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A name represents the person (or object) that is named. In many cultures, it will also tell us something about the person himself, or about significant circumstances or events that may have occurred during his life. Sometimes a name might be changed when a significant event occurred, so that the new name would be a reminder of that event. Also, depending on the circumstances, a person might have more than one name.
Examples of how names often revealed something significant: "Samuel" means "heard of God," for God heard his mother's prayers for a son - 1 Samuel 1:20; and "Ichabod" means "no glory," for the child was born at a time when the ark of God had been captured by the enemy and three prominent family members had just died.
Examples of names that were changed: "Jacob" became "Israel" (which means "he struggles with God"), after he wrestled with God (in human form) - Genesis 32:26-28; the city of "Luz" was renamed "Bethel" (which means, "House of God"), because of a dream Jacob had, in which he saw God; and Daniel and his friends were given new names by their conquerors - Daniel 1:6-7.
An example in which a person had more than one name: "Simon," "Cephas" and "Peter" all refer to the same person, in John 1:42.
Today, there are some people who treat names in the Bible (especially names related to God) in an almost superstitions occult-like manner, as though the utterance of the syllables themselves had some type of magical quality. Some even think that such names must be uttered in the same exact way that they were originally uttered, in the original Hebrew or Greek languages. This is quite silly, considering the fact that we don't know the exact way people uttered those words at the time the Bible was written - we have no recordings of their voices! Linguists themselves often disagree on how vowels were pronounced in ancient languages - if they're even willing to guess. And this doesn't take into consideration the changes in pronunciation that can (and do) occur, as the centuries go by, or the dialects that may exist in different localities. Even the New Testament - originally written in Greek - testifies against this viewpoint, when it mentions the names of people in the Old Testament - originally written in Hebrew.
Examples of this include: The Old Testament name "Joshua," which in the New Testament is "Jesus" (Hebrews 4:8); and the Old Testament name "Elijah," which in the New Testament is "Elias." (This is best seen in the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, for modern translations tend to harmonize the names, to minimize the confusion.)
This misconception can be dispelled when we realize that the important thing is what the word represented, not the syllables themselves.
In the book of Revelation, the concept of "name" occurs quite frequently, and for many reasons. A look at these verses is not only instructive of many things, but also shows the basic pattern of how the concept of "name" is used throughout the rest of the Scriptures.
The value of God's name, representing God's worth
Some may reject God (his name), but eventually all will bring honor to it.
See also: Section C-1, about God's names being written on his people.
Some of his names, representing who he is
The value of Jesus' name, representing Jesus' worth
See also: Section C-1, about Jesus' names being written on his people.
Names written on them (signifying that they belong to God, etc.)
A new name given to them
Names written on the city
See also: Section C-1, about the New Jerusalem's name being written on the inhabitants of the city.
About the "overcomers," whose names are written in the Book of Life
About those whose names are not written in the Book of Life, specifically focusing on those who are alive at the time the "beast" is present
An "unworthy" name: The reputation ("name") of most of the people at Sardis (who were thought to be "Alive") did not match their actual character (which was actually "Dead") - 3:1. [They were to repent... or they would not be ready when Jesus returned - v. 2-3.]
A "worthy" name: This was true of only a few people ("names") at Sardis, who, unlike the others, would one day walk with Jesus - 3:4. [This would also be true of all other "overcomers" - see 3:5.]
Note: In these two verses, many translations will use the word "reputation" (verse 1) and "people" (verse 4), in order to better communicate the concepts that were a part of the original New Testament Greek word.
Names given to (or associated with) various judgments
Names related to specific evil characters (including characters which may be symbolic)
The name, number and mark of the beast
"Names" representing the people who died in one of the judgments - 11:13.
Dennis Hinks © 2002