Anna, by any other name, would still be Grace

20 08 2010

Anna’s name was taken from the New Testament character in the Gospel of Luke who met the baby Jesus and his parents at his presentation at the temple:

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

But the name Anna is really the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Hannah.  When Hebrew words and names were transliterated into Greek (not translated, but simply written with Greek letters) some of the sounds were lost.  The initial “H” in “hannah” was left off of the Greek word and replaced with what we call a rough breathing mark–a replacement for the letter “h”, which does not exist in Greek.  When the name was then transliterated into Latin, the transformation was complete, since Latin not only has no H but has no equivalent of the rough breathing mark of Greek.  The same change occurs with the word Hallelujah.  With the H as the first letter, the word is taken from the Hebrew Old Testament.  Written “Alleluia” without the H, the word represents the Greek and Latin equivalents of the original.

In the Old Testament, Hannah is the mother of Samuel (ironically enough).  Her prayer in the tabernacle when she offered her son, Samuel, to the Lord is recorded in 1 Samuel 2.  Here is one bit taken from her prayer:

There is no one holy like the Lord;

there is no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God.

The name Hannah, as many Old Testament names, is derived from another word.  Hen is the Hebrew word translated “grace.”  The Greek word used in the New Testament for it is charis.  So, from Hebrew to Greek to English, Anna’s name comes from the Hebrew word for “grace.”

There is another variant of that word that plays a significant role in God’s revelation of his own character.  When God revealed himself to Moses at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 34:6-7, he used these words:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

The beginning of the verse in Hebrew begins like this: yahweh, yahweh, el rahun wehanun. That final word, hanun, is the word “gracious.”  This passage became one of the most often quoted passages in the Old Testament to describe God’s character.

It is good to have a name of noble character.  Usually we understand that to mean, and rightly so, that we ought to preserve a good reputation.  But I think, just as important, is to provide our children with names of nobility, good character, examples of heroes of the faith.  When naming children, heritage might be better than originality.


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20 08 2010
Michaele Benedict

Another Anna was the mother of Mary. I so agree with you about heritage being better than originality when it comes to naming children.

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