The Power and Magic of Names
by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“The voices heard by the Babylonian in nature, however, were not a whit more sacred to him than the inarticulate voice which found expression in the name. Like all primitive peoples, the Chaldeans confounded the person and the name by which he was known.
The name, in fact, was the personality, and whatever happened to the name would happen equally to the personality. Injury could be done to a person by using his name in a spell; and, similarly, to pronounce the name of a deity compelled him to attend to the wishes of the priest or exorcist.
As among the ancient Egyptians, the secret names of the gods–many of them heirlooms from a primeval age, whose actual meaning was forgotten–were not only especially holy, but also especially efficacious.
Names, consequently, like the persons or things they represented, were in themselves of good and evil omen; and the Babylonian would have sympathised with the feeling which made the Roman change Maleventum into Beneventum, or has caused the Cape of Storms to become the Cape of Good Hope.
Whether this superstition about names was of purely Semitic origin, or whether it was shared in by the Accadians, we have no means of determining at present; the analogy of other races, however, in a corresponding stage of social development would lead us to infer that the superstition was the independent possession of Accadians and Semites alike.
At all events, it was deeply imprinted upon the Semitic mind. The sacredness attached to the name of the God of Israel among the later Jews, and the frequent employment of the name for the person of the Lord, bear witness to the fact.
When Moses was ordained to his mission of leading his people out of Egypt and forming them into a nation, it was prefaced by what was henceforth to be the sacred and national name of their God.
There were names of good fortune and names of evil fortune, and special significance was attached to a change of name.
Three successive usurpers of the throne of Assyria–Pul, Ululâ or Ilulaios, and the father of Sennacherib–all discarded their old names on the successful accomplishment of their usurpation.
Pul and Ululâ adopted those of the two famous monarchs of the older Assyrian dynasty, Tiglath-Pileser and Shalmaneser, retaining their original designations only in Babylonia, where the names they had adopted were associated with ideas of hostility and invasion; while Sargon, who claimed to be lord of Babylonia as well as of Assyria, identified himself with the past glories of the ancient kingdom by taking the name of Sargon of Accad.
The adoption of these time-honoured names of itself conferred legitimacy upon the new claimants of the throne; along with the name they inherited the title and the claim to veneration of those who had borne them.
It must have been for a similar reason that Esar-haddon’s name, according to Sennacherib, was changed to that of Assur-etil-yukin-abla, “Assur the hero has established the son,” “for affection’s sake,” though the prince preferred to retain his earlier appellation of Esar-haddon or Assur-akh-iddina, “Assur has given the brother,” after his accession to the throne.
We are reminded of the records of the Jews, from which we learn that Jedidiah became the Solomon of later history, and the Pharaoh of Egypt “turned the name” of Eliakim into Jehoiakim.”
A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 302-4.