Linguistic Links: What's in a Name?

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Linguistic Links

What's in a Name?

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What can we learn from names? What we call ourselves defines for others who we are. We're also defined by the labels others apply to us (whether factual or fabricated), the name of the land in which we live or were born and the name of the land of our ancestry. We must consider names and labels as we attempt to trace the people of Israel through history.

This linguistic journey ties together a few of the many labels applied to the exiled 10 tribes as the “House of Omri” and the “Sons of Isaac.”

In the Bible the people of Israel are sometimes called the sons of Isaac. God promised that the name of Isaac would continue to identify Israel as a people (Genesis 21:12).

In biblical times the Hebrew language was written with no vowels. Thus Isaac would have been spelled simply Sk or Sc in the English equivalents of the Hebrew characters. We should not consider it astonishing that shortly after the exile of the 10 tribes the term SaCae (the letters for the name Isaac with the Latin plural ending "ae") identified the new settlers in the Black Sea region
of Scythia.

The Assyrians similarly spoke of the emergence of the iShKuza and the Persian-Medians of the SaKa, both derivations of the name Isaac. (We have capitalized the S, C and K in these examples to help you see their derivations.)

The Behistun Rock, a mural carved in stone near present-day Bisitun, Iran, provides linguistic clues to the understanding of several ancient languages. The rock relief dates from the reign of Darius I of Persia (ca. 522-486 B.C.). Its depiction of conquered foreign kings paying homage was inscribed in the Old Persian, Elamite (Susian) and Babylonian languages. One sees Skuka, king of the temporarily subjugated Asiatic branch of Scythians, pictured as the last one in line. The Behistun Rock describes him as the king of the Scythians, Saka or Cimmerians (pronounced "Gimiri" in Babylonian).

The Greek historian Herodotus (484-420 B.C.) wrote that the Persians called Scythians "Sacae." Later the Greek writer Ptolemy (A.D. second century) referred to the Sacae as "Saxones." These terms were often used synonymously.

British historian Sharon Turner tells us: "The Saxons [who migrated to the British Isles] were a...Scythian tribe; and of the various Scythian nations...the Sakai, or Sacae, are the people from whom the descent of the Saxons may be inferred, with the least violation of probability. Sakai-Suna or the sons of the Sakai, abbreviated into Saksun, which is the same sound as Saxon, seems a reasonable etymology of the word Saxon" (The History of the Anglo-Saxons, Vol. 1, 1840, p. 59).

What is the origin of the name Cimmerian? The Assyrian conquerors of the northern 10 tribes called them Bit Khumri (or Ghomri), meaning the House of Omri. Omri was one of the most militarily successful kings of the kingdom of Israel; he founded his own dynasty of kings. Inscriptions of the time refer to the Israelite kingdom as the land or house of Omri. In Greek we find the forms Kimmerii, Kimmeroi and Cymry and, in Latin, Kimbri, Kymbrians and Cimbres as the equivalents of the Assyrian Khumri.

Later history records the migration to Europe of Celtic tribes bearing these names, some into Jutland and others into Gaul. The Gauls called themselves Kymris, but the Romans labeled them Celts, Galli, Gallus and Galates (Galatians). The Hellenistic and Roman conquerors (300 B.C. - A.D. 200) renamed the area of Gilead, once home of the exiled Israelite tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Manasseh, Gaulanitis.

Curiously, the term Gaul, whether gallo or gallus in Latin, galler or waller in Celtic, waller or walah in German or gaullois in French, seems to carry the same meaning: "stranger, traveler or exile." To the Celts the words Gael and Scythe both meant "stranger" or "traveler." God had told the 10 tribes of Israel they would become wanderers (Hosea 9:17).

When we understand that the Hebrew for "carried captive," as used in describing the Assyrian deportation of the Israelites out of Gilead into exile, is the word galah and its modern derivatives are galut, galo or gallo, we have come full circle. This linguistic journey ties together a few of the many labels applied to the exiled 10 tribes as the "House of Omri" and the "Sons of Isaac."