Many English first names are odd to the language or they are borrowed from remote languages with long-forgotten meanings, leaving us with a wealth of mostly meaningless names. Some of us believe or are aware of the connection between our given names and our journey through life. And why wouldn’t a special name that we hear thousands of times throughout life not affect us and others in relation to us? Even from a clean, psychological perspective, will one grow to be the same person if called, let’s say ‘Jonathan’ or (let’s get extreme here) ‘Coconut?’ Will this person be able to be hired to the same future jobs with either name? Will the same wife marry him?
Do you remember from kindergarten or grammar school days upset classmates who were mocked just because their names rhymed with funny words? Without the need to go beyond these basic points, we can say with confidence that our given name plays a certain role in shaping our future identity. The Hebrew Bible goes way beyond these limited assumptions. Therefore, first names explain both the circumstances of birth and meaningfully foreshadow people’s destiny!
We start today a fascinating journey through the ‘inside story’ behind each name of the tribes of Israel. It is a hidden treasure for English speakers because most English Bible versions simply miss the complete names’ meanings. We’ll try to illuminate for you the full meaning of these important biblical names and begin with the fascinating name ‘Judah,’ the fourth son of Leah and Jacob.
The name Judah is explained twice, both times with the same meaning:
1. “And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she said, ‘Now will I praise the Lord; therefore she called his name Judah; and ceased bearing’”
2. “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be in the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down in your presence”
In example 1, the exact word, ‘Yehuda,’ comes from the root ‘hoda’ and the word ‘toda’ (‘to thank’). Leah thanks God for this birth (circumstances of birth). In example 2, the actual words speak about the brothers thanking Judah (foreshadowing future and destiny).
The importance of this name and its meaning rests in the fact that it is the source of the name of the people of Israel − ‘Ye•hu•dim’ (Jewish). Ye•hu•dim came from Jerusalem’s region − Yehuda − that in turn came from the son, Yehuda (Judah). ‘Jewish’ then means ‘thankful’.