The Bible puts quite a bit of stock in names. Unlike in modern Western culture, where a name bestowed upon a child is likely chosen from a book of baby names used to honor a friend or loved one, in Biblical times, the choosing and invoking of a name was a big deal. For example, Luke 1 tells of a dispute between the parents of John the Baptist and the community over the name the baby’s parents chose for him. Further, many of the names in the Bible — in the Old Testament, in particular — are not just semi-meaningless words whose meanings are locked away in books like they are in English. Rather, they were words and phrases that had actual meaning then and there. For example, the narrative of the birth of Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, in Genesis 25 tells of Esau being given a name that means “hairy” because he was, well, hairy. And his brother Jacob, who was born holding onto his twin’s heel, was given a name that means “he grasps the heel.”
The longest name and word in the Bible is actually a whole sentence
According to Oxford Reference, the longest name and word in the Old Testament – and the Bible as a whole — comes in Isaiah 8. In the narrative, God commands the prophet to impregnate a woman and, when she gives birth to a son, name him “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.” The phrase is a saying in Hebrew that means something akin to “swift are the spoils, speedy is the plunder,” per BabyNames.com.
So how did a strapping baby boy wind up with a name that’s actually a sentence about military conquest? Well, as it turns out, at the time, a military conquest of the prophet’s nation — Judah — was a very real possibility, with an alliance between Damascus and Samaria making threats. Isaiah was convinced that a third nation, Assyria, would subdue them both, and it seems that God wanted to reiterate the same point using the birth of Isaiah’s son and his name to illustrate it even further.
Though “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz” is indeed a mouthful, it doesn’t seem to have hindered the career of at least one American actor. As Britannica notes, Mahershala Ali was born Mahershalalhashbaz Ali Gilmore.
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