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What Was Moses’ Real Name?

What Was Moses’ Real Name?

How did an Egyptian princess give her adpoted son a Hebrew name?

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Question:

Moses is the name given by Pharaoh’s daughter to the infant that she “drew from the water.” Doesn’t this imply that Pharaoh’s daughter spoke Hebrew? And what name did Moses’ parents give him?

Answer:

According to Chizkuni,1 it was actually Moses’ biological mother, Jochebed, who gave Moses (משה) his name. Jochebed later told Pharaoh’s daughter, Bithiah, the child’s Hebrew name, and so Bithiah also called him by this name, remarking that this name was indeed appropriate, since she had drawn2 him out of the water.

Ibn Ezra3 says that Bithiah gave Moses the Egyptian name Munius, which the Torah translates into Hebrew as Moshe (Moses). Alternatively, Ibn Ezra suggests the possibility that Bithiah actually had learnt to speak Hebrew, and it was she who gave Moses his Hebrew name. This latter explanation is also given by other commentators.

Interestingly, Yalkut Shimoni4 says that Moses was called by no less than ten names:

  1. Yered (ירד), implying “descent.” According to one opinion, Miriam gave him this name, for because of him she went down (yarad) to the Nile to see what would become of him. Alternatively, Moses was called this name because he brought the Torah down to the Jewish people, and the Divine Presence back down to this physical world.
  2. Avigdor (אבי גדור), “master of the fence.” According to Me’am Loez he was called this (by his grandfather Kehat), because “since Moses’ birth, G‑d has fenced in Pharaoh, not allowing him to continue his decree to drown Jewish infants.”
  3. Chever (חבר), “companion” or “connector.” Either because Moses connected the Jewish people with their heavenly Father, or because he prevented (העביר, phonetically similar to חבר) heavenly retribution for their sins. Some say that Amram, his father, gave Moses this name, because Moses was born after his father had once again joined his wife after having divorced her.
  4. Avi Socho (אבי סוכו), “Father of Seers.” He was given this name by his grandfather Kehat (alternatively, by the nurse who helped Moses’ mother raise him), because Moses would grow up to be the “master” (avi) of the seers (sochim) and prophets.
  5. Yekutiel (יקותיא‑ל), from the root kavei (קוה), meaning “hope.” His mother, Jochebed, called him this name because she had hope and trust in G‑d that He would return Moses to her. Alternatively, because she foresaw that Moses would be the Jewish nation’s great hope.
  6. Avi Zanoach (אבי זנוח), literally, “master of rejection.” Aaron, Moses’ brother, gave him this name, saying, “My father rejected my mother, but took her back because of this child.” Alternatively, because Moses would make Israel reject idols.
  7. Toviah (טובי‑ה), implying “goodness.”5
  8. The Jewish people called him “Shemayah (שמעי‑ה) ben [the son of] Nethanel.”6 They predicted that in his days, G‑d would hear (שמע) their prayers.
  9. Ben Evyatar (בן אביתר), “son of pardon,” since Moses was the Jewish son who would solicit G‑d’s pardon (ויתר) for the Jewish people’s sin of the Golden Calf.
  10. Levi (לוי), so named after the tribe to which Moses belonged.

Despite all these names, throughout the Torah, he is referred to as Moses. Moreover, G‑d Himself addresses Moses only by this name.7 Our sages tell us that this teaches us the importance of raising a child, especially when doing so requires special self-sacrifice.8

Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger for Chabad.org

Footnotes
1.

In his commentary to Exodus 2:10, “She called his name Moses, as she said ‘For I drew him from the water.’”

2.

See Rashi to Exodus ibid., s.v. משיתהו [“I drew him”].

3.

Exodus ibid.

4.

On Leviticus, remez 428; and Exodus, remez 166, where attributions of the names are given. Most of these names are mentioned in I Chronicles 4:18, and the name Shemayah ben Nethanel ibid. 24:6; see Targum ad loc.

5.
In Shemot Rabbah 1:20 there is an opinion that says that Moses was also called Tov, “good.”
6.

According to some, “ben [the son of] Nethanel” was a distinct name. Regardless, Netanel is a composite of two words, natan, meaning “gave,” and E‑l, “G‑d.” Thus, as a whole the name ben Netanel means “the person [literally, ‘the son’] to whom G‑d gave the Torah.”

8.

See Me’am Loez to Exodus 2:10.

Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger, first content editor for KabbalaOnline.org, is the translator and editor of several important chassidic texts. He also serves as the Jewish chaplain for York Central Hospital, and for numerous Federal prisons. Rabbi Danzinger currently resides in Toronto, Canada, with his wife, Yehudis, and their children.
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Kym Oklahoma, USA April 16, 2017

I particularly liked the idea of the importance of raising a child, since it always involves self sacrifice. Reply

Johanna Orlando July 27, 2015

There are too many cognates of Moshe in the Egyptian royal house to ignore them: e.g., Rameses, Tutmose, and so on. I'm not a specialist in ancient Egyptian but I do know something about language. Clearly Pharoah's daughter would have spoken Egyptian, not Hebrew, and gave the infant a name that fit the circumstances of his coming into her life. The Pharoah Rameses name means "Son of Ra." Tutmose means "Son of Thoth." Thoth was the moon god, among his other aspects. Pharoah's daughter could have named the infant she found simply "Son" or there might have been another implied meaning in "Meses" that has been lost over time. Son-ship is in a very real sense "drawn out" of the father; hence "Ramese" or " son [drawn out] of Ra." It's possible that "Meses" implied a "drawing out", as well as literally "son" in ancient Egyptian. Implied meanings are common as well as potent in all languages, but can be lost, and new implied meanings come into language that were not there earlier. Reply

Anonymous July 27, 2015

Pharoah's daughter would not have spoken Hebrew The name was obviously "Meses" meaning "son" in Egyptian. It was later "Hebrewdized" into "Moshe", and the business about "drawing from the water" was added by a later writer to try to make a neat business of it all. Reply

bo January 31, 2015

Moses name Moses means "you can" in Polish, it's good to know languanges ;) Reply

Yisroel Aryeh Leib NJ August 26, 2014

Maybe its KABBALAH: Mah Shem (from Shem Mah) Mah Shem = What Name? = Moshe

Shem Mah= pnimius ha-Keter, which is not Keter as perceived from the outside but Keter itself. Reply

Zalmy Engel Australia March 31, 2014

Re: Dahnje Marceo; Fiction This is not making up a story...
Princess Batya (Bithiah) drew Moshe out while she was going for a ritual bathing in the Nile - because she was becoming Jewish!!!! - so this is not fiction at all... She called him a Hebrew name, which makes a lot of sense because the Sages tell us that she had absolutely no interest in her father's idol nonsense so she wanted to become Jewish...

So please, don't accuse the author of making up his own story. Reply

Johanna Orlando April 21, 2017
in response to Zalmy Engel:

I think this explanation is about as far-fetched as it's possible to get. Reply

Dahnje Marceo March 29, 2014

Fiction Why is the author making up his own story? The holy scripture says, "And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water." Who drew the babe out of the water? Whoever drew him out of the water named him. The princess knew that it was a Hebrew baby, so she could have named him in the Hebrew language, but it is more likely that she named him in the Egyptian language, being that he would be raised around Egyptian royalty. Let us not add to our egos by making things up. Reply

Alexis Vancouver June 28, 2013

Egyptian or Hebrew First? It would make sense that Moses is an Egyptian name, but its not Mo-ses, its Mo-she. It does make one wonder which language was the original. Did they Egyptian-ize a Hebrew name or visa- versa? Reply

Anonymous June 25, 2013

Moshe (Moses) Zalmy of Australia is the only one who correctly translated Moshe Rabbeinu's name. Moses was an Egyptian name, named by Bitya, the Egyptian Princess, which means - drawn out of the water. Also, one of the Anonymous above wrongly wrote about Asher. Asher was one of the sons of Jacob (12 tribes), meaning happy, content and has nothing to do with the intermarriage to the other nations. All languages derive from the original language, Hebrew. So, if there were gods or whatever, they eventually were all derived from the original Hebrew, since all languages originate from the Hebrew. For instance, the children of Abraham from Ketura were sent eastward to India, etc. There are words from their idolatry that stems from the Hebrew, such as Ashram and other words that are similar to Hebrew. Reply

Anonymous June 4, 2013

Rameses etymology I believe that Rameses (also "Ramses") means "son of the Sun." However, there could be some linguistic correlation between "Rameses" and "Moses" or "Moishe." You'd have to ask a linguist specializing in ancient middle eastern languages for the most accurate answer to your question. Reply

mike Rudmin Portsmouth, Va June 4, 2013

What about Ramses? Is it possible that Ramses an english variant of the name , king Moses (Ra-Moesha)? If so, is it possible that Moses means from the water in Egyptian, as well? Reply

Anonymous June 3, 2013

The River as a god I believe that the Egyptians considered the Nile as a kind of god, since they were animists. So the name "Child of God" would be appropriate for an infant found in the river that was sacred to the Egyptians. Reply

David R Freeman UK May 31, 2013

Name of Moses The Egyptian name “Moses” means “Child of God” (Ogden Goelet, “Moses’ Egyptian Name,” Bible Review June 2003). Reply

Anonymous May 31, 2013

Names were assimilated Moishe is indeed a Hebrew name today, but like the popular Hebrew name Asher, it was not necessarily first a Hebrew name thousands of years ago. Ashur was a pagan god, after which the Assyrians, and some Mesopotamian kings, were named-- as for instance, Ashurbanipal. Yet the name still used today, " Asher," worked its way into the Hebrew language probably by way of intermarriage. The Hebrews were in constant contact with "the nations" and we know that there was some cultural transfer, especially so when Hebrew men married non-Hebrew women. Moses was named by Pharoah's daughter, and that is the name he carried with him the rest of his life-- and it is the name by which G-d called him. His Hebrew given name is not to be found in the Bible. He was "drawn out" for a purpose which at the time only G-d knew, but the name was far more significant than any mere human knew at the time. There are other "Hebrew" names that were not used exclusively by Hebrews thousands of years ago. Reply

Zalmy Australia May 30, 2013

I see... This is interesting...
Moses might have been an Egyptian name, but it is most-likely a copy of the actual Hebrew name, Moshe.
After all, Moshe was raised in the house of Pharaoh. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL May 30, 2013

Different generation different meanings! Could it be that each generation interprets the Bible differently! I also thought that Moses meant: “drawn from the water”! and was given by his adoptive mother! Reply

Anonymous May 30, 2013

Egyptian names "Moses" is an Egyptian, not a Hebrew, name. Numerous members of the 18th dynasty (1540-1295 BCE) incorporated the name "Moses" in their royal names, as in "Thutmose," a name used for several pharaohs of that dynasty, which incidentally coincides with the presumed time of Moses' life. Reply

G. Michael Davis Vermont May 29, 2013

Moses I appreciate the dedication, generosity,and research that went into this. Reply

Zalmy Australia May 29, 2013

Re: Moses I do not believe that is the case, but I respect the fact that different people have different opinions.
'Moshe' means drawn out of the water, as the daughter of Pharaoh drew Moshe from the Nile as an infant. Reply

A friend in Massachusetts February 6, 2008

I would love to see Chabad,org use the Hebrew spellings for names from the Torah - Yocheved, Moshe, etc. Especially when the subject being discussed is the name itself, it would be more authentic to simply use the Hebrew name. Reply

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