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Meaning and etymology of the Hebrew name David

David David  /  David

David is the youngest of eight (1 Samuel 16:10-13) or seven (1 Chronicles 2:15) sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite, and the first king of the united Kingdom of Israel. He was not the first king of Israel because that was Saul (1 Samuel 10:1). Saul, however, never managed to make peace in Israel.

Popular as this name is nowadays, in the Bible there is only one person named this way. Many names occur more than once, but David's name was never repeated. Perhaps it was for venerative reasons that nobody named their child after the great king David of Israel. The Bible also only lists one Adam, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the list goes on.

Most Bible translators and commentator will render the name David as Beloved, but as always with important names, the etymology of the name David is disputed. But we can't help noticing the distinct similarity of this name with the Hebrew root David (dwd) that yields David (dod), meaning beloved in general or uncle more specifically; doda (doda), meaning aunt; duday (duday), meaning mandrake; David (dud), meaning pot, jar.

Other words of interest are dad (dad), meaning nipple, breast, and doda (dada), meaning to move slowly. A Hebrew verb that seems at least visually related (no etymological relationship is mentioned by the sources used) is ydd (ydd), love. King David's most important son, Solomon, was named Jedidiah by Nathan the prophet. The name Jedidiah is formed from this verb ydd.

All except one of the meanings of beloved of the word David in the Bible occur in the Song of Solomon. The one occurrence that is not in the Song is in Isaiah 5:1, the famous song of the vineyard. The word David is also used to simply mean 'love.'

The distinct difference between the name David (David) and the word David (dod) is that in the name David the letter waw counts for a consonant, while in the word dod it counts for a vowel. A consonant and a vowel are completely different entities and they'll never mean the same, no matter how many times you write them with the same symbol (in this case the waw). If the name was meant to mean Beloved, then it was perhaps given to David after he became king and beloved. In his father's household he wasn't much of a hit, after all.

But then, if this name was meant to mean Beloved, why hasn't history given us the tales of King Dod? HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament lists David under dod but admits that "the name is conjectured to come from dod, beloved, but the etymology is uncertain. It has been compared with the Mari term dawidum, 'leader,' but this too is unsure."

BDB Theological Dictionary too lists the name David under the derivations of the root dod, but also makes mention of A.H. Sayce's note of a sun-god named Dodo — Dodo — which was worshipped in East-Jordan Israel.
Zion, now known as the city of David, was then apparently known as the city of god Dod. But where Dod went the way of the dodo, king David is eternally remembered as the beloved king. And this is curious for more than one reason.

As Joel M. Hoffman writes in his riveting book In The Beginning - A Short History of the Hebrew Language, the Hebrews were the first to use symbols for vowels, and that carried the art of reading and writing off the stage of esotericism and into the common household. It may very well be that at the time of David, the waw still always counted as a consonant, while the use of the waw for the vowel u came after David, and altered the pronunciation of everyday words such as dod but not that of the name David. Oddly enough, the exact opposite happens with the word Beth, meaning house, which is now pronounced as the two-syllable bayit but lives on as the monosyllabic beth in names such as Bethlehem and Bethel.

When we assume that the Bible as we know it was grafted upon older sources but was edited to its final form at sometime during the Babylonian exile, the Psalms of David are among the oldest original texts in the Bible. Though certainly proud of their country, the Word of God was Israel's most defining cultural element. For many decades now, archeology has looked for traces of the Davidic-Solomonic empire as described in the Bible, but it simply isn't there (see What Did The Bible Writers Know & When Did They Know It? by William G. Dever). Perhaps the greatness of David and Solomon was in their contributions to language, and especially written language.

But whatever the reason, Israel's identity of a Kingdom is associated with a king whose name is not a regular Hebrew word, but which is spelled identical to the word for Beloved, and pronounced completely different.

Perhaps, and this is a wild guess, the name Dod was altered to David to charge it with the tone of the word dawa (dawa), meaning infirmity. The derivations of this word all have to do with being sick or unclean (something 'flowing' out), except deyo (deyo), meaning ink, as used in Jeremiah 36:18 and other places. If this (completely unfounded) assumption has any truth to it, it may be because David's life was tainted with impurities and grief: He was a persecuted fugitive for years, first hunted by his king and father-in-law, and then by his own son. That son is murdered. Another son rapes his sister. He kills to get his hands on a woman. Their child dies.

King David is remembered as the beloved king, but today he would be reckoned a genocidal maniac, a dictator and a terrorist.

With many millions of copies of his lyrics in print, and performances of his work all over the world, any day of the week, King David also holds the distinction of being the best selling musician of all time.

Other names that make use of the roots ydd or dwd are Bildad, Dodo, Dodai, Dodavahu, Eldad, Elidad, Iddo, Jaddai, Jedidah, Jedidiah and Medad.



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