Hidden Divinities

Article excerpt

Over 100 years ago, Henry Preserved Smith, an American biblical scholar whom the Presbytery of Cincinnati tried for heresy in 1892, claimed to have found about 150 names of divinities in the Jewish Bible, many of them given to individuals. He commented on the widespread use of theophorous proper names in ancient times, "however startling to modern ideas" (Smith, 1907; see also Faulkner, 2008, p. 149). Current anthroponomastics, however, belie his misplaced and premature observation: This practice remains with us to this very day. Furthermore, though I doubt that believers in omnipresence had this in mind, the names of divinities appear in many other contexts, as well, Many of these hide even from native speakers of the languages involved. Who notices nowadays the word for "god" in English "gossip" ("god sibb") or in Russian "spasiba" ("thank you"; a contraction of "spasi bog" or "save you god")? Chances of recognizing the godly element further diminish when it comes from a foreign language, such as the Greek "theos" in "enthusiasm" or the presence of the Hebrew ending "ya" ("god") in "hallelujah."

While I certainly do not pretend to provide an exhaustive list, the following will give a taste of the contemporary ubiquity of the names of gods (Harrak, undated; see also Souvay, 1911).

Names

For the use of theophorous given names, Mozart can serve as a good example: He called himself Amadeus, Theophilus, or Gottlieb, at different times, all meaning either the lover or the beloved of god (same as Habibullah). Patrinomials can also contain "god," as in Goodrich, Gottschalk, Gottfried (same as Godfrey and perhaps also Geoffrey), Gottlieb, Gotthard (Goddard), Gottwald, Gottwin (probably the source of Godwin and Goodwin), Gottesman, Gottdiener (cf. Abdallah), Herrgott, and so on. Some of these appear as both given and family names.

A large group of given names contains either as a prefix or a suffix one (and sometimes two) of the Hebrew morphemes that mean "god" (el, ya, yahu, yeho, yo), such as Daniel, Emanuel, Gabriel (and its Arabic equivalent, Jibril), Michael, Moriah, Raphael, and so on (many of these have both feminine and masculine forms). Several have entered English in a somewhat different form, where the original god-name has become less recognizable, as in Elias, Elizabeth (and Eliza, Lisa, Elspeth, etc., but not Alice), Elliott, Jesus, Joachim, Joel, John, Jonathan (but not Jonah), Joseph (an appellation), Josh, Lazarus, Matthew, or Michele.

Here follows a further list of some interesting examples of human names containing the name of divinities that stem from different cultures and languages:

  Beizebub (aka Lord of the Flies
  Bogornil and Bogdan
  perhaps David (as well as Dawson, Dawkins, Dewey), after a sun-god
  named Dodo
  Dimitri
  Doris
  Denis, Denise, and Dion
  Dominic and Dominique
  Elimelech
  perhaps Esther
  George and its Russian form Yuriy
  Godiva
  Ishrnael
  Israfil
  Issa and Eisa
  Marius, Martin, and perhaps Mark
  Mordecai
  Osmond, Oscar, and Oswald
  Rhea
  Thea, Theodore, and Dorothea (but not Theobald or Tibalt).
  The shortened forms Dirk, Diederick, and Dieter do not contain the
  crucial first element; the Russian form Fjodor, however, does
  Tiffany
  Timothy

In addition to the several Arabic names included in the above list, hundreds more employ one of Allah's many appellations, used by Muslims, from Abdul-Alim Servant of the Omniscient through Abdul-Latif--Servant of the Kind One to Abdul-Wahid--Servant of the One.

Entering the Hindu pantheon provides endless further opportunities due to the large number of divinities and their many appellations. As in the case of Muslim names, mostly these appellations serve as given names, rather than the names of the gods and goddesses themselves. A few examples out of hundreds: Aditri (the goddess Lakshmi), Anish (the bold Shiva), Anwita (the goddess Durga), Kalidas (servant of the goddess Kali), or Mahasweta (the goddess Saraswati). …