If you’ve ever read one of my novels, you know they’re filled with difficult-to-pronounce names. I try to extend mercy to my readers by assigning nicknames to the characters, a practice I’ve found nowhere in historical records. But nicknames are something with which modern-day readers are familiar.
My readers also have to keep up with character name changes, sometimes changed by God, other times by men. All-in-all, names are an issue in a Mesu book, but with a name like, Mesu, why wouldn’t my characters have name issues? LOL!
Of course, I don’t purposely make names difficult. Scripture dictates many of the names with which we struggle. In the Shadow of Jezebel told the story of kings and queens in both Israel and Judah, listing TWO King Ahaziahs and TWO King Jehorams—one in each nation, ruling at the same time. How do we keep those guys straight in an already confusing storyline? Nicknames.
Changed Names in the Bible
In ancient Hebrew culture, a person’s name was more than catchy initials and held more significance than passing a family name through generations. A name in ancient cultures often foretold the very character of the individual. For instance, Jacob—meaning “heel grasper”—became a deceiver as the Hebrew idiom implied.
“After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.” Genesis 25:26 NIV
Later in Jacob’s life, after an all-night wrestling match with God on the banks of the Jabbok River, God changed his name to Israel, meaning “struggles with God and man.”
“Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’” Genesis 32:28 NIV
The Bible records many stories in which God changes an individual’s name—and not just men!
- Abram became Abraham
- Sarai became Sarah
- Hadassah became Esther
- Simon became Cephas (Peter)
- Saul became Paul
Changed Names in Novels
As you may remember from The Pharaoh’s Daughter, the heroine in that story begins her life as an Egyptian princess named Meryetaten-tasherit. When she was adopted by a general, he and his wife renamed her Anippe, and years later she was renamed again after falling out of favor in Egyptian court.
In my new release, Isaiah’s Daughter, once again the heroine was renamed after being adopted. Though Hephzibah—which means, delight of the Lord—is a biblical character, I gave her a fictional name to begin the story. Why? Because I wanted to demonstrate the power of the culture of NAMES, and the verse where she’s mentioned in Isaiah’s prophecy says his daughter was desolate before she became a delight. I chose the Hebrew word for desolation as her original name—Ishma.
“No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.”
Isaiah 62:4 NIV (emphasis added)
Each fictional name in my novels is carefully chosen for its meaning. Even the dog in Miriam—his name was Sattar, meaning Protector—was chosen because of how he would interact with Miriam and Moses in the story.
People often ask how they should pronounce the names in my books. My answer:
Any way you want!
Honestly, I have no idea what the correct Hebrew (or Arabic for my Egyptian characters) pronunciations are, so your guess is as good as mine. But there are a couple of favorite websites I use to choose names.
- CLICK HERE for my favorite Hebrew name-choosing site.
When I chose Egyptian names for the Treasures of the Nile series, I found a site with an audio function that pronounced the names when I clicked on a little speaker icon. It’s great for those sticklers on the “right way” to say things.
My mama and sister suggested that my publisher begin printing a tear-off character list in my books to use as a bookmark. Though it’s a wonderful idea, I explained it would add waaaaaay too much cost to the printing, so I thought of a compromise. How about a downloadable pdf character list for Isaiah’s Daughter that you can print off and keep in your book while you read? (You can thank my mama and sis if you like the idea!)
- CLICK HERE to download and print Isaiah’s Daughter Character List.
What About Your Name?
My name has always been a big part of my life. As a kid, I hated it because it made me different. As an adult, I’ve realized its value because it’s a wonderful conversation starter. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I’ve been promised a new name, chosen by my Father in heaven. My new name will be known only to Him and me—an intimate secret we’ll share for eternity.
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17 NIV
Come quickly, Lord Jesus! I can’t wait to see Your face and discover my new name!