This movie requires Flash Player 8. Download Flash Player 8

Issue Features
View this issue online as it looks in print
Discovery Magazine 2/1/2011

Why Don’t the People in the Bible have Last Names?

by  Digger Doug

Dear Peyton,

This is another terrific question from a reader who is obviously reading his Bible. Keep that up. As you have noticed, you do not see names in the Bible like John Smith or Simon Johnson. So how did the people in Bible times tell the difference between two people with the same first name? As you read the Bible, you will come across the answer. Often, when a person with the same first name as someone else is mentioned, there will be an additional piece of information given. For instance, in Acts 10:6, we read about a man named “Simon, a tanner.” A tanner was a person who prepared animal skins by tanning them. So to show which Simon was being mentioned, his job as a tanner was given as well. Instead of a “last name” he was given “a last job.” That was often done in Bible times. People were often given names like John the blacksmith or Saul the tailor. In fact, that is where many modern last names like Smith and Tailor come from. On other occasions, the Bible might mention who a person’s dad was. For instance, Numbers 11:28 talks about “Joshua the son of Nun.” By telling the father’s name, it sets Joshua apart from others who might be named Joshua. Interestingly, many modern names like Johnson originally meant, “the son of John.” Also, sometimes a person was labeled by a certain trait or characteristic he or she had (like being a twin—John 11:16, Didymus means “twin”), or based on where they lived, like Mary Magdalene (since she was from Magdala). There you go, Peyton, thanks for the question.

Copyright © 2011 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

*Please keep in mind that Discovery articles are written for 3rd-6th graders.

This document may be copied, on the condition that it will not be republished in print unless otherwise stated below, and will not be used for any commercial purpose, as long as the following stipulations are observed: (1) Apologetics Press must be designated as the original publisher; (2) the specific Apologetics Press Web site URL must be noted; (3) any references, footnotes, or endnotes that accompany the article must be included with any written reproduction of the article; (4) textual alterations of any kind are strictly forbidden; (5) Some illustrations (e.g., photographs, charts, graphics, etc.) are not the intellectual property of Apologetics Press and as such cannot be reproduced from our site without consent from the person or organization that maintains those intellectual rights; (6) serialization of written material (e.g., running an article in several parts) is permitted, as long as the whole of the material is made available, without editing, in a reasonable length of time; (7) articles, excepting brief quotations, may not be offered for sale or included in items offered for sale; and (8) articles may be reproduced in electronic form for posting on Web sites pending they are not edited or altered from their original written content and that credit is given to Apologetics Press, including the web location from which the articles were taken. Further, documents may not be copied without source statements (title, author, journal title), and the address of the publisher and owner of rights, as listed below.

For catalog, samples, or further information, contact:

Apologetics Press
230 Landmark Drive
Montgomery, Alabama 36117
Phone (334) 272-8558

Web Store

Defending the Faith Study Bible

We are very excited to announce the NEW AP Defending the Faith Study Bible now available.

Featured Audio


Click the following link to visit our Multimedia section.

Featured Audio