Swedenborg & Life Recap: The Spiritual Meaning of Names — 8/13/18

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What’s in a name? Maybe it’s just a matter of what sounded nice to your parents . . . but what if it’s connected to something much, much deeper? In this episode, hosts Curtis Childs and Dr. Jonathan Rose reveal what names could really mean.

Eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg observed that names connect to spiritual truth, but that’s not always reflected in our given names here on earth. He wasn’t particularly interested in those, but he was very interested in our search for meaning in names.

In regard to the idea that naming things means recognizing their nature, it needs to be realized that the ancients took a name to mean simply the essence of a thing, and seeing something and naming it to mean recognizing its nature. This was due to the fact that they gave their daughters and sons names with a relevant meaning. Every name had a unique element that indicated where people were from and what they were like. . . . Since names, then, told where people were from and what they were like, that is exactly what naming something meant to those ancient people. Such a manner of speaking was familiar to them, and anyone who fails to understand it will be puzzled by the symbolism. (Secrets of Heaven §144)

In the spiritual world, all words—not just names—are full of meaning. One of our writers, Chelsea Odhner, joins to discuss the sacred nature of language. Even just the sounds of spiritual names help us understand our complete natures.

When anyone is named or a name is mentioned, an idea of the person’s character springs to mind—a picture of everything that belongs to, exists with, or resides in the person. (Secrets of Heaven §2009)

It helps to understand spiritual language, where each letter means something. Unlike English, some languages use symbols that actually look like the thing they’re meant to represent. Spiritual language does this at a metaphysical level.

In some naming traditions, names are meant to change as people grow. This seems to be how names work in the afterlife—we are given perfect names that encompass us completely.

For Swedenborg, all of the Bible has some spiritual meaning, including each and every name. This makes those chapters of the Bible that are basically lists of names mean a whole lot more than most would expect.

When the Word says “so-and-so’s name is” . . . it means that the name involves something worth noting. To call someone by name is to recognize what the person is like. . . . Not a single syllable appears in the Word without a reason or without symbolizing some inner phenomenon. (Secrets of Heaven §1896)

So this all brings us to the big question: what is God’s name and what does it mean?

The Lord is called the Alpha and the Omega because alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and they consequently symbolize all things in their entirety. That is because in the spiritual world every alphabetic letter has some symbolic meaning, and a vowel, since it serves to provide tone, symbolizes something having to do with affection or love. (Apocalypse Revealed §29:2)

Many cultures and traditions have long lists of names for God, and many of them disagree with each other—sometimes violently. But the truth is that the meaning is what matters, and the earthly name has little to do with it.

The same way people can be referred to in many different ways . . .

God can have many different names for the many different views people have of him.


Related Swedenborg & Life Videos

The Spiritual Meaning of Numbers
Who Was Swedenborg?

Free E-Book Downloads

Apocalypse Explained
Apocalypse Revealed
Divine Providence
Heaven and Hell
Love in Marriage (a contemporary translation of Conjugial Love)
New Jerusalem
Other Planets
Secrets of Heaven
True Christianity


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  • About Swedenborg & Life

    In a lighthearted and interactive webcast format, host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death.
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