Saturday, May 03, 2003

And Now for a Bit of Linguistics...

I'm not sure if this post'll make any sense, but it made sense while I was in the shower, so hopefully it'll stay that way. If you think I'm full of it, or perhaps simply mistaken, let me know.

Right after September 11th, we kept hearing about how Islam "means peace." I remember being taught that it meant "submission," and while I can see how it could mean both, I was a little skeptical. However, it turns out that Arabic, like Hebrew, is based on consonant clusters. By adding vowels, you get words. Thus, Islam is based on SLM. By adding vowels differently, you can also get Salaam, which is more familiar as "peace."

As I was reading my Bible, I remember noticing one day that while I had heard of people named "Nathaniel," the one in my Bible was "Nathanael." This latter one is a common ending, such as Michael and Raphael (in the Apocrypha). We also see that Jacob becomes Israel. This wouldn't normally catch my attention, except that I also realized that there was also a person named simply "Nathan" in the Bible as well. Obviously, -ael is a suffix, as likely is -iel. Thus, I decided to see what several of these names meant.

Nathanael- "helper of God"
Michael- "who is like God?"
Raphael- "God has healed"
Gabriel- "strong man of God"
Israel- "[that with whom] God has striven"
Uriel- "God is my light"
Uzziel- "Strength of God"

What do we notice here? All names that end with -el also have "God" as part of their meaning. In fact, even "angel" fits this. "Angel" means "messenger," and I very strongly suspect that this is very slightly off, and actually translates as "messenger of God." One Hebrew word for God is Eloi (also Elohim, with a slightly different meaning), and so it fits together.

What is my grand bit of brilliance in this? There isn't one. I just thought I'd share something new that I'd figured out. Names in the Bible are often very significant (you'll notice that an awful lot of names are defined there, even though we rarely need to know what, for example, Bethsaida means).

I also started thinking about our names. Robert means "bright, shining fame." Nathanael means "helper of God," as I stated above. These names are not originally English. When they were first given, they were literal, just as when we name a girl "Hope" or "Faith" (I was going to include "Constance," but that one's falling out of recognition). Now, names mean different things. If your name is John or Peter, I can probably guess the person for whom you're named (or the person for whom that person is named, at least). No one names their son Peter anymore because they want him to be rock-solid. Sometimes names don't have a meaning, but merely sound good to the ear (that doesn't mean that there aren't meanings, but that they're ignored). For instance, I think that Tirzah and Anastasia are lovely names, but I don't know what they actually mean. Lastly, as I mentioned, people can be named for things like virtues or places.

When I get married and have kids (in that order), I've got an urge to give them unique names. I'm not sure how I'll do this, though. I'd like to honor people in my family, and I'd also like to honor people in my wife's family, along with giving the child a Biblical or Christian name of some sort. Thus, let's say that my wife's father was named Harold. Let's say my father's name was Eric. I'll pick a Bible/Christian name, and also a "unique" name. Thus, my son might be named Thomas Harold Eric Godslove Bauer (the middle names could go in any order). However, as most people have three names, this could be awkward at times. I know I'm rambling, but it's often worth examing what's in a name.

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