The core word ‘shem’ means ‘a name.’ If you ever need to introduce yourself to a Hebrew speaker, start with: ‘shalom, sh’•mi …’ ‘Hi, my name is…’ and say your name. As an informal nation, Israelis introduce themselves mostly by first name only. Mentioning your last name in a first-time introduction may sound either excessively formal or quite pompous.
When you add “ha” (the prefix ‘the’) before the word ‘shem,’ it means ‘the name.’ When we say ‘HaShem’ without an actual name after it, we are saying: ‘The Name’ which means ‘God.’ This is a reference, the Hebraic way of reverence to the Creator instead of using his actual name. (Read more about this beautiful reverence in the previous Hebrew Word of the Day: ‘Ba•ruch Ha•shem’).
There are two Biblical references to God using the name ‘HaShem,’ which establishes it as a future substitute of reverence for the Creator’s Name:
“If you will not take care to do all the words of this Torah that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and fearful name, the Lord your God”
“And the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him to Moses; and his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan”
Note that here the Hebrew text only says: ‘blasphemed the Name’ and NOT what you see in the translation above.
The third meaning of this word, ‘she•mi,’ refers to the mostly false, confusing and inaccurate term ‘Semite.’ This name originated from Noah’s son, ‘Shem,’ and his descendants. August von Schlözer coined the term ‘Semitic’ in 1781, attempting to characterize a group of languages that were assumed to have had a common origin. That common, non-existent language has been called the ‘Proto-Semitic’ language. To date, not a single document has been found to support the assumption of such a language. In any case, the group of peoples that speak Semitic languages is quite large and very diverse: Jews, Arabs and Ethiopians, for instance, are not races from an anthropological perspective. The race theory supporters tried (and succeeded) to turn them into a race with measurable ‘scientific’ characteristics. Today, race theories are becoming more and more obsolete, except for some that are persistent such as Anti-Semitism.