What's in a Name?

Updated: Sep 11

More than meets the eye.

Novus Orbis Regionum (“New Regions of the World”), published in Switzerland in 1532.

When my Italian dad Alfonso became an American citizen in 1976 for the bicentennial, he gave himself the middle name Amerigo in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer and America's namesake. With it, my father honored both his homeland and his adopted country, and as an immigrant, claimed a meaning-filled name for himself. In 1507, a cartographer affixed a variation of Amerigo's name to an early map of the New World as a tribute to Vespucci. Others followed suit and "America" became official in 1532. Absent social media and email, it's said that Amerigo may never have known of this distinction and its huge significance. BTW, Amerigo means, "power" and "ruler." Fact is, we don't always understand the importance and meaning of names--even our own.


A brief personal history of names.

My oldest son's name is Pierce Alfonso Joseph. This is a tribute to all three of his grandfathers. Pierce's dad Ray's father Raymond Pierce died early and his mom married a man named Joseph who adopted Ray, so we honored all the dads in naming Pierce. The name Pierce is akin to Peter, which most know means "rock." As a young man (or, at 15, an old boy), Pierce's character is still evolving, but he's been known as "Mr. Cool" on the pitcher's mound because he's rock solid under pressure.


Isaac's dad and I picked his name, which means laughter, long before we knew the immense amount of laughter he would bring to our lives. God knew already.


Isaac is proud of his name and will sometimes even chastise me if I call him by an endearment, like "honey-bunny" or "cutie-pie." He'll say proudly, "My name's Isaac!"


I used to be the only Isabella for miles, apart from someone's great aunt which--along with my 12-letter last name--contributed to my overall lifelong odd-duck feeling. Not anymore! Isabella has had a few big surges in popularity since my adolescence.

The name Isabella has many appealing meanings--some of which from the adjacent Pinterest art--are totally me and I'm happy to own. After much resistance and debate, I have also come to treasure the fact that among its meanings, Isabella means "consecrated to God" or "pledged from God," as this description puts it. This is also so very true of me, though for a long while, I tried unsuccessfully to fight the implications.


From birth, I've had a strong, undeniable, inescapable affinity for things of God.


In case you didn't know, "consecrated" means "to set apart for a special and often higher end." Gee, no pressure!


My parents didn't name me after anyone, nor did they Google name meanings, they just liked the name Isabella. But God knew.


I keep this little placard pasted in my journal to remind me of who--and whose--I am.


On the other hand, my brother Dario was named after the Emperor Darius of Persia (aka Darius the Great), influenced by my parents' love of history. As it happens, Dario is a great manager and leader. His name also means, "upholder of good," and I can say, without bias, that my brother is a really good guy and unfailingly seeks out the good in people and circumstances. My parents liked the name, but they didn't know who Dario would become. God did.


My spiritual director Nancy grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts to an American mother and dad of Sicilian heritage. Mom wanted to name her daughter Nancy, while the baffled Sicilian contingent didn't get that at all, preferring traditional Italian names like Mary or Josephine. In fact, Nancy was also bugged by the fact that her white bread American name made her stick out in her predominantly Italian neighborhood.


Well, if you knew Nancy, you'd know that she's anything but white bread and she does stick out--in the best possible way. Plus, Nancy means "favor" and "grace--" not too shabby. Eventually Nancy recognized that God set her apart for a special, favored spiritual purpose. Even feeling like an outsider in childhood was part of God's extended training regimen. This revelation reframed the whole experience for Nancy and she routinely shares the insight with her directees--as she did with me. It was Nancy who urged me to study the meanings of my name.


God has been known to have a hand in naming people from the very beginning.


Biblical perspective.

God Himself puts a high value on names, and even personally renamed several prominent Bible figures with clear and prophetic intent.


Old Testament figures Abraham and Sarah had their future identities captured by their fine-tuned former names. Abram means “exalted father,” but God renamed him Abraham, or “father of many nations.” His wife Sarai, whose name means “princess,” became Sarah, “my princess,” indeed becoming a precious woman who grew to trust God wholeheartedly, though in rather an untidy process.


Somewhat slimy Jacob, "grasper of heel," which referred to his rivalry-ridden, second-fiddle role to his twin brother also got an image overhaul. After a rough and tumble night with God, Jacob was renamed Israel by God, which means "contended" or "wrestled with God," "overcoming," and "God's chosen." That's certainly an upgrade.


Can all these new names and moral reboots foreshadow Christ's redemptive work?


You decide.


Millenia later, Jesus renamed hotheaded, cowardly Simon, Peter, "rock" (no relation to Dwayne Johnson), declaring:

Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter, Pietro Perugino, c.1482 (Sistine Chapel, Vatican)
"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Matthew 16:18

Jesus then promptly handed Peter the proverbial, "keys to the kingdom" (v.19).


(How very comforting that God left us so many examples of deeply flawed, recognizably human Bible heroes God employed!)


Big name names.

God Himself is known by many informative names including,


El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty)

El Elyon (The Most High God)

Adonai (Lord, Master)

Yahweh (Lord, Jehovah)

Jehovah Nissi (The Lord My Banner/Victory)

Jehovah Raah (The Lord My Shepherd)

Jehovah Rapha (The Lord That Heals)

Jehovah Shammah (The Lord Is There)

Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord Our Righteousness)

Jehovah Mekoddishkem (The Lord Who Sanctifies You)

El Olam (The Everlasting God)

Elohim (God)

Qanna (Jealous)

Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide)

Jehovah Shalom (The Lord Is Peace)

Jehovah Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts)


My church recently went through a brief series on the subject and we were encouraged to pray God's names. Powerful stuff!



Jesus, too, is referred to by many compelling monikers. There are more, but here are just 100:


Advocate (1 John 2:1) Almighty (Rev. 1:8; Mt. 28:18) Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13) Amen (Rev. 3:14) Apostle of our Profession (Heb. 3:1) Atoning Sacrifice for our Sins (1 John 2:2) Author of Life (Acts 3:15) Author and Perfecter of our Faith (Heb. 12:2) Author of Salvation (Heb. 2:10) Beginning and End (Rev. 22:13) Blessed and only Ruler (1 Tim. 6:15) Bread of God (John 6:33) Bread of Life (John 6:35; 6:48) Bridegroom (Mt. 9:15) Capstone (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7) Chief Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20) Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) Christ (1 John 2:22) Creator (John 1:3) Deliverer (Rom. 11:26) Eternal Life (1 John 1:2; 5:20) Gate (John 10:9) Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11) Faithful Witness (Rev. 1:5) Faithful and True Witness (Rev. 3:14) First and Last (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13) Firstborn From the Dead (Rev. 1:5) Firstborn over all creation (Col. 1:15) Gate (John 10:9) God (John 1:1; 20:28; Heb. 1:8; Rom. 9:5; 2 Pet. 1:1;1 John 5:20, etc.) Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14) Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20) Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14) Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23) Heir of all things (Heb. 1:2) High Priest (Heb. 2:17) Holy and True (Rev. 3:7) Holy One (Acts 3:14) Hope (1 Tim. 1:1) Hope of Glory (Col. 1:27) Horn of Salvation (Luke 1:69) I Am (John 8:58) Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4) Immanuel (Mt. 1:23) Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42) King Eternal (1 Tim. 1:17) King of Israel (John 1:49) King of the Jews (Mt. 27:11) King of kings (1 Tim 6:15; Rev. 19:16) King of the Ages (Rev. 15:3) Lamb (Rev. 13:8) Lamb of God (John 1:29) Lamb Without Blemish (1 Pet. 1:19) Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) Life (John 14:6; Col. 3:4) Light of the World (John 8:12) Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5) Living One (Rev. 1:18) Living Stone (1 Pet. 2:4) Lord (2 Pet. 2:20) Lord of All (Acts 10:36) Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8) Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16) Man from Heaven (1 Cor. 15:48) Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:15) Mighty God (Isa. 9:6) Morning Star (