What Does “Your Name” Mean in the Bible?

HomeChristianity and the BibleWhat Does “Your Name” Mean in the Bible?

NOTE: this article is about the phrase “your name” as it appears in the Bible… as in “I will make your name great” or “in the name of the Lord.” No, please don’t email me to ask what your own name means, unless your own name appears in the Bible.

I get a lot of questions about Bible names, and the Bible talks a lot about names. In the NIV, the Hebrew and Greek words for “name” appear 944 times. That’s a bunch! However: some are confused about how “name” is used in the Bible. It’s used in more than one way, so some explanation would be helpful.

Your Moniker

In one sense, a name is simply your moniker… that is, what others call you. Everybody understands this. Everybody has a name. My name is Tony. The Bible, of course, uses name in this way a whole bunch of times. Here’s one example:

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. (Genesis 29:16)

The Name of…

Name is used in other ways, which often causes confusion… like this:

Those who know your name trust in you… Psalm 9:10

Now, it’s clear that there are people who know about God but don’t trust in Him. Right? We need to avoid thinking about this in modern ways. To understand what phrases like “the name of the Lord” mean, we have to learn what the authors meant when they wrote them.

The Hebrew word for name is shem. It can mean a name, like Bob or Dave or Melissa. It can also be used to talk about a memorial, or a monument, and it can also be used to talk about a person’s reputation, fame, or glory. This is the part that confuses some people. A lot of people have written to me over the years, suggesting that God’s name is important. They want to know God’s name, or how to pronounce God’s name, or why English-speaking Christians say “Jesus” rather than Yeshua or Yehoshua. They say things like, “Jesus’ name has power” or “Praying in Jesus’ name means your prayer will be answered.”

There’s nothing spiritually meaningful about speaking someone’s name out loud. There’s no reason to worry about whether you’re saying it exactly right. We can talk to (or about) the Son of God using His Hebrew name, or His Greek name, or whatever He’s called in your language.

To think otherwise turns Christianity into a system of magic, or superstition… if you say it wrong, you get the wrong result. That’s nonsense. There’s certainly nothing in the Bible to suggest this.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we’re not invoking some spiritual power by saying it out loud. Instead, we’re calling on God to help us based on Jesus’ reputation… His character, and our relationship with Him. There’s no power in speaking the sounds “gee” and “zuss” together, like an incantation. We’re saying that we belong to Jesus, and we’re asking for help based not on our own authority, but on Jesus’ authority. It’s not our reputation that we talk about, but His.

An example would help here. When a police officer is going to arrest a criminal, they may say something like, “Stop, in the name of the law.” They’re not saying that someone should open the door for Bob, or Dave, or Melissa… as if they have any authority of their own. Instead, they’re saying that their authority comes from the law of the land. They come “in the name of the law” in the same way that we pray in Jesus’ name: we have no authority of our own. Jesus has all authority (Matthew 28:18), and when we pray, we’re to pray as He instructed.

God made a promise to Abraham. Here’s what He said:

I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

When God said that He would make Abraham’s name great, He meant that Abraham would be famous, that he would have a great reputation, and that he would gain glory because he would be used by God in important ways. That’s what the Bible means when it talks about the name of the Lord. Not that His name is Bob, or Dave, or Melissa… but that He is great, and powerful, and good. When Abram called on the name of the Lord, He was relying on God’s reputation, believing in God’s character, and trusting that God would deal with Him in ways that matched His reputation.

When the Bible says “the name of the Lord,” we should translate that to “the reputation of the Lord… what we know about His character.”

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6 responses to “What Does “Your Name” Mean in the Bible?”

  1. Douglas Sowers says:

    Surprisingly clear and concise. It made me think of a marriage minister saying “by the power vested in me by the state of xxxx” I also like the image of an officer of a company signing checks in the company’s name, but only for the company’s purposes. If he signs the check for his own purpose, he is embezzling and will suffer the consequences.

  2. Darin Gentry says:

    Hello and greetings can you please tell me what my name means biblically it’s Darin Matthew Gentry

  3. Jeff Simpson says:

    In talking of God the NIV sometimes uses ‘name” (e.g. Ex 20:24) while at other times uses the capital “Name” (e.g. Ex 23:21). What is the rule to capitalize in this case?

    • Tony says:


      You’ve asked a good question. I’m sorry for the delay, but I was waiting for some help from a Bible translator I know. I’ve had no response to date, so I’ll give you my best explanation: I don’t know.

      One thought is that there is a distinction between the two uses of “name.” In chapter 20, God refers to honor. In chapter 23, God refers to His name being IN an angel. The word for angel really could mean any messenger or representative, not just the regular kind. Many consider this “messenger” to be a theophany… an appearance of the Son prior to His birth. If that’s the case, then “Name” may refer to more than simply God’s reputation. It could indicate divine presence, which would be emphasized by the capital N.

      That’s what comes to mind, but I have no expertise in biblical Hebrew to back it up. If I hear from my translator friend, I’ll update you here!

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