Theophoric name

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A theophoric name (from Greek: θεόφορος, theophoros, literally "bearing or carrying a god")[1][2] embeds the name of a god, both invoking and displaying the protection of that deity. For example, names embedding Apollo, such as Apollonios or Apollodorus, existed in Greek antiquity.[3]

Theophoric personal names, containing the name of a god in whose care the individual is entrusted (or a generic word for god), were also exceedingly common in the ancient Near East and Mesopotamia.[4][5][6] Some names of theophoric origin remain common today, such as Theodore (theo-, "god"; -dore, origin of word compound in Greek: doron, "gift"; hence "God's gift"; in Greek: Theodoros) or less recognisably as Jonathan (from Hebrew Yonatan/Yehonatan, meaning "Yahweh has given").

Classical theophoric names[edit]

  • Demetrius and its derivatives mean "follower of Demeter."
  • Dennis, in Latin Dionysius, and its relatives mean "of Dionysus." Compounds such as Dionysodorus/Dionysodora ("gift of Dionysos"), Dionysodotus/Dionysodota ("given by Dionysos"), and Dionysikles ("glory of Dionysos") also exist.
  • Martin and its relatives mean "of Mars."
  • Zeno and Diodoros or Diodorus from Zeus (genitive of Zeus is 'dios')
  • Poseidonios, Poseidippos, and Poseidorus from Poseidon
  • Athenodoros/Athenodora from Athena
  • Minervina from Minerva
  • Apollodoros/Apollodora and Apollonios from Apollo
  • Artemisia and Artemidoros/Artemidora from Artemis
  • Aphrodesia from Aphrodite; Hephaistion from Hephaistos
  • Aria from Ares
  • Hermione and Hermippos from Hermes
  • Herodotus/Herodota and Herakles from Hera
  • Heliodoros/a from Helios
  • Fortunatus from Fortuna
  • Serapion from Serapis
  • Isidoros or Isidora from Isis.
  • Certain names of classical gods are sometimes given as personal names. The most common is Diana and its variants, such as Diane; others include Minerva, Aphrodite, Venus, Isis, or Juno. The first pope to take a regnal name, Pope John II, had the given name Mercurius and changed his name as he considered it inappropriate for the Pope to have the name of a pagan deity.

Christian theophoric names[edit]

Some Christian saints have polytheistic theophoric names (such as Saint Dionysius, Saint Mercurius, Saint Saturninus, Saint Hermes, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki,).

Germanic theophoric names[edit]

Rarely, Germanic names contain the element Wod (such as Woðu-riðe), potentially pointing to an association with the god Odin. In connection, numerous names containing wulf "wolf" have been taken as totemistic, expressing association with Odin in the earliest period, although -ulf degenerated into a mere suffix from an early time (Förstemann 1856).


The personal names of almost all gods and goddesses of various deities from the polytheistic Hindu pantheon are considered common and traditional names for people from region. Many traditional Hindu names are in fact from various names or epithets of Hindu gods or goddesses. This is in addition to compound theophoric names using the name of a deity in addition to possessive qualifiers.

  • Names of gods which are also used as personal names, include
  • Personal names using a deity's name as the base
    • Vaishnavi, meaning "a worshipper of Vishnu"
    • Shivansh, meaning "a part of Shiva"

Brahma, the Hindu creator god, is one of the only deities of the pantheon whose name is rarely if ever used as a personal name or as a base for theophoric personal names.

It must be noted however that some seemingly theophoric names, may in fact be more related to the original etymology of the deity's name itself. For example, both Lakshmi and Lakshman are names of a deity and an avatar respectively, which are both derived from the etymological root Laksh meaning goal or aim, which in itself is also a valid personal name.


Judaism and biblical[edit]

Much Hebrew theophory occurs in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. The most prominent theophory involves

  • names referring to El, a word meaning might, power and (a) god in general, and hence in Judaism, God and among the Canaanites the name of the god who was the father of Baal.
  • names referring to Yah, a shortened form of Yahweh.
  • names referring to Levantine deities (especially the storm god, Hadad) by the epithet Baal, meaning lord.

In later times, as the conflict between Yahwism and the more popular pagan practices became increasingly intense, these names were censored and Baal was replaced with Bosheth, meaning shameful one. However the name Yahweh does not appear in theophoric names until the time of Joshua, and for the most part is very rare until the time of King Saul, when it began to be very popular.[7]



The name of the Israelite deity YHWH (usually shortened to Yah or Yahu, and Yeho or Yo) appears as a prefix or suffix in many theophoric names of the First Temple Period. For example, Yirme-yahu (Jeremiah), Yesha-yahu (Isaiah), Netan-yah, Yedid-yah, Adoni-yah, Nekhem-yah, Yeho-natan (Jonathan), Yeho-chanan (John), Yeho-shua (Joshua), Yeho-tzedek, Zekharya (Zechariah).

"Yahū" or "Yah" is the abbreviation of YHWH when used as a suffix in Hebrew names; as a prefix it appears as "Yehō-", or "Yo". It was formerly thought to be abbreviated from the Masoretic pronunciation "Yehovah". There is an opinion[8] that, as Yahweh is likely an imperfective verb form, "Yahu" is its corresponding preterite or jussive short form: compare yiŝtahaweh (imperfective), yiŝtáhû (preterit or jussive short form) = "do obeisance".

In the table below, 13 theophoric names with "Yeho" have corresponding forms where the letters eh have been omitted. There is a theory by Christian Ginsburg that this is due to Hebrew scribes omitting the "h", changing Jeho (יְהוֹ‎) into Jo (יוֹ‎), to make the start of "Yeho-" names not sound like an attempt to pronounce the Divine Name.[9][10]

Strong's # the name other element English conventional form
long form short form long form short form long form short form
3059 3099 יְהוֹאָחָז Yᵉho'achaz יוֹאָחָז Yo'achaz achaz [# 270] Jehoahaz Joahaz
3060 3101 יְהוֹאָש Yᵉho'ash יוֹאָש Yo'ash 'esh [# 784] Jehoash Joash
3075 3107 יְהוֹזָבָד Yᵉhozabad יוֹזָבָד Yozabad zabad [# 2064] Jehozabad Jozabad
3076 3110 יְהוֹחָנָן Yᵉhowchanan יוֹחָנָן Yochanan chanan [# 2603] Yehochanan Jochanan
3077 3111 יְהוֹיָדָע Yᵉhoyada יוֹיָדָע Yoyada yada [# 3045] Jehoiada Joiada
3078 3112 יְהוֹיָכִין Yᵉhoyakin יוֹיָכִין Yoyakin kun [# 3559] Yehoyakin Joiakin
3079 3113 יְהוֹיָקִים Yᵉhoyaqim יוֹיָקִים Yoyaqim qum [# 3965] Yehoyakim Joakim
3080 3114 יְהוֹיָרִיב Yᵉhoyarib יוֹיָרִיב Yoyarib rib [# 7378] Jehoiarib Joiarib
3082 3122 יְהוֹנָדָב Yᵉhonadab יוֹנָדָב Yonadab nadab [# 5068] Jehonadab Jonadab
3083 3129 יְהוֹנָתָן Yᵉhonathan יוֹנָתָן Yonathan nathan [# 5414] Yehonathan Jonathan
3085 יְהוֹעַדָּה Yᵉho'addah 'adah [# 5710] Jehoaddah
3087 3136 יְהוֹצָדָק Yᵉhotsadaq יוֹצָדָק Yotsadaq tsadaq [# 6663] Jehozadak Jozadak
3088 3141 יְהוֹרָם Yᵉhoram יוֹרָם Yoram rum [# 7311] Jehoram Joram
3092 3146 יְהוֹשָפָט Yᵉhoshaphat יוֹשָפָט Yoshaphat shaphat [# 8199] Jehoshaphat Joshaphat
3470a 3470 יְשַׁעְיָהוּ Yᵉsha'yahu יְשַׁעְיָה Yᵉsha'yah yasha [# 3467] Yeshayahu Isaiah
5418a 5418 נְתַנְיָהוּ Nᵉthanyahu נְתַנְיָה Nᵉthanyah nathan [# 5414] Netanyahu Netaniah
138a 138 אֲדֹנִיָּהוּ 'Adoniyahu אֲדֹנִיָּה 'Adoniyah 'adown [# 113] Adoniyahu Adonijah
452a 452 אֵלִיָּהוּ 'Eliyahu אֵלִיָּה 'Eliyah 'el [# 410] Eliyahu Elijah
3414a 3414 יִרְמְיָהוּ Yirmᵉyahu יִרְמְיָה Yirmᵉyah rum [# 7311] Yirmeyahu Jeremiah
5166 נְחֶמְיָה Nᵉchemyah nacham [# 5162] Nechemiah

Referring to other gods[edit]

Theophoric names containing "Baal" were sometimes "censored" as -bosheth = "shameful one", whence Ishbosheth etc.

Some names might be controversial theological statements: Bealiah could mean Baal is Yahweh and Elijah could mean Yahweh is El (and vice versa, respectively).[citation needed] On the other hand, as traditionally understood, these names simply mean "YHWH is Master" and "YHWH is God." (1 Chron. 12:5)


  1. ^ "theophoric". Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
  2. ^ θεόφορος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. ^ Shendge, Malati J. The Language of the Harappans: From Akkadian to Sanskrit, 1997. p 24. "It may also be interpreted as theophorous names, i.e. the name of the god forming part of the name of an individual. The usage is theophorous because besides the eponymous Asura, each individual of high or low status has a personal name."
  4. ^ Zadok, R. The Pre-hellenistic Israelite Anthroponymy and Prosopography, 1988. p 16. "The Period of the Judges (J) The theophorous names constitute a sizable minority (almost 40%). Many of the hypocoristica possibly originate from compound theophorous names (e.g., Abdon, Gerd, J21 1 1 1 1, 2141 12)."
  5. ^ Benz, Frank L. Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions. p 233. "Any one of the three major types of elements, divine name or theophorous, nominal, or verbal can make up a Phoenician-Punic hypocoristic name. The divine name hypocoristic is the least attested. The simplest formation is that of a single ..."
  6. ^ Drijvers, H. J. W. Cults and Behafs at Edessa, 1980. p 21. "The proper names, which are mainly theophorous ones, may increase our knowledge of the religious feeling of the people of Edessa and of the cults practiced by them, insofar as their theophorous elements reflect existing beliefs."
  7. ^ Mark Haughwout, "Personal Names Before Exodus 6:2-3"
  8. ^ Anson F. Rainey, How Yahweh Was Pronounced Archived December 2, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, QUERIES & COMMENTS.
  9. ^ Christian Ginsburg, Introduction To the Massoretico-Critical Edition Of The Hebrew Bible, p 369
  10. ^ Scott Jones, Jehovah Archived December 15, 2005, at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]