From the beginning of time, humans have pondered the question – what is God’s real name? This seemingly simple question has sparked intense theological debate and reflection. Knowing God’s true name holds deep meaning and power for many faithful followers across religions.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: According to the Bible and other sacred texts, God has many names that reflect different attributes of His nature and character, such as Yahweh, Elohim, El-Shaddai, Adonai, Abba and others.
There is no definitive consensus on one exclusive “real name” for God.
In this comprehensive 3,000 word article, we’ll explore the many names and titles for God found in the Bible, Quran, Torah and other texts. We’ll look at the original meanings, theological significance, and historical/cultural context for names like Yahweh, Allah, El-Elyon, Jehovah and more.
Key topics will include:
The Many Names of God in the Bible
Yahweh – The Proper Name of God
Yahweh (YHWH) is considered by scholars to be God’s personal name, revealed to Moses at the burning bush. It comes from the Hebrew verb “to be” and refers to God’s eternal, self-existent nature. Yahweh is often rendered “LORD” (all caps) in English translations out of reverence for the holy name.
Elohim – God’s Majesty and Creative Power
The Hebrew name Elohim emphasizes God’s strength and creative power. It is actually a plural form, which allows for the Trinity. Elohim appears over 2,500 times in the Old Testament and refers to God’s supreme divinity and lordship over all creation.
El-Elyon – God Most High
El-Elyon depicts God as the highest sovereign, the supreme ruler of heaven and earth who is exalted above all other gods and kings. He is transcendent and all powerful. The name first appears when Abram encounters Melchizedek, king of Salem.
El-Shaddai – Almighty God
El-Shaddai highlights God’s complete sufficiency and nurturing care. While its meaning is somewhat uncertain, it may connect to the Hebrew for “mountains” or “strength.” God reveals Himself to Abram as El-Shaddai when establishing His covenant, underscoring His power to fulfill His promises.
Jehovah – The Eternal, Self-Existent God
Similar to Yahweh, Jehovah comes from the Hebrew word for “to be” and refers to God’s eternal, unchanging nature. Jehovah denotes God’s transcendence, self-existence, and covenant relationship with His people. This name occurs about 7,000 times in Scripture.
Adonai – Lord and Master
Adonai conveys God’s unequaled lordship and ownership over all. It denotes His absolute right to rule as Master. Adonai is plural, allowing for the Trinity once again. This title appears over 400 times in the Bible, often alongside “Jehovah.”
Abba – God as Loving Father
Abba is an Aramaic term for father, used by both Jesus and Paul of God’s fatherly care and relationship with believers. It speaks to God’s compassionate, protective love for His children. Though casual, Abba displays deep intimacy, trust, and affection between God and those adopted into His family.
Allah – The Supreme Name in Islam
Origin and Meaning of Allah
The name Allah originates from the Arabic word al-ilah, meaning “the god”. It is a contraction of al (the) and ilah (deity, god) to al-lah (the god). The name has been used to refer to the supreme creator deity in Islam since pre-Islamic times by Arabic people, as attested in multiple pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions.
To Muslims, Allah is unique and inherently one, all-merciful and omnipotent. Allah has no offspring, human attributes, human limitations or partners equivalent to Him. The Qur’an describes Allah as the al-Rahman meaning ‘The Most Gracious’, and al-Rahim meaning “The Most Merciful”.
99 Names of Allah in the Quran
The Quran refers to Allah by 99 names, or attributes. These names commonly describe Allah’s beautiful attributes of power and glory. Each one has been designated in a manner where it pictures a grand aspect of Allah’s greatness. Some of the frequently mentioned names include:
- Ar-Rahman (The Most Gracious)
- Ar-Rahim (The Most Merciful)
- Al-Malik (The Eternal Lord)
- Al-Quddus (The Most Holy)
The 99 names allow Muslims to understand Allah more intimately. They bring peace, assure that Allah sees everything, and is there for His creation when they call upon Him.
Why There is No Equivalent for Allah in English
There is no single English word that can properly define what “Allah” encapsulates. The word “God” often used to refer to Allah in English translations is limiting and lacking. “God” can imply multiple gods or deities being worshipped, but Allah is inherently one with no partners or equivalent.
|Allah in Arabic
|God in English
|Unique and only one
|Can imply multiple gods
|No human attributes
|Sometimes depicted with human qualities
Additionally, “Allah” in Arabic is not just used to name the supreme deity, but also serves as a common cultural and religious identity, invoking deep emotions for Arab Muslims when used in religion and daily life.
Finding a single all-encompassing word definition for Allah in English has proven impossible. Most Arab speakers continue using the word Allah untranslated even when speaking English to refer uniquely to the supreme being of Islamic faith.
HaShem – Referring to God Indirectly in Judaism
Avoiding the Sacred Tetragrammaton
In Judaism, the four Hebrew letters that spell out the personal name of God (YHWH) are considered extremely holy. Out of reverence, religious Jews avoid pronouncing this sacred Tetragrammaton. Instead, they use indirect terms like “HaShem” (literally, “The Name”) when referring to God in everyday speech and writing.
This avoids the possibility of violating the Third Commandment prohibition against taking God’s name in vain or “lifting it to naught”. Using HaShem demonstrates respect while sidestepping potential impropriety or error.
Adding Meaning Through Substitute Names
HaShem is not the only indirect name used by Jews to reference God. Names like Adonai (“Lord” or “My Great Lord”) and Elohim (“God” or “Mighty One”) are frequently substituted. Each imparts additional layers of meaning.
For example, Adonai conveys God’s absolute sovereignty. Calling God HaShem, on the other hand, recognizes God’s transcendent mystery and our inability as mortals to fully comprehend the divine essence.
HaShem in Rabbinic Literature and Theology
HaShem appears 19 times across both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds. These seminal works of Rabbinic Judaism grapple with applying the Torah to an evolving religious landscape. The sages turn to HaShem frequently when tackling thorny theological questions.
In his 13 Principles of Faith, the great 12th century scholar Maimonides concludes that while no mind can fully grasp God’s unity, “HaShem – blessed be He – knows the truth”. He affirms God’s oneness while admitting the limits of human intellect.
As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes, speaking God’s true name can provide a conduit for divine blessing when done properly in ritual context. In ordinary speech, however, “God is referred to as HaShem – literally ‘the name'”. This maintains spiritual elevation outside liturgical settings.
|Number of times “HaShem” appears in the Talmud
|19 (final count)
Over time, the incidence of “HaShem” rose across Talmudic discourse as rabbinic custom coalesced around substituting indirect names for God’s explicit four-letter name, even in religious writings.
Today most Jews continue following the age-old practice of saying HaShem instead of directly invoking God’s personal name outside specifically sacred contexts like prayer, blessings or scriptural readings.
The Significance of Knowing God’s Name
God’s Name Reflects His Nature and Identity
The names of God in Scripture provide insight into His nature, character, and identity. For example, God reveals Himself to Moses as YHWH, meaning “I Am Who I Am”, an eternal, self-existent God (Exodus 3:14).
Jesus claimed the divine name “I Am” as well, identifying Himself as the great I Am (John 8:58). Other names like El Shaddai portray God as the all-sufficient and almighty Provider (Genesis 17:1), while Adonai depicts God’s lordship and authority (Malachi 1:6).
The many names given to God in the Bible serve as a rich source of theological truth for believers. They teach us about God’s attributes and give us confidence that He is exactly who He claims to be. As Psalm 9:10 declares, “Those who know your name trust in you.”
By understanding the meaning behind God’s names, our faith and awe of Him grows deeper.
Power and Blessing from Invoking God’s Name
In the ancient world, a name was believed to hold actual power and authority. Likewise, the Bible shows that God responds actively when His name is called upon. For example, those who call upon the name of the Lord for salvation will be rescued (Romans 10:13).
Jesus performed miracles by the authority of God’s name (Mark 16:17-18). And we are instructed to offer prayer and petition to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (John 16:23).
God also promises to bless those who revere His name. In Deuteronomy 28, a key aspect of the covenant blessings for Israel involved placing God’s name in the temple. God pledges to meet with His people and bless them when they honor His name as holy (Leviticus 22:32).
Even under the New Covenant, Jesus assured believers that whatever they request in His name will be done for them, bringing glory to God (John 14:13-14).
Using God’s Name Reverently and Thoughtfully
If names hold power, then misusing God’s name should be avoided. Scripture condemns irreverent use of God’s name, such as swearing falsely (Leviticus 19:12). Under Jewish tradition, the sacred name of God was never to be spoken aloud.
Many Jews would use circumlocutions like “Lord” or “Heaven” in place of God’s personal name as a sign of respect.
However, while reverence is appropriate, Christians are invited into intimacy with God. Jesus taught believers to pray by addressing God as our loving heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9). Elders in Revelation sing praise to the name of God Almighty (Revelation 15:3-4).
As with any relationship, intimacy is cultivated by learning about who God is and calling upon Him regularly in faith.
The Mystery and Majesty of God’s Many Names
Human Limitations in Comprehending God’s Identity
As finite human beings, our ability to fully comprehend the identity of an infinite God is profoundly limited. Though we can apprehend aspects of God’s character through Scripture, creation, and personal experience, grasping the fullness of the Divine Being remains beyond our mental faculties.
God’s names certainly reveal invaluable truths about His nature and attributes, yet even these only supply glimpses into His unfathomable reality. For instance, calling God “El-Shaddai” conveys His all-sufficiency and power to fulfill every promise, but we still perceive this might dimly (Piper, 2023).
No single title can ever encapsulate the full breadth of His wisdom, love, justice, sovereignty, and other qualities.
Appreciating the Depth Behind Each Name
Though no one name sums up God’s identity, each reveals meaningful aspects of His character. For example, “Jehovah Jireh” expresses how God provides all we need, while “El-Roi” displays His ever-watchful care over our lives.
Rather than trying to squeeze God into a single name, it is better to contemplate the specific truth found in each one.
In Scripture God progressively discloses various names to expand people’s vision of Him throughout redemptive history. Abraham first encountered Him as “El-Shaddai”, while Moses later knew Him as “Yahweh”, underscoring God’s covenant faithfulness (Bible Study Tools, 2023).
By cherishing every revealed name of God, we grow in properly revering and relating to Him.
Finding Unity Among Diverse Perspectives
At first glance the Bible’s 200+ names and titles for God may seem scattershot, yet in reality they cohere to form a unified, multifaceted revelation of His glorious Being. For instance, “Abba Father” expresses God’s paternal intimacy while “King of Kings” depicts His sovereign supremacy.
“Prince of Peace” and “Mighty God” also display complementary traits.
|God’s Names Based on Power and Might
|God’s Relational Names
Though not exhibiting the full picture, together these rich names erect a mosaic unveiling our glorious Triune God. By aggregating every name’s unique perspective, we better comprehend our infinite Creator and Lord.
What is God’s real name? There may never be one definitive answer that satisfies everyone. Yet exploring the many meaningful names for God across faiths gives us a glimpse into His inexhaustible nature.
Each of God’s names – from Yahweh to Allah to HaShem – reveals part of His eternal majesty, love, power and mystery. By calling on these names in scripture, prayer and song, religious followers can deepen their connection with the Divine.
While we may never fully comprehend the fullness of God’s identity, meditating on His many names brings us closer to the Source of all being.