Among the first names recorded in the Bible is that of Seth, meaning “Appointed.” Seth’s mother, Eve, explained why she chose that name, saying: “God has appointed another seed in place of Abel, because Cain killed him.” (Genesis 4:25) Seth’s descendant Lamech named his son Noah, meaning “Rest” or “Consolation.” Lamech said he gave his son that name because “this one will bring us comfort from our work and from the pain of our hands resulting from the ground which Jehovah has cursed.”—Genesis 5:29.
God himself changed the names of certain adults for prophetic purposes. For example, he changed the name of Abram, meaning “Father Is Exalted,” to Abraham, meaning “Father of a Multitude.” True to his name, Abraham did become the father of many nations. (Genesis 17:5, 6) Consider, too, Abraham’s wife, Sarai, possibly meaning “Contentious.” How happy she must have been when God renamed her “Sarah,” meaning “Princess,” alluding to her becoming an ancestress of kings.—Genesis 17:15, 16.
God also personally chose the name of some children. For example, he told Abraham and Sarah to name their son Isaac, meaning “Laughter.” That name would constantly remind this faithful couple of their reaction to the news that they would have a son in their old age. When Isaac grew up to be a faithful servant of God, his name no doubt continued to bring a smile to the faces of Abraham and Sarah as they enjoyed the company of this beloved son.—Genesis 17:17, 19; 18:12, 15; 21:6.
Isaac’s daughter-in-law Rachel gave her last son his name for a very different reason. While on her deathbed, Rachel called the child Ben-oni, meaning “Son of My Mourning.” Her bereaved husband, Jacob, slightly altered the name to Benjamin, meaning “Son of the Right Hand.” This name signified a position not only of favor but also of support.—Genesis 35:16-19; 44:20.
Names were sometimes given or taken in harmony with the physical characteristics of the person. For instance, Isaac and Rebekah had a son who was born with red hair as thick as a wool garment, so they named him Esau. Why? In Hebrew that name means “Hairy.” (Genesis 25:25) As noted in the book of Ruth, Naomi had two sons. One was named Mahlon, meaning “Sickly, Invalid,” and the other Chilion, meaning “Frailty.” Whether these names were given at birth or later is not stated, but they seem to be fitting, given the early demise of these two young men.—Ruth 1:5.
Another common practice was that of changing or adjusting names. On returning to Bethlehem, destitute after losing her husband and sons, Naomi no longer wanted to be called by that name, meaning “My Pleasantness.” Instead, she insisted: “Do not call me Naomi. Call me Mara [meaning “Bitter”], for the Almighty has made it very bitter for me.”—Ruth 1:20, 21.
Yet another custom was to name a child in honor of a significant event. The prophet Haggai’s name, for example, means “Born on a Festival.”