblical notion of comfort. Also buried there is the grave of another 1800s cousin, named Cyrene, which though biblical is a place rather than a person (Luke 23:2, Acts, 2:10, and elsewhere).
On the other hand, I know a place that was named for a biblical person: Loami, Illinois, near Springfield, named for the prophet Hosea’s son (“Not my people,” Hos. 1:8-9). A branch of my family, the Colburns, settled that town in the early 1800s.
I’ve found numerous interesting names from the Bible. Although biblical names like Jacob, Sarah, and Matthew are popular these days, other biblical names that you might (or might not) consider for your children include: Dodo (Judges. 10:1), Phallu (Gen. 46:9), Put (Gen. 10:6), Phuvah (1 Chr. 7:1), Muppim, Huppim, and Ard (Gen. 46:21), Anub (1 Chr. 4:8), Koz (1 Cor. 4:3), Ziph (1 Cor. 2:42), Hazo (Gen. 22:22), and Hazelelponi (1 Chr. 4:3). I used to know a girl named Hazelelponi (not really).
The Bible features a few longer names, too: Sennacherib, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, and others which don’t appear in baby name books. (There is the actor and rapper Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, however.) Two other unusual names are the artisans Oholiab and Bezalel in Exodus 31.
I was a long-time user of Aunt Jemima® products when I learned that the first Jemima was a daughter of Job—his second set of children (Job 42:13).
I knew about Salmon Chase, Lincoln’s treasury secretary and later U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, but I’d not realized his name was not only fishy (his own regretful estimation) but biblical: the original Salmon was Ruth’s father in law (Ruth 4:20-21).
If you don’t have children but may in the future, perhaps these thoughts will give you some ideas for names. But if you call your kid Phallu or Dodo or Muppin, don’t tell them you got the idea from me!
Some more biblical names, as well as some people who's names aren't stated..... You may be familiar with the stories of Moses’ childhood. Well, then, did you realize that twelve woman appear in the first two chapters of the book of Exodus? I didn’t, and neither did blogger Rabbi Avinoam Sharon at first. Rabbi Sharon writes that, with a moment or two of thought, he can name all twelve of Jacob’s sons from memory (which is better than I can do!). But he had never noticed these several women at the beginning of Exodus.
I looked at the chapters and thought: What twelve women? But they’re all there: Shiphrah and Puah (Ex. 1:15), Pharoah’s daughter (Ex. 2:3), Miriam (unnamed in Ex. 2:4, 7-8 and named in Ex. 15:20), Jochebed (unnamed in Ex. 2:1-2 and named in Ex. 6:20), Zippora (Ex. 2:21), and her father Reuel’s other six daughters (Ex. 2:15).
Rabbi Sharon’s point is that, just as we may not notice people in a text when we read too quickly, we tend not to notice each other because we’re too busy with other things. Moses, on the other hand, noticed the suffering of the Hebrew slave, and also the injustice of the shepherds at the well (Ex. 1:1-12, 17). (The link to Rabbi Sharon’s blog for January 2, 2005, although long since broken, was found at http://www.moreshetyisrael.org/2005_01_01_archive.html and accessed by me in 2008.)
I’m still thinking about that. A few years ago I noticed a certain obituary in my local paper. I lived in a community of about 200,000, small enough to run into people you know, but too large to “know everyone,” as is true in smaller towns. The obituary was a man who worked at a grocery store where I shop occasionally; I’d noticed him collecting shopping carts. He wasn’t very old when he died: mid-fifties. I never spoke to him besides a hello.
I thought about how many people I pass each day who are just “hello” people: always there, sometimes acknowledged, and nameless. I’m certainly a nameless, “hello” person, too, for instance to the folks who work at my local grocery.
John 9 has a story about the man born blind. It’s a familiar story. Jesus heals him, and the rest of the chapter is exchange between the man and the religious leaders who can’t believe he was healed. Their stubborn incredulity is a kind of syllogism: Jesus is a sinner (because he heals on the Sabbath), but God would not empower a miracle through a sinful man, and so Jesus could not have performed the miracle. The religious leaders are stuck in a way that many of us are stuck from time to time: something happens contrary to our expectations and preconceived notions, and we can’t see it or make the mental jump to acceptance.
Have you ever noticed the crowd’s reaction to the healed man? “‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘It is he’; other said, ‘No, but he is like him.’” (John 9:8-9). People had seen the man every day as a beggar. But even granting that miracles elicit incredulity, some of the people had not, apparently, paid enough attention to him to know. (A similar story can be found in Acts 3. The man born lame seeks financial help, but apparently he is accustomed to no one making eye contact with him, for Peter and John told him, “Look at us.”)
An indispensable outcome of Bible study is the compassion and kindness that makes us notice one another and care about each other’s pain. Ideally, Bible study will make us more concerned about the poor and needy and will lead us toward ways to help them. Bible reading is interesting and uplifting but if it doesn’t help us grow in love, I think we’re merely spinning our wheels spiritually. It can be a difficult journey, but we need to be able not to avoid certain kinds of people but to look at them, make human contact with them, set aside our personal pressing concerns for a moment, and inquire about their needs.
I’ve a genealogical chart, purchased on eBay® a few years ago, that is filled with biblical names. The chart is “The Adam and Eve Family Tree” published by Good Things Company (Norman, OK, 1975), published “to improve the reading and understanding of the Bible for the glory of God.” The chart color-codes all the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus is the last name under the tribe of Judah, and Paul is mentioned with the tribe of Benjamin. Incredibly, the names are quite readable and are expertly arranged so that everyone fits onto a 24×36 chart.
I love looking at this chart and figuring out who’s who. Under the genealogy of Esau, there are listed several “dukes”: Duke Nahath, Duke Zerah, Duke Shammah, Duke Mizzah, and others. “Dukes”? That’s the KJV rendering; the RSV translates the title “chief” and the NRSV as “clans” (Gen. 36:15-19).
I call these kinds of people “walk ons.” They’re the Bible people who are only mentioned once or twice, with or without an accompanying story. Hundreds of names fill the book’s pages.
Not all the Bible’s walk ons are obscure. A while back, our pastor preached on Exodus 1:8-2:10; every time he mentioned the midwife Puah (Ex. 1:15) I thought he was saying hoo-wah! But those midwives (the other was Shiphrah) have a notable part in the biblical drama. We all know the story, even if we don’t recall their names.
The Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) figures in only a few verses but he certainly becomes an example of how the Holy Spirit networks people; Philip came along right when the Ethiopian needed him—and they were near water for baptism!
Melchizedek’s original story is limited to three verses (Gen. 14:18-20), but what an amazing walk on! The author of Hebrews uses the king-priest Melchizedek (and the absence of a genealogy for him in a genealogy-filled book) to develop a theology of the eternal priesthood of Christ (Heb. 7:1-17).
The Queen of Sheba, too, has a surprisingly small role (1 Kings 10:1-13; 2 Chronicles 9:1-12), considering that she’s also mentioned in the New Testament (Matt. 12:42, Luke 11:31), the Qur’an (27:23-44), and is the subject of artwork, music by Handel and Gounod, and many cultural references. The unnamed monarch captured the popular imagination over the centuries.
You might be surprised how little a role Adam and Eve play as named characters in the Bible, although their influence is everywhere present. As one of my professors put it, the disruption between God and humans permeates the Old Testament even though the Genesis 3 story is not an explicit theme therein. Unless I’ve missed some references, I don’t think Eve is mentioned again by name in the Old Testament after Genesis 4:1; she appears in the New Testament in 2 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Tim. 2:13. Adam does figure in the Pseudepigrapha and other non-canonical writings.
Can you consider the four horsemen of the Apocalypse a “walk on”? LOL