menu
Patheos answers the question:
What Are the Names of God?
unsplash

Owing to how many religions there are in the world, and since each tradition has numerous names for the divine, there are literally thousands of names for God. Some religions, like Hinduism, have more names than can be counted—in part because certain practitioners of that tradition will worship a deity unique to themselves or the region in which they live. Other traditions, like Christianity or Islam, have a more fixed number of names for the divine, as given in their holy books.

Regardless of the religious tradition, most names for the divine are “descriptor names,” meaning they highlight some attribute or function of the deity. Thus, even the English word “God”—which has a rather complex etymology—is believed to have originally meant “that which is invoked,” “called upon,” or “summoned.” Therefore, the name-title “God” simply describes our relationship to the divine and the role of that being in relation to humanity.

As would be expected, the length of this article will not allow for an exhaustive list of names employed for the divine. Nonetheless, we will highlight a few of the most common name-titles used for God in a variety of the world’s religions.

Baháʼí: In the Baháʼí tradition, the most common and most important name for God is “All-Glorious” which comes from the Arabic word, Bahá—which is the root word for several other Baháʼí terms or phrases, including: “Follower of the All-Glorious” (which is the literal meaning of the name Baháʼí), “God is the All-Glorious” (Alláh-u-Abhá), “O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious” (Yá Baháʼu'l-Abhá), and “The Glory of God” (Baháʼu'lláh). This last one is significant because it is the name of the founder of Baháʼí, whom practitioners believe was the complete incarnation of the attributes of and titles for God. Other common names for the divine in Baháʼí include Almighty, All-Loving, All-Powerful, All-Wise, Gracious, Helper, Incomparable, and Omniscient. Each of these names highlight an attribute of the monotheistic God worshiped in Baháʼí.

Christianity: Because Christians embrace both the Old and New Testaments, they share with Judaism certain names for the divine. Common Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) names for God include YHWH (also rendered Yahweh, Jahveh, Jehovah, etc.), Elohim, Lord, God Almighty, and Most High God. Popular Christian New Testament names for God include Lord, Father, and Abba. In addition, as a member of the Trinity, numerous name-titles are given for Jesus (in the New Testament), such as Emanuel, Lord, Son of God, Only Begotten of the Father, Lamb of God, and Bread of Life. Jehovah’s Witnesses are unique in that they teach that one should only refer to God the Father as Jehovah—which they believe to be God’s proper and divinely revealed name. (Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity and, thus, Jesus is not perceived as God but, rather, as the “Archangel Michael.”)

Hinduism: It seems fair to say that the Hindu tradition has more names for God than any other religion. One of the most common names for the divine in this tradition is Bhagavan or Bhagwan, which is often translated (in English) as “Lord.” While individual deities—such as Brahma (meaning “prayer”), Vishnu (meaning “all pervasive”), and Shiva (meaning “lucky”)—have their own names, a significant percentage of Hindus believe that all Gods are simply manifestations of the Ultimate, which is the God Brahman—whose name comes from a root, which means “to expand,” highlighting the fact that all things are ultimately an expansion of, consumed by, and part of Brahman. Brahman alone is real (or is reality), and everything else is simply an illusion because all are nothing more than manifestations of Brahman. Thus, the various names of the thousands of Hindu deities are ultimately names that apply to Brahman, of which all things are a part. (Consequently, Hinduism can be monotheistic and polytheistic as the same time.)

Islam: People often say that the Qur’an gives 99 names for God, such as The Beneficent, Most Gracious, Lord, Most Merciful, and Almighty. In reality, there are more than 99 names for God in Islam. Of course, the most common name for God in Islamic tradition is “Allah”—which means “the God” (referring to the belief that Allah is the only God that exists, the only one that every has existed, and the only one that ever will exist). In Islam, some will occasionally speak of the “100th name of God,” which is traditionally given as “Ana,” which means “I am” (sometimes rendered “Me”)—reminiscent of the name Jehovah gave for Himself in the Hebrew Bible (See Exodus 3:14. See also John 8:24 & 58). Some scholars suggest that the parallel between the name for YHWH/Jehovah and Allah/Ana is to be found in the fact that the Qur’an makes it clear that the God which spoke to Moses (in the burning bush)—and to all other Hebrew Bible and New Testament prophets—was Allah. Thus, he is Ana (or “I Am”) and, consequently, the name “Jehovah” is but one more title used to refer to Allah by certain ancient people.

Judaism: As already noted, the Hebrew Bible offers a number of names for the God of Judaism. The correct name for the Jewish God is YHWY—though the proper vocalization of this name has been lost. Jews will traditionally avoid trying to pronounce this name, and will often even avoid writing out the world God, instead penning that title as G0D or G-d. Similarly, in Rabbinic Judaism, there are seven names for God which are considered so holy that, once written, they are not to be erased. Those seven names are: Ehyeh ("I Am"), El or Eloah (both meaning “God”), ha Elohim (“the God”), Shaddai (“Almighty"), Tzevaot (of “Hosts") and, of course, YHWH. Other popular and commonly employed names for God (in Judaism) include Adoni (“Lord” or “My Lord” in the plural), HaShem (“The Name”), and “The Eternal One.”

Sikhism: The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, argued that—though we call the divine by many different names—there is actually only one God. According to Nanak, regardless of whether you called God Allah, Vishnu, or some other name, all people are still worshiping the same God—for there is, in actuality, only one God. Thus, though the world’s various religions have certain common names which they employ for the incomprehensible and singular God, Sikhs are less concerned about the variety of names used, since all names are ultimately inadequate in describing the divine. Popular Sikh names for the God include Ek Onkar (“One Supreme Reality”), Waheguru (“Wonderful Teacher”), One True Name, and Hari (often translated as “Glowing” or “Shining”).

Zoroastrianism: While this tradition grew out of the polytheistic ancient Aryan belief system, Zoroastrianism defines itself as a monotheistic faith. God is referred to by some 101 names, in the Zoroastrian tradition, though each is simply a title—as God has no name, according to Zoroastrian scholars. That being said, by far, the most common epithet for the Zoroastrian divine is Ahura Mazda (meaning “Wise Lord” or “Lord of Wisdom”). Other titles for God include Yazat (or “Worthy of Worship”), Harvasp-h'udhâ (meaning “The Lord of all”), Abadah ("Without beginning"), and Jamakh ("Greatest cause"). While God formally has no name, Zoroastrianism teaches that there are six divine “emanations” or “evocations” (wisdom, truth, power, love, unity and immortality) that God has sent forth from His own being, which enable us to “know” God’s nature. These are the essence of Ahura Mazda and, thus, themselves function as ways to both conceive of God and make reference to the divine (or attributes thereof).

While many other religious traditions could be discussed, and thousands of additional names for the divine fleshed out, suffice it to say that in nearly none of the world’s organized faiths are the name-titles for God believed to be much more than human ways to grasp or encapsulate the nature, role or purpose of the divine. For most religions, God is ultimately unknowable—and “names” or “titles” are but ways for the finite to grasp and relate to the infinite.


7/26/2021 12:56:22 PM
About Alonzo L. Gaskill
Alonzo L. Gaskill is an author, editor, theologian, lecturer, and professor of World Religions. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology/comparative religion, and biblical studies. He has authored more than two-dozen books and numerous articles on various aspects of religion with topics ranging from world religions and interfaith dialogue, to scriptural commentaries, texts on symbolism, sacred space, and ritual, and even devotional literature.