Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun ονομα (onoma) means name, and it and our English word "name" stem from the same ancient Proto-Indo-European root "nomn-" that left its mark in languages from Sanskrit (nama) and Avestan (nama) to Russian (imya) and all European languages. That means that our word describes something that was among the very first concepts to be named; a necessarily ancient idea that sits at the very core of what defines humanity.
Our word "noun" comes from the Latin word for "name," namely nomen, and sure enough, technically speaking, one's personal name is a "proper noun" and nouns like "lamp" or "mouse" are really the "names" of things. That means that a human name creates a generic category that contains one member: someone named Barney is as unique as the lamp and the mouse.
Language requires something that is deeply defining of humans, and that is abstraction. Humans are capable of "naming" separate things, and that allows them to think about these things even when they are not directly in sight. That allows conscious thought, which is of course a very big deal. It also provokes a sense of self that wouldn't exist without language. It may be a bit hard to imagine, but to little children and most animals, it's not at al clear where "me" ends and "someone else" starts. Animals that live in large groups are likewise not consciously aware that they are one mere specimen in a vast host of different individuals, but identify much rather with the collective at large (we see one sow and twelve piglets; a piglet only sees the nipple as its link to the collective it belongs to).
We humans also readily project our sense of individuality on the material world so that objects become their own individual thing. Animals don't do that. We see our collection of precious statuettes lined up on the shelf as separate things, but your dog has no such sense and sees the statuettes, shelf and wall as a lifeless continuum. When you order your dog to "go get your toy," your dog does not at all connect the word "toy" to the item, but rather connects praise and cookies to a certain acquired behavior upon hearing the sound "goagityertoay" coming from you. Dogs don't have words for "green" or "sweet" or "tennis ball" and these things subsequently don't cross a dog's mind as the consciously defined items they are in ours. It's one of the reasons why dogs don't count. They have no nouns. Dogs really live in wholly different world, and that's because they don't have words (for more on this, read our article on the name Arba).
Conscious thought allows the creation of an entire universe in one's head. It allows for the acquisition and storage of vast amounts of accumulative knowledge (see our article on the name Magdalene) and it allows the exchange of complicated information or ideas, and thus the bonding over vast territories of vastly unique individuals. Language, in fact, is an application of our brain's functionality (what walking is to legs) and it was once not there. As any toddler demonstrates, language is an acquired skill, which begins with the "invention" of the name: the identification of the difference between things and the naming of these differentiating qualities.
The author of humanity's origin story had Adam "name" the creatures God had made (Genesis 2:19), which is an enormously insightful way of indicating the beginning of humanity's conceptual thought. Language and thus conceptual thought is what truly sets humanity apart from the animal world, and prior to the invention of the name there was no major discernable difference between humans and animals.
Before humans began to name things, they could have had no idea that they were special. Naming things is what allowed humans to create their vast cultures that go far beyond what any single human can comprehend. It's what allowed collective, scientific knowledge and subsequently technology. And ultimately, the "name" uniquely allows humans to contemplate their Creator. It's why the "Son" is called the "Word" (John 1:1).
The Hebrew word for name is שם (shem), and its unusual plural form is שמות (shemot). The more common plural would be שמים (shemayim), which happens to be the word for "heavens." Also note the striking similarity with the verb νεμω (nemo), meaning to deal out, dispense or parcel out (which is an action that begins with the same sort of discernment as naming things does). Its derived noun νομος (nomos) is the common Greek word for law, or תורה (torah) in Hebrew.
Our noun ονομα (onoma) occurs 231 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the adverb ευ (eu), meaning good: the adjective ευωνυμος (euonumos), meaning good-named or of good name. It occurs 10 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, but curiously exclusively as a euphemistic synonym of αριστερος (aristeros), meaning the left. Craftspeople would keep their common tools readily at their right, and special tools that were needed less frequently to the left. When society began to breed an elite social class, this class became known as "special" people, or people to society's figurative left, whereas the common masses toiled on society's figurative right. Probably during Athens' celebrated republic, the word for aristocracy became somewhat of a byword, and our term ευωνυμος (euonumos) was used instead. Read our article on these words' antonym, namely δεξιος (dexios), meaning right, for more on this.
- The verb ονομαζω (onomazo), meaning to name or call by name, that is to say: to recognize and pronounce one's complete identity. This verb is used 10 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
- Together with the adjective ψευδης (pseudes), meaning false: the verb ψευδωνυμος (pseudonumos), meaning to falsely name or call (1 Timothy 6:20 only).