How much insight can one glean or gain regarding someone–from their name alone? As most names have a positive definition we’d do well to know what they mean for us. It’s what your parents had in mind prior to releasing you into the world. With many of the biblical figures, their Hebrew definitions are pretty straightforward.
I’m thinking of Jonah. An eminently Hebrew name, it literally means “dove” and its understandable how some character traits inherent in his name would tell as to why he’d respond to God’s command the way he did: by running away.
Look at a dove. Hopefully there are doves where you live. There are near me. The thing about doves–in this case mourning doves–is their sensitivity. They waddle around looking none the wiser. Trust me, they know you’re there and when they take off after you’ve gotten too close, it’s a cacophony of coos and calls and a flash of feathers. Altogether unlike the aloof way they present themselves to the rest of the world. If you dig deeper into the origin of the name “Jonah” or “yownah“, it’s from the same root word as “wine” and implies the expanding fermentation process. The correlation between “dove” and “wine”, in this case, is “heat” (the doves’ warmth during mating, you see). This is why Jesus says that you must put “new wine into new bottles” (Matthew 9:17). Because the fermentation expansion will break open an old, dry wineskin. Have you ever felt that way? Like you’re ready to burst from whatever’s going on inside? I have, many a time.
“For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me. Behold, my belly is as wine which hath not vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles” (Job 32:18) Says Elihu to Job. “Burst like new bottles” you say?
I suspect Jonah had a problem with his temper, as evinced by the dove-like sensitivity coupled with the emotional “fermentation” tendency that he showed. After God spared Nineveh through Jonah’s warning, Jonah still harbored anger and resentment for whatever reason. Who knows? God asks him in the fourth verse of the fourth chapter: “Doest thou well to be angry?” Sometimes, that’s all we can do. Feeling like no one understands what’s going on inside of us. Trust me, God knows. And any input, any “matter” that is causing contention and confusion–inner turmoil–is not from God. God had a job for Jonah, which he in turn barely performed. We leave off with his little book and he still in his tantrum phase. But doesn’t he see the conversational relationship he shares with his heavenly Father? I digress…
And thank God we have Jonah’s anthroponomastic etymology from which to glean these insights. Look at the definition of Jonah’s father’s name “Amittai”: “veracious (i.e. truthful), stability, trustworthiness, certainty, firmness” and an outlying connotation of “turning to the right hand” (so says Strong’s Concordance). Cut and dry. Just try living up to that without any encouragement.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Paul writes Timothy and tells him not to be afraid. “Timothy”, or “Timotheus” means “dear to God” from the Greek. There had to be a reason why Paul would open his second letter with this gentle admonition. In the next verse, he tells him to “be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.” These things resonate with me because two things I’ve encountered in my life are an inordinate inner sensitivity (I think) and a severe case of existential doubt stemming from maternal abandonment. Oh don’t worry, I’ve overcome all of that (with God’s help of course) but without these verses and the lessons therein, I don’t know how else I could have overcome. I suppose I could’ve pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, but that’s un-Christlike. And even though my name’s “Joshua” meaning “God is salvation”, there’s a time where I wasn’t living up to that definition. I think the same could be said for Tim. Those two negative character traits don’t lend themselves to the confident expounding of Jesus’ Gospel, you know. Toward the end of his first letter to him, Paul tells Timothy to “drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (5:23, emphasis mine) Who knows what that refers to, it certainly doesn’t sound pleasant. I don’t know why, but every time I think of “Timothy”, I think of “timorous” which essentially means “afraid”. Different roots, opposite definitions, similar sounds, oh well.
Timothy’s parentage yields interesting insight as well (the Bible has a thing for genealogies):
“When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois (meaning either warrior, or most beautiful, both sound good to me), and thy mother Eunice (meaning victorious, same root as unique); and I am persuaded that in thee also.” (2 Timothy 1:5)
One of the ways to succeed is to have the right kind of people encouraging you to become who you’re meant to be so you can do what you’re called to do. And maybe Jonah didn’t have this because God certainly showed great patience in spite of Jonah’s pissyness. I’ve been there. Fortunately, for me, it was both God and my dad. My dad’s name is Charlie, which means “manly” by the way. So, yeah.
And thanks to Arie Uitenbogaard for help with the name “Lois”!