Why is in not common practice that Biblical translators also translate the names of characters?

I have found that translating Biblical names into English has added layers of depth to the stories.

Here are a few examples of my above claim:

Genesis 3:20 - KJV

"And Human (Adam) called his wife's name Source of Life (Eve); because she was the mother of all living."

Genesis 17:5 - KJV

"Neither shall thy name any more be called Exalted Father (Abram), but thy name shall be Father of Nations (Abraham); for a father of many nations have I made thee."

Genesis 32:28 - KJV

"And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Heel-grabber (Jacob), but He Who Contends With God (Israel): for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."

John 3:28 - KJV

"Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Anointed One (Christ), but that I am sent before him."

Matthew 16:18 - KJV

"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Rock (Peter), and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

Which reads even better when paired with Matthew 7:24-25

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock."

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    It's true that knowing the meaning of names in the Bible adds meaning. In the New World Translation, there are footnotes with each name that tell the meanings.
    – user32540
    Jun 21, 2020 at 0:32
  • I just checked Genesis 11:26 of the [Jehovah Witnesses New World Translation] (jw.org/en/library/bible/study-bible/books/genesis/11), the verse in which Abram and his brothers are introduced. Next to each name is clickable voetnoten which shows in the right margin various verses in which that person occurs, but I did not see any explanation of the names themselves. Jun 21, 2020 at 16:29
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    Hebrew names often have allusory meaning but the name is usually altered, slightly, probably to avoid confusion in speech regarding what is meant - the personal, 'proper', noun or the everyday, 'common', noun. Young's Analytical Concordance lists name meanings alongside the names.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 21, 2020 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


Because name forms in Hebrew, are not exactly the same as their literal counterparts, even if the names denote a phrase. Thus, it's not fitting to conflate phrase with name in the English (target language) translation of the Hebrew. Names are a special word in any language, and aren't the same as saying a phrase which denotes what the name is intended to. If not in form, then in syllabic emphasis - and thus in perception.

Case in point: Yahweh (יהוה) (as I tend to think, 'Yehowah'). The name of God is a form of the Hebrew verb "to be" (ehyeh) yet doesn't exactly translate to any particular first, second, or third person form, or tense, of the verb. It is a name. "He who is" (arguably translated into Greek "ο ων").1

For example, you cite the name Eve (Hawwah). Yet, this would be thought of as neither "Life," nor literally "Source of Life" (but something approximating a mixture of both) by native speakers of the Hebrew language, since it does not conform to normal verbal or noun forms of "Life." The name Hawwah was given to Eve because she is the mother of "all the living" (kol Haii), just as Yeshua is given to Jesus because "he shall save (yoshia) his people from their sins." It's not the word "Saviour," nor the verb "He shall save," yet conveys identity; even though the best meaning translation is "Saviour."

Thus it's not fitting to translate names into literal meanings where neither the target (e.g. English) nor source (i.e. Hebrew) language conflates the two, because this betrays, rather than portays, the original language.

1 Cf. Wis. 13:1

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