The name Judah in the Bible
There are up to seven men named Judah in the Bible:
The original Judah is Jacob's fourth son with Leah (Genesis 29:35). Judah becomes prominent when his three brothers Reuben, Simeon and Levi forfeit their places in the hierarchy (Reuben sleeps with Bilhah—Genesis 35:22, and Simeon and Levi avenge their sister Dinah's rape by killing the entire male population of the village of Shechem, and looting the place—Genesis 34:25).
It should be noted that the feminine form of this name, Judith, occurs a generation earlier than Judah and may very well be the original (meaning that the name Judah is derived from Judith and not vice versa). Judith is the Hittite aunt of Judah, married to Judah's uncle Esau. This also implies that the Biblical meanings of the names Judah and Judith may have been imposed upon these existing names, and the spelling of them altered to fit the meaning.
Other Judahs are:
- A postexilic Levite (Ezra 3:9).
- A Levite who divorces his foreign wife in the purge of Ezra (Ezra 10:23).
- A postexilic overseer (Nehemiah 11:9).
- A Levite who returns with Zerubbabel (Nehemiah 12:8).
- A postexilic leader (Nehemiah 12:34).
- A priestly musician (Nehemiah 12:36).
Etymology of the name Judah
The name Judah appears to be associated to the verb ידה (yada), meaning to praise:
When Leah gave birth to Judah she names him such by saying, "This time I will praise the Lord." Perhaps she meant that she realized that her first three sons weren't going to bring her closer to Jacob, and she should redirect her focus to God.
That Leah uses our verb יהד when she names Judah is no proof that the name Judah actually comes from that verb, and the name and the verb seem quite different. But through certain grammatical construction called Hophal the two may become quite similar. The related form Hiphel of this verb occurs in Nehemiah 11:17, spelled identical to the name Judah and pronounced slightly different. BDB Theological Dictionary deems to connection "dubious" and it's quite possible that the name Judah originated in another language and was artificially grafted onto this Hebrew verb. But this is a technical matter, and any member of a practical Hebrew audience would readily tie the name Judah to the verb ידה (yada), meaning to praise.
Formally, the name Judah does not contain the appellative יה (Yah) = יהו (Yahu) = יו (Yu), which in turn are abbreviated forms of the Tetragrammaton; the name of the Lord: YHWH, but no member of a Hebrew audience would fail to notice that the first two letters of the name Judah form יה (Yah). And if the letter ד (daleth) would be omitted from the name Judah, the very name יהוה (YHWH) would appear.
For the meaning of the name Judah, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Let Him (God) Be Praised. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names simply reads Praised. BDB Theological Dictionary does not interpret this name and lists it alphabetically, not under the verb ידה (yada).