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Meaning and etymology of the name Peninnah

Peninnah Peninnah

Peninnah is one of two wives of a man from Ramathaim-zophim in Ephraim, whose name is Elkanah, son of Jeroham (1 Samuel 1:2). Elkanah's other wife is named Hannah and she is remembered as becoming the mother of Samuel the judge. Peninnah and Hannah's situation is somewhat similar to that of Leah and Rachel, in that Peninnah has children but is unloved, while Hannah is deeply desponded for not having children even though she's loved. The son she finally gives birth to will judge Israel for about fifty years, and will also author (it is assumed) at least parts of the books of Samuel. He never mentions the names of his half-siblings, the children of Peninnah.

The name Peninnah comes from the unused Hebrew root pnn (pnn). Since it is unused we can't check the context and we're at a loss for a meaning. BDB Theological Dictionary reports that this root is "apparently a parallel form of pnh (pnh), meaning to turn. The latter is also the source of the word panim (panim), the common Hebrew word for face.

The unused root pnn does yield a few derivatives: pnh (pinna) meaning a corner (1 Kings 7:34). This noun is also used to figuratively indicate a firm foundation for society, usually translated with chief (Judges 20:2 - the "cornerstones" of all the people; Isaiah 19:13 - the "cornerstones" of their tribes). The famous line of Psalm 118:22, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone," uses this same word pinna.

A second derivation of our root is the plural word peninim (peninim), probably denoting corals, or possibly pearls. This word occurs a few times in the Bible but always as this plural form. The singular form would be pniynah (pniynah), which comes very close to our name Peninnah. BDB Theological Dictionary proposes that corals may have been named this way because of its branches and also because the Arabic cognate means just that: branching. Corals are notes in the Bible for their value (Proverbs 20:5) and their red color, contrasting snow (Lamentations 4:7, making a translation with pearls rather unwarranted).

For a meaning of the name Peninnah, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Coral. NOBS Study Bible Name List reads Coral, Pearl.



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