I am reading the book of Genesis, and I have noticed that God changes certain people's names, such as Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. Why does he change their names? What does it symbolize?

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, "Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel." So God renamed him Israel. (Genesis 35:9-10, NLT )

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    God changed Jacob's name to Israel, because Jacob struggled/wrestled with God, and the new name was granted to reflect the change. Abram was changed to Abraham. Note that names meant something significant.
    – Double U
    Aug 22, 2013 at 23:48
  • This older question does not specify a denominational scope, nor does it ask for the Biblical basis of a particular belief or practice. It is primarily opinion-based, and is drawing many opinion-based answers. It should be closed based on current site guidelines. Jan 9, 2016 at 16:23
  • I think this is an acceptable exegesis question. Jan 9, 2016 at 19:56
  • I had this as an answer but Caleb did not like it so he deleted it. It is also a prophecy of Israel (Jacob) and Israel the nation who (as a prince has power with God) will be reigning with God. Genesis 32:28 Zecheriah 12-14 etc...
    – McGafter
    Jan 11, 2016 at 9:10

4 Answers 4


Names were considered to be meaningful in some way. For example, the younger of Isaac's twin sons with Rebekah was named Jacob ("supplanter") because when he was born he was holding on to Esau's heel, as if attempting to overtake him. (Genesis 25: 24-26)

After Jacob's wrestle with the angel, when he demanded a blessing from the Lord, the angel pronounced a blessing upon him, and a new name to go with it: Isra-El, which can mean "He who prevails with God," or "May God prevail," depending on the context.

Likewise with Abram ("Exalted father"), when he was blessed by the Lord in Genesis 17, he was given the name Abraham ("Father of a multitude"), in keeping with the promise of the Lord:

5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.

6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

So we see that these different names are given to people as a blessing from the Lord, to signify that something about them, their nature or their life, has changed in some way.

  • Does "Israel" mean "he who fights with God" or "he who has power with God"? (Big difference.)
    – Pacerier
    Aug 16, 2017 at 5:27

I agree with Mason, in the OT (Old Testament) names are given almost as an adjective about that person or the circumstances of their birth (Read Gen 30:1-24)

A change in name is a change in God's description of you. This usually means God changing your circumstance or some part of your life to fulfill His ultimate plan for you.

In the case of Israel; if you read the subsequent books of the bible you will discover Israel goes through many hardships and even persecution (just look at history in general) and yet through out all of these hardships; Israel seems to "prevail" by virtue of coming back to God or crying out to God (He who prevails with God).

So the name change from "the supplanter" to "May God Prevail" seems appropriate. But this is true for every name change given by God in scripture. More than just a trivial change in what they are called; It is a change in who they are or will become.


Jacob to Israel

The name Israel (Yisra'el) is commonly translated as "Wrestled with God", but it can also mean "Champion (or Prince) of God", "Striver with (or against) God", "Ruler (or Prince) over God", "God Prevails", "God Rules", "God will Rule", or possibly "God Who Will Rule". There are two quite different traditions in Genesis that set out to explain the reason for this change of name.

The first, and most obviously suited to the etymology, is in Genesis chapter 32. Jacob wrestled all night with a stranger, until it was time for the sun to come up and it was time for the stranger to leave. Jacob refused to let the stranger leave unless he blessed Jacob. The stranger told Jacob that henceforth his name would no longer be Jacob, but instead be Israel, for he had wrestled with God.

Genesis 32:27-28: And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

Later, as if he had forgotten what had happened before, God once again changed Jacob's name to Israel:

Genesis 35:9-10: And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.

Abram to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah

Abram means 'Exalted Father', while Abraham means 'Father of Many'. Sarai is an archaic form of Hebrew for 'Princess', while Sarah is a more modern form of Hebrew for 'Princess'.

One could speculate why a father (Terah) would call his own son 'Exalted Father', but an alternative explanation is to see much or all of the story of Abraham as mythical. Many biblical scholars have noted that the story of Abraham is at variance with what is now known as the historical record of the ancient Near East.

In Genesis 17:5, God changes Abram's name to Abraham because he will be the father of many nations. In Genesis 17:15, God tells Abraham that Sarai's name will henceforth be Sarah.

Genesis 17:5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.

Genesis 17:15 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.

A great many of the names found in the Book of Genesis, even those that are birth names, have meanings relevant to the story. This would have made it much easier for the early tradents who handed down the stories orally to remember the story theme for each person. For example, because Abraham laughs when told that Sarah would bear a son at the age of one hundred years, this name, Isaac, means 'He Laughs'. Then, Jacob means (from Hebrew Ya'aqobh) 'one that takes by the heel', reflecting the story of his birth, but this is changed to Israel.

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    I'd think you would need to expand on "Many biblical scholars have noted that the story of Abraham is at variance with what is now known as the historical record of the ancient Near East" ?
    – Pacerier
    Aug 16, 2017 at 5:31

It is written that God’s Chosen People are the Israelites. To some Christians, they considered themselves as the new Children of Israel after most of the Jews rejected Jesus as God. But better still, this is contestable.

But with God’s divine plan, He has made it possible for everyone to be called Children of Israel without any doubt.

How? By bestowing His Very Own Divine Name to a very qualified man- a man who has defeated one of his angels. He has foreseen that man will time and time again struggle with him and thus embedded in their minds the meaning of His Name to be synonymous with struggling with God.

God is not a selfish God, he is just a very jealous God, hence, has installed ways to test men of their loyalty to Him. Jealous he is but he is also a very patient God. He can wait for days or thousand years in the eyes of men, to see how he has nurtured man by hiding his divine plans not only in the Holy Bible or the Torah but as well as the Quran.

The three holy books speak of only one chosen people, and that is the Children of Israel. They are all in agreement that the name Israel was bestowed to Jacob by an angel of God because he has defeated one of his angels.

It should be noted that Moses was forewarned by God that he sent an angel ahead of him to guide the Israelites and warned him not to rebel against the angel for His Name is in him. It can be perceived therefore that the angel sent by God ahead of Moses was the angel who guided Jacob and his descendants. This is the only angel who came before the birth of Moses who ever mentioned a name. Even if Jacob insisted on knowing the angel’s name, the angel did not give any except the name Israel. Exodus 23:20-21,

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your ebellion, since my Name is in him.” (NIV)

Moreover, as practiced even by modern people, even by us in our times, fathers name their first born after him or a Junior. The Lord Almighty considers Israel his first born thus we can logically surmised that he named it after him.Exodus 4:22 exactly reveals this; “Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son,”

This follows therefore that God’s real name is indeed “ISRAEL”. Circumstantial evidence and even biblical passages will reveal that indeed God’s name is “ISRAEL”.

For one, God also changed the name of Abram to Abraham and was made a father of all nations yet the so called Chosen People were not named Children of Abraham. Unlike Abram, it was God himself who changed his name, as for Jacob it was an angel whom God has told Moses not to rebel against for His Name is in him.

Most importantly, Deuteronomy 28:10 clearly states,

“Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will fear you.” (NIV)

If the Children of Israel is called by the name of the Lord therefore the Lord’s name is Israel. Another biblical passage is Daniel 9:19:

“O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (NIV)

Some prophets know the name of God but they were not authorized to reveal it. But men as they are, they can’t help uttering things that will more or less demystify the secret that they hold such as this prayer of Daniel. Truly Daniel knows the name of God but he cannot utter it directly, hence, metaphorically stated what he knows deep inside his heart. With this we can truly surmise that God’s name is also Israel since the name of His City and His People is Israel.

Other prophets also received clues from God of what his real name is as clearly shown in Jeremiah 25:29, to wit; “See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword upon all who live on the earth, declares the LORD Almighty.” (NIV)

Lastly, during olden times, the sons and daughters of any man is called the Children of the Man. Surnames were not in used then, children are known by the first names of their patriarch. Therefore, it is just right to say that God will call his children the Children of Israel.

Now, if we will believe that His Name is indeed ISRAEL, we can now truly claim that we are also his child hence without doubt become a CHILD OF ISRAEL.

Let God be forever glorified and be it known to everyone that because of His Name’s sake he has not destroyed the world as shown in 1Samuel 12:22,

“For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.” (NIV)

If we are going to call on his name, Lord God Israel, he will call us his people and we will belong to the third that will be refined like gold as prophesied under Zechariah 13:9, viz;

“This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (NIV)

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    Hi, and welcome to Christianity SE! This is interesting - can you provide a reference to someone else who also believes God's name is Israel? And just in case you haven't seen it yet, check out some of what makes us different than other sites, and welcome again!
    – Ryan Frame
    Jan 9, 2014 at 14:32
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    In line with this opinion-based question, this answer is primarily opinion. It does not state any denomination that it represents, and though it quotes many passages, they don't provide any clear support for the claims made in the answer. Jan 9, 2016 at 16:26

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