Ham meaning | Ham etymology

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Ham in Biblical Hebrew
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Ham

The name that occurs in the English Bible as Ham is really two completely different Hebrew names; one which is pronounced Cham (חם), and the other Ham (הם). They have two completely different meanings, but since English readers are so used to the name Ham, Ham it is. We'll call them Ham I (חם) and Ham II (הם):

The name Ham I in the Bible

Ham 1 (חם and properly pronounced as Cham) is the youngest son of Noah (Genesis 9:24). Because Mizraim (the Biblical name for Egypt) is one of the sons of Ham, the name Ham is sometimes used to indicate Egypt (Ps 105:23).

Etymology of the name Ham I

This name Ham is identical to the adjective חם (ham), meaning warm, and also to the noun חם (ham), meaning father in law:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

Ham I meaning

For the meaning of this name Ham, Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) confidently derives it from the verb חמם (hamam), meaning to be hot, and renders it Heat, Black. Then he goes off on the tried and commonly rejected ramble that connects blackness with sin. Jones rather reluctantly admits that Ham was the grandfather of Nimrod, the world's first emperor, but quickly relativizes this feat by fantastically stating, "no doubt [Ham] was the sole introducer of the worship of the sun," and thundering, "even while the hand of God was bearing him up in safety in the ark of gopher wood, the leaven of his horrid idolatry was working in his breast."

What escapes the otherwise fine scholar is that:

  • This version of the name Ham is also identical to חם (ham), father-in-law, from the unused root חמה (hmh) of which the cognates mean to protect or surround.
  • In the Bible not blackness but whiteness is associated with sin. Miriam turned white because of her aggression against Moses' second wife, who was a Cushite and thus quite likely very black. And the bride of the Song of Solomon, often regarded as a type of the Church, was black as well (Song 1:5). For more on black-and-white in the Bible, read our article Meet Mrs. God.

NOBSE Study Bible Name List simply reads Hot for Ham, but in view of the above, a closer rendering would be Passion or Intensity.


The name Ham II in the Bible

Ham 2, which is spelled הם and pronounced as Ham, denotes a once-mentioned town where kings Amraphel, Arioch, Chedorlaomer and Tidal defeated the Zuzim during the war of four against five kings (Genesis 14:5).

Etymology of the name Ham II

Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names derives this Ham from the verb המה (hama), meaning cry aloud:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

Ham II meaning

NOBSE Study Bible Name List incorrectly lists this Ham as one of the occurrences of Ham 1, for which it reads Hot. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names renders this version of the name Ham as Noisy.

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