Names of God
Related subjects Divinities
Conceptions of God can vary widely, but the word God in English and its counterparts in cognate languages are normally used for all of them. Other languages have similar generic names, and a common experience is for the word for "God" in one language to be perceived by speakers of other languages as the name of a specific deity worshipped by speakers of that one language. However some names refer almost exclusively to the supreme being of a single religion.
In the Hebrew scriptures (i.e. the Law Torah, plus the Prophets [Nethi-im] and the Holy Writings /Hagiographa [Kethvu-im] the Jewish name of God is considered sacred and, out of deep respect for the name, Jews do not say it.(See Exodus 20:7) The tetragrammaton (Hebrew: יהוה, English: YHVH or YHWH, these Hebrew consonants named, reading right to left: "yod...heh...vahv...heh.") is the name for the group of four Hebrew symbols which represent the name of God. The Tetragrammaton occurs 6,828 times in the Hebrew text printed in Biblia Hebraica and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Neither vowels nor vowel points were used in ancient Hebrew writings, but are usually taken to be "a", "e", "i", "o" or "u." From the Hebrew tetragrammaton modern Christians have adopted pronunciations such as "Yahweh", "Yahveh" and "Jehovah".
Some claim the pronunciation of YHWH has been lost, other authorities say it has not and that it is pronounced Yahweh. References, such as The New Encyclopædia Britannica, validate the above by offering additional specifics:
Early Christian writers, such as Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century, had used a form like Yahweh, and claim that this pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was never really lost. Other Greek transcriptions also indicated that YHWH should be pronounced Yahweh.
Clement of Alexandria transliterated the tetragrammaton as Ιαου. The above claims were founded upon the understanding that Clement of Alexandria had transliterated YHWH as Ιαουε in Greek, which is pronounced "Yahweh" in English. However, the final -e in the latter form has been shown as having been a later addition. For a more in-depth discussion of this, see the article Yahweh.
Yahweh is a common vocalization of God's personal name based on the Hebrew tetragrammaton (above). Because Jewsish concerns for avoiding blasphemy, the name was often avoided and replaced with " LORD" (equivalent to the Hebrew Adonai).
Jehovah is found in the King James Bible and in other translations based on it. Some may claim Yahweh is less than a totally certain pronunciation, (the tetragrammaton was written in Hebrew without the original vowels), but the article on Yahweh details why Jehovah is certainly in error. Some avoid either because its actual pronunciation may have been lost in antiquity.
Jesus ( Iesus, Yeshua, Joshua, or Yehoshûa) is a Hebraic personal name meaning "Yahweh saves/helps/is salvation", . Christ means "the anointed" in Greek, translating Messiah; while in English the old Anglo-Saxon Messiah-rendering hæland 'healer' was practically annihilated by the Latin Christ, some cognates such as heiland in Dutch survive.
In Messianic Judaism, generally regarded as a form of Christianity, YHWH (pre-incarnate) and Yeshua (incarnate) are one and the same, the second Person, with the Father and Ruach haQodesh (the Holy Spirit) being the first and third Persons, respectively, of ha'Elohiym (the Godhead). YHWH is expressed as "haShem," which means 'the Name.'
In the effort to translate the Bible into every language (see SIL), the Christian God has usually been named after a pagan or philosophical concept that was present in the language before Christianity.
The word God itself is an example of this, the word having earlier referred to Germanic pagan deities. Greek Theos (Θεός) was used for the supreme God even before Christianity, in the Septuagint. St. Jerome translated the Hebrew word Elohim to Latin as Deus. Other names of the Christian God that have a history of pagan meanings include Slavic Bog, Finnish Jumala, Japanese Kami and Sinhala Deviyo. In the Arabic language, Allah is also used for the Christian God. Chinese names for God involve various translations, one of which, Shangdi, derives from a pre-Christianity deity and is used largely by Protestant Chinese-speakers, and the other Tianzhu is used primarily by Catholic Chinese-speakers.
Another example comes from the initial stages of the predication of the Catholic missionary Francis Xavier in Japan. He was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the Buddhist word Dainichi for the Christian God. As Xavier learnt more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks also realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion.
The less evangelical branch of the Quakers often refers to God as The Light. Another term used is ' King of Kings' or 'Lord of Lords' and Lord of the Hosts. Other names used by Christians include Ancient of Days, Father/ Abba, 'Most High' and the Hebrew names Elohim, El-Shaddai, and Adonai. Principle, Mind, Soul, Life, Truth, Love, and Spirit are names for God in Christian Science. These names are considered synonymous and indicative of God's wholeness. The name, "Abba/Father" is the most common term used for the creator within Christianity, because it was the name Jesus Christ (Yeshua Messiah) himself used to refer to God.
For the Russian Orthodox group Imiaslavie ("Name glorification"), the name of the God is God himself and can produce miracles.
See also: Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament.
Allah is the most frequently used name of God in Islam when speaking Arabic. It refers to the God without any other beside him. It originally simply meant "the God" in Arabic, and was used in pre-Islamic times to refer to a divinity worshipped in Mecca. It is properly translated as "God" in English, and seen by Muslims as the same God as of Christianity and Judaism (referred to as "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"). The Arabic word Allah is a linguistic cognate of the Hebrew word Eloah and a translation of the English word "god", although there are some Christian sects which claim that there is a distinction between their deity and the deity or deities worshipped in either Judaism or Islam. Nevertheless, Allah is the same word in Arabic used by Arab Jews, Druze and Christians when speaking of God.
In the Islamic point of view, Allah is the only Omnipotent and has the Most Beautiful Names. So anyone can call him by the most beautiful names he may call. (e.g. as stated in 18/110, 20/8, 59/24, 7/180 in Quran.). A well established Islamic tradition enumerates 99 Names of God, which are his attributes.
Besides those names of Qur'anic origin, Muslims of non-Arabic peoples may also sometimes use some other names in their own language which refers to God, e.g. the Ottoman anachronism Tanrı (originally the pagan Turks' celestial chief god, corresponding to the Ancient Turkish Tengri), or Khoda in Persian language which has the same indo-European root as god.
- Haile Selassie, whose titles include King of Kings (nəgusä nägäst), Lord of Lords, and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, is the name of God incarnate in the Rastafari movement. God is called Jah and Haile Selassie is called Jah Rastafari, from his precoronation name Ras Tafari Makonnen.
Bahá'ís refer to God using the local word for God in whatever language is being spoken. Bahá'ís often, in prayers, refer to God to by titles and attributes, such as the Mighty, the All-Powerful, the Merciful, the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Generous, the All-Wise, the Incomparable, the Gracious, the Helper, the All-Glorious, the Omniscient. Since the languages in which the Bahá'í Faith was first authored were Arabic and Persian, the term Allah and other "names" are used in some specific contexts, even by non-Arabic speakers. The above-mentioned attributes are sometimes referred to in their Arabic form - for instance Bahá'ís refer to "Bahá" (meaning Glory or Splendour) or any derivation thereof (ex. Al-Abhá, or The Most Glorious) as The Greatest Name of God.
- Shangdi 上帝 (Hanyu Pinyin: shàng dì) (literally King Above) was a supreme God worshipped in ancient China. It is also used to refer to the Christian God in the Standard Mandarin Union Version of the Bible. Likewise, Korean Christians and Vietnamese Christians also use cognates of this name, to refer to the Biblical god.
- Shen 神 (lit. God, spirit, or deity) is commonly used to refer to various spirits, including gods, and was adopted by Protestant missionaries in China to refer to the Christian God. In this context it is usually rendered with a space, " 神", to demonstrate reverence.
- Zhu, Tian Zhu 主,天主 (lit. Lord or Lord in Heaven) is translated from the English word, "Lord", which is a formal title of the Christian God in Mainland China's Christian churches.
- Tian 天 (lit. sky or heaven) is used to refer to the sky as well as a personification of the sky. Whether it possesses sentience in the embodiment of an omnipotent, omniscient being is a difficult question for linguists and philosophers.
Religions of India
- Bhagavan - "The Opulent One", Brahman -"The Great", Paramatma - "The Supersoul" and Ishvara- "The Controller", are the terms used for God in the scriptures of Hinduism. A number of Hindu traditions worship a personal form of God or Ishvara, such as Vishnu or Shiva, whereas others worship the non-personal Supreme cosmic cpirit, known as Brahman. The Vaishnava schools consider Vishnu as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and within this tradition is the Vishnu sahasranama, which is a hymn describing the one thousand names of God (Vishnu). Shaivites consider Shiva as the Supreme God in similar way to the followers of Vaishnavism. The Supreme Ishvara of Hinduism must not be confused with the numerous deities or demigods who are collectively known as devas.
- Brahman in Sanskrit is both the knowable and unknowable Supreme. Aum, has been seen as the first manifestation of the unmanifest Brahman (the single Divine Ground of Hinduism) that resulted in the phenomenal universe.
- Trimurti is the Hindu "Trinity", although this differs largely to the Christian concept. See Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.
- In Vaishnavism, the Vishnu sahasranama enumerates names of God. The names of Vishnu's Dasavatara in particular are considered divine names. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Krishna in particular is held as the personal aspect of God based on the descriptions of him within the Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata (with particular reference to the Bhagavad-Gita).
- In Shaivism, the Shiva sahasranama enumerates names of God.
- Anami Purush (nameless power) and Radha Soami (lord of the soul) are two names used for God in Surat Shabda Yoga.
- There are many thousands of devas within Hinduism who are regarded as different facets of God within some philosophical schools and referred to by a large number of names and titles. Ganesha is one such example.
Some of the popular names for God in Sikhism are:
- Akal Purakh meaning Timeless Primal Being. "Akal" stands for 'Primal, timeless' and "Purakh" stands for 'Being'
- Ek Onkar meaning One Creator. "Ek" means "One"; "Onkar" means "Creator".
- Satnam meaning True Name, some are of the opinion that this is a name for God in itself, others believe that this is an adjective used to describe the 'Gurmantar', Waheguru (See below)
- Waheguru, meaning Wonderful Teacher, this name is considered the greatest among Sikhs, and it is known as 'Gurmantar', the Guru's Word.
- Bhao Khandan meaning Destroyer of Fear
- Dukh Bhanjno meaning Dispeller of Pain
- Bhagat Vachhal meaning Lover of His Saints
- Hari meaning Glowing, Shining, Vitalising - Absolute Name of God
- Govinda meaning Preserver of the World
- Bhagavan meaning Lord or Supreme being
- Uppar Valah=a God who lives in heaven
God according to Guru Nanak is beyond full comprehension by humans; has endless number of virtues; takes on innumerable forms; and can be called by an infinite number of names thus "Your Names are so many, and Your Forms are endless. No one can tell how many Glorious Virtues You have." (Guru Granth Sahib page 358)
There are no direct names of God in Jainism. However, Mahavir and other 'prophets' or 'perfected beings' are known as Tirthankar (literally 'Fordmaker') or Jina.
Buddhism is generally viewed as a religion or philosophy without a supreme being in the sense of a universal creator or a creator of the human race. The historical Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama or Gautama Buddha is sometimes viewed as an example of a human who has achieved the primal, eternal, sustaining essence within all beings and phenomena. While in the Theravada tradition the Buddha is not thought of as divine, in many Mahayana schools the Buddha is conceived as the eternal, imperishable essence of all phenomena.
The Pure Land schools of Buddhism in China and Japan revere the Nembutsu, the formulaic name of Amida Buddha (Namu Amida Butsu), as the sole method in this latter age of "degenerate Dharma" ( mappo) for birth in the Pure Land after earthly death. Shinran, the founder of the Japanese Pure Land sect of Jodo Shinshu, went so far as to declare the Name as the same as Amida and his characteristics ( Infinite Light and Infinite Life).
Religions in classical antiquity
- Aten is the earliest name of a supreme being associated with monotheistic thought, being the solar divinity which Akhenaten had declared the only god of the state cult, as part of his wholesale absolutist reforms, thereby threatening the position on the various temple priesthoods, which had the old polytheism restored immediately after his death. See also the Great Hymn to the Aten .
While some of the older deities have names long pre-dating the Latin people the Romans belong to, and even more were adopted with their autochthonous names (or Latinized in a recognizable way), many minor divinities were named simply as personifications of various minor aspects of daily life. Latin also prominently used an abstract word for god, deus (hence deity and, from its adjective divinus, divinity), from Proto-Indo-European root deiwos, also the root of words for "sky" and "day" – the god-sense is originally "shining," but "whether as originally sun-god or as lightener" is not now clear; the epithet Deus Optimus Maximus, DOM "Best and Greatest God", coined for Jupiter, the pater familias of the Roman pantheon, was later adopted in Christianity, as well as Deus.
The name of this Persian god of light, one of the earliest Indic words we possess, being found in clay tablets from Anatolia dating to about 1500 B.C, reported in English only since 1551, is from Latin, derived from the Greek Mithras. This was in turn derived from Avestan Mithra-, possibly from an Indo-Iranian root mitram "contract," whence mitras "contractual partner, friend," conceptualized as a god, or, according to Kent, first the epithet of a divinity and eventually his name; from proto-Indo-Germanic root base mei- "to bind"; related to Sanskrit Mitra, a Vedic deity associated with Varuna.
- Xwedê is the term used for God in the Yazidi religion and in Kurdish.
- Abraxas is a god uniting the dualistic concepts in Gnosticism. See also Monad (Gnosticism).
- Cao Đài is the name of God in Caodaism.
- Ahura Mazda "Lord of Light" or "Lord Wisdom" (wisdom and light being synonymous in either case) is the name of the supreme benevolent god in Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrians today may refer to Ahura-Mazda as 'Ormazd,' simply being a contraction of the original term.
Deism and Pantheism
In Deism and Pantheism, and in variations of these like Pandeism and Panentheism, God is sometimes referred to as Deus (pronounced Day-us), the Latin word for god, which gave rise to the word Deism. Believers in Pantheistic or Pandeistic systems equate God with the Universe, and may refer to God by that term (sometimes using the definite article and referring to God as "the Deus").
Several religions advance taboos related to names of their gods. In some cases, the name may never be spoken, or only spoken by inner-circle initiates, or only spoken at prescribed moments during certain rituals. In other cases, the name may be freely spoken, but when written, taboos apply. It is common to regard the written name of one's god as deserving of respect; it ought not, for instance, be stepped upon or dirtied. It may be permissible to burn the written name when there is no longer a use for it.
Most observant Jews forbid discarding holy objects, including any document with a name of God written on it. Once written, the name must be preserved indefinitely. This leads to several noteworthy practices:
- Commonplace materials are written with an intentionally abbreviated form of the name. For instance, a Jewish letter-writer may substitute "G-d" for the name God. Thus, the letter may be discarded along with ordinary trash. (Note that not all Jews agree that non-Hebrew words like God are covered under the prohibition.)
- Copies of the Torah are, like most scriptures, heavily used during worship services, and will eventually become worn out. Since they may not be disposed of in any way, including by burning, they are removed, traditionally to the synagogue attic. See genizah. There they remain until they are buried.
- All religious texts that include the name of God are buried.
- In Islam, the name (or any names) of God should be treated with the utmost respect. It is referred to in many verses of the Qur'an that the real believers respect the name of God very deeply. (e.g. stated in 33/35, 57/16, 59/21, 7/180, 17/107, 17/109, 2/45, 21/90, 23/2 ) On the other hand the condition is openly stressed by prohibiting people from unnecessary swearing using the name of Allah. (e.g. stated in 24/53, 68/10-11-12-13-14, 63/2, 58/14, 58/16, 2/224) Thus the mention of the name of God is expected to be done so reverently.
- In Christianity, God's name may not "be used in vain" (see the Ten Commandments), which is commonly interpreted to mean that it is wrong to curse while making reference to God. A more natural interpretation of this passage is in relation to oath taking, where the command is to hold true to those commands made 'in God's name'. (Jesus also makes it clear that a Christian should hold true to all their words - cf Matthew 5:37)
- Some Christians capitalize all references to God in writing, including pronouns. (ex. "The Lord, He is God, Holy is His Name.")
- God's name being used in vain can also be interpreted as trying to invoke the power of God, as a means to impress, intimidate, punish, condemn, and/or control others. Since "God is a loving God" (according to the New Testament), any efforts to use God's name in vain will forever be fruitless. Love is not compelled into action by fear. Saying that God's name should not be used in vain is just a helpful reminder that doing so, is just a waste of time and energy.
- Different Christian cultures have different views on the appropriateness of naming people after God. English speakers would not name a son "Jesus", but " Jesús" is a common Spanish first name. This taboo does not apply to more indirect names and titles like Emmanuel or Salvador. Nor does it apply to "Joshua," which is the English translation of "Jesus."
- The taboo on abuse of the name of God and religious figures like Mary, mother of Jesus leads to their frequent use in profanity (a clear case is Quebec French profanity, based mostly on Catholic concepts). More pious swearers try to substitute the blasphemy against holy names with minced oaths like Jeez! instead of Jesus! or Judas Priest! instead of Jesus Christ!.
Phrases and alternatives
Tabuism or glorification are usually reasons not to refer to a deity directly by name.
In addition to capitalized pronouns (e.g. He, Him), this can be split into two types: Phrases (such as King of Kings) and alternatives (such as G*d or HaShem). Generally, phrases are used to extol, and alternatives are more direct replacements for words.
Literature and fiction
- Names of God in Old English poetry
- Aigonz is the word for God in the lingua ignota of Hildegard of Bingen
- Eru Ilúvatar, a name of monotheistic God in Quenya, a fictional language invented by J. R. R. Tolkien.
- " The Nine Billion Names of God", a short story by Arthur C. Clarke.
- Maleldil is the name of God (or, more accurately, of the allegorical character associated with Jesus) in Old Solar, the true language in the Space Trilogy books by C.S. Lewis
- In the movie Pi, the characters are looking for the true name of god, which is 216 letters long.
- In the movie Warlock (1989 film) the main character seeks out the pages of the Grand Grimoire which can be commanded to reveal the true lost name of God. If it can be spoken backwards, the universe will end. Viewers are shown the letters forming, but not the actual word, and the Warlock does not get beyond pronouncing the first (last) syllable before he is killed.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana nearly gets killed trying to spell the name of God (Jehovah) in an ancient word puzzle. He had stepped on "J" and nearly fell to his death, then remembered that in Latin Jehovah begins with an "I".