Name Changes – Genesis 17 Part I

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So up until this point we were following Abram and Sarai around. Now we hear about Abraham and Sarah, why did their names change? Well, changing their names connects with the promise from God.

Names Have Meaning

All names have meaning. Any Biblical name in the Old Testament that ends in “-el” means “God is my” or something connected with God. Most of the names that start with Jo- or Je- in the Old Testament say much the same. We know that New Testament Greek names also had meaning, like Peter means rock. By coincidence we named our triplets: Landon, Layton, and Liam; all have names that are connected to lands, fields, or meadows in Celtic, Welsh, and Anglo-Saxon origins. Try searching Google and you will likely find the meaning of your own name.

It is a feature of life that we forget in the modern world because we disconnected meaning from our names. In the movie “Dances with Wolves,” Kevin Costner plays First Lieutenant John J. Dunbar. The movie’s name comes from the name that the Sioux natives gave to Dunbar, “Dances with Wolves.” However, that is not his name. They named him in the Lakota language: Šuŋgmánitu Tȟáŋka Ób Wačhí. They did not say “Dances with Wolves” in English, just like we name a child “Emmanuel” and not “God is with us.” Yet in Hebrew, they hear “God is with us” whenever mom called him for dinner!

New Names (Genesis 17:1-8, 15-16)

Abram, Ab- means father in Hebrew. Most translations put the approximate meanings of the endings in footnotes. Abram, exalted father. Perhaps you can compare it to El and Elohim, God/god and God of gods/Supreme God/gods (ie, simply plural). However, Abram is changed to Abraham. Abraham fathers the multitude. This is the passage that we get the children’s song about Father Abraham and many sons.

Yet it is not enough to change one of their names. God changes both their names. Sarai and Sarah come from the Hebrew “sar” which means prince. Thus she is a princess. There is no meaning change for Sarah, yet this is a difference in who she is. Changing a name meant changing the person. Sarai, the princess of the exalted father Abram, barren and childless changed to Sarah, the princess of a multitude of nations from Abraham, the mother of many. Being renamed is like getting a new destiny.

You Have a New Name Too!

Those who have victory over temptation, especially the temptations of false teaching, will receive a new name from God (Revelation 2:12-17). We are adopted into the family of God, within modern Western tradition that usually means a change in the last name. When we are baptized, we receive it in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A new name means a new identity. Through baptism Jesus gives us a new name. Like Abraham and Sarah, it is time to live with your new name.

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