Why did God change people's names?
Topic(s): Bible Study, Old Testament
The primary reason names were given or changed in the days of the Old and New Testaments was because of the meanings attached to the names. This is still done in much of the world. Abram and Sarai received their name change in Genesis 17. (Consider also that the name Isaac means "laughter," and was given by God as a constant reminder to Sarah that she laughed at the promise of God.)
The name Abram meant "high father" or "exalted father." The name Abraham meant "Father of a multitude of nations." The name change reflected his Divine change in life and the fruition of God's promise in Genesis 12:3. Note the name change did not come when Ishmael was born of Hagar, but when God's promise was fulfilled in the giving of Isaac.
Sarai's name was changed to Sarah, which means "princess."
In the original Hebrew language, both names were changed through the addition of a single letter -- "h." There is considerable scholarship that believes the letter "h" added a Divinely given dignity to both names. Here is an excerpt from Adam Clarke's commentary on the change:
"Clarius and others think that the Hebrew letter "h", which is one of the letters of the Tetragrammaton, (or word of four letters, YaHWeH,) was added for the sake of dignity, God associating the patriarch more nearly to himself, by thus imparting to him a portion of his own name . Now as the only change in each name is made by the insertion of a single letter, and that letter the same in both names, I cannot help concluding that some mystery was designed by its insertion, and therefore the opinion of Clarius and some others is not to be disregarded, which supposes that God shows he had conferred a peculiar dignity on both, by adding to their names one of the letters of his own; a name by which his eternal power and Godhead are peculiarly pointed out."
(Adam Clarke's Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
Other names changes of note in the Old Testament are Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28) and Hosea to Joshua (Numbers 13:8, 16).