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What’s in a Name?

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What’s in a name?

I’m kind of obsessed with names. If you’ve met me in person, the odds are that I have had some sort of conversation with you about your name. It’s because they are so darn important.

A name is the first gift you are given. Even if it is just “baby,” it’s a name and it means a lot. Having a name means that you are YOU, a special person, and there is no one else in the world like you.
Names are prophetic. Some people think that prophecy is foretelling the future, but it is really just what Jesus is saying (Revelation 19:10). He knows our hearts and He knows the future, so there can be some foretelling aspects to prophecy, but most of what Jesus is saying is how much He loves us and what He loves about us. When we’re doing something that hurts us or others, He speaks to call us out and to deal with that problem. That’s the kind of prophecy that gets the most attention from many people, but that’s not the kind of prophecy I’m talking about here.

Whether your parents knew it or not, they named you prophetically. Sometimes, your name is a puzzle to figure out. Sometimes the meaning is as clear as day.

Let’s start with my name, for example.

For my first name, my dad decided he liked the name of a TV show character (a la The Scarecrow and Mrs. King), and Amanda I became. My mom loved French names, so my middle name is fairly run-of-the-mill: Marie.

There are two ways you can start thinking about your name, and it doesn’t matter which order you do it in. First, you consider the meaning of your actual name.

Amanda is the Latin command form of “to love.” So, I imagine myself being placed somewhere and God talking about me—“Look at her! Such beauty and spunk. How can you not love her? Love her!”

Marie is a bit trickier. It comes from the Latin root that means “bitter.”

Love her—the bitter one? It is true that I have struggled with bitterness in my life, and I have found great comfort in the reality of my name, that God still loves me, the bitter one.

There are more layers to explore, though. A little research (on Wikipedia, master of collected knowledge) yields some interesting results. Marie is the French form of Mary, which in Hebrew is Miryam. It can mean ‘bitterness,’ but interestingly that word is related to myrrh, an aromatic resin from a thorny tree. It has antiseptic properties and has been used throughout history as a perfume and as incense.

Suddenly, this name becomes more active. “Love her, the one who is strong-smelling and bold, who offers herself as incense.”

(As I type this, I am learning so much for myself. This is connected to my point in a previous post about weakness!)

Another route, if the literal meaning of your name leaves much to be desired, is to look at people in history. You can claim another person as your namesake, even if that is not necessarily what your parents intended.

For example, I learned the other day about St. Amand. He’s the patron saint of beer, which is pretty nifty. Also, the name Marie is so full of history—Mary of Bethany, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Queen of Scots…you take one that interests you and learn about the life of this person. We all have faults, so taking someone as a namesake does not mean you will be just like them, but it is a root-deepening exercise to learn about those who came before you, bearing your name.

So, what about you? What does your name say about you?


  1. egwolfephd says:

    Elisabeth: “Consecrated unto the Lord” is the usual etymology, but one Hebrew student once told me it means “Woman of God.” Namesake: lots throughout history, but specifically the mother of John the Baptist–though recently I’ve been enjoying learning about the Queen Mum, who is also not a bad namesake to claim. Nor is the Queen herself, for that matter.
    Grace: Well, that’s obvious, innit?

    • AmandaBeck says:

      I always struggle with the etymology of Elisabeth. Elisa means “consecrated to God” if I am remembering correctly, and Beth means “house.” So, I don’t understand why “Beth” is always left out of the discussion of your name!

  2. My husband and I are both somewhat obsessed with names. When we were dating, he actually sent me a spreadsheet that contained names he was considering for the children he would someday have. He had the origin and meaning documented beside each name. :-)
    When we became pregnant with our daughter, it made selecting her name an adventure. We were so pleased to be able to choose a name that told her story!

  3. I like the beer part ; )

  4. Golda says:

    I love finding out what names mean too. When we named Jonas and Isaac, I wanted names that meant something but also that fit them, which is why we didn’t decide on names until after they were born. Both times the names I liked best just didn’t fit them when they were born (Theodore and Charles). Jonas means “peace” or “dove”, and Isaac means “he will laugh.”

    • AmandaBeck says:

      I love it that you changed their names because the ones you picked didn’t fit them. Right before I went in for my son’s c-section, my husband felt like his name should be something different. But he didn’t tell me and by the time he did, we had already signed the birth certificate. :) Oh well.

  5. Bethany says:

    I’m deeply interested in names too! My family giggles at me over it, but I think they’re so so so important!

    Bethany – highly contested, I’ve heard many different interpretations of its meaning, even from sources that are all trying to stick to its Hebrew roots! I’ve heard…
    “House of figs,” “House of dates,” “House of the servant” (or slave), “House of poverty,” or “House of desolation.”
    The first time I heard “House of poverty/desolation,” I was quite distressed by it, but I did some research online and I found out that some scholars think that the town of Bethany was so named because it was the site of an almshouse that would house and support poverty-stricken pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. So though the literal translation might be “house of poverty,” a more accurate translation of its meaning would be “a home for the poor.” Which is certainly true of my life and the inner design of my heart!!

    Also, my Arabic teacher told me that, from the Arabic vein of Semitic languages, my name means “house of counsel” or “house of conversation,” “a gentle give and take.” I also appreciate and resonate with that!

    The town of Bethany was where Lazarus was raised from the dead, where Jesus was anointed for his burial, and quite possibly the site of his ascension. A mentor in my life pointed out that, to Jesus, it was a place of friendship.

    So a name that used to cause me great dismay has now, after a little research, completely changed meanings!! My parents weren’t going to name me Bethany. For months before I was born they were calling me “Hayley.” But when I was born something about Hayley just didn’t feel right to them, and my father made a rather impulsive decision to call me Bethany. Hayley means “wisdom,” so I used to regret his decision, back when I thought Bethany meant “house of desolation.” But now I’m so grateful they changed their minds!

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