Topics Definition of Hebrew Names
By Jeff A. Benner
Abraham was originally named by his father as אברם (Abram) and later changed to אברהם (Abraham) by God. As every Hebrew name has a meaning, always related to the character of the person, it is important to know what their names mean. In the case of Ya'acov (Jacob - he grabs the heel) it was changed by God to Yisrael (Israel - turns the head of God). As there was a change in character, there is also a change in the name.
While many suggest that Abram means "exalted father" and Abraham means "father of a multitude", both names in fact mean exactly the same thing "father lifted up" or "exalted father". The beginning of both names is אב (AB) meaning "father". The "ram" in Abram is דם meaning "lifted", a parent root. The raham in Abraham is רהם also means "lifted", a child root derived from the parent root MR.
It does not make much sense to change a name if the new name means the same thing. This is why many attempt to make a change in meaning. But, to understand the real meaning behind a name change is important for understanding why God changed his name and the names of others such as Jacob to Israel.
In Genesis chapters one and two we have the naming of all of creation. We find that Adam named Eve, his children and all of the animals, while God named the light, darkness, sky and land. From this we find something very interesting. Adam had authority over his wife, children and the animals, while God has authority over the light, darkness, sky and land. If you have authority over something, you have the right and responsibility to name it. Abram was named by his father Terah, the one who had authority over him. But, when Abram left his father's house and headed out on his own, God, who respected the authority of Terah previously, now takes the role of his authority and changes his name indicating a change in authority, not necessarily a change in character.
We see the same scenario with Jacob, who after leaving his father's house had his name changed by God to Israel. Jacob not only had a change in authority but also in character.
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