🔼The name Er: Summary
- City, Aroused, Wild Ass
- From the verb ערר ('arar), to strip and accumulate.
🔼The name Er in the Bible
There are three men named Er in the Bible:
- The first born son of Judah and the unnamed daughter of Shua (Genesis 38:3). Judah gives Er a wife named Tamar, but Er was no good in the eyes of YHWH and he took his life (Genesis 38:7). Er's brother Onan was to sire children for Er with Tamar, according to the levirate law, but Onan had no mind to raising children that weren't his own, so the Lord smote him too (Genesis 38:10).
- A son of Shelah, a son of Judah (1 Chronicles 4:21).
- A son of Jose and father of Elmadam, according to the Lucan genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:28). Er spelled in Greek is Ηρ.
🔼Etymology of the name Er
The name Er comes from the following root group:
The root ערר ('arar) describes an accumulation in one place that results in an emptiness or barrenness everywhere else — both cities and clouds form from this principle, and indeed any sort of commercial or intellectual fortune. Adjectives ערירי ('ariri) and ערער ('ar'ar) mean stripped, childless or destitute. Noun מערה (me'ara) literally means "place of being stripped" and is the Bible's common word for cave. Noun ערוער ('aro'er) denotes some kind of tree or bush (probably one without leaves).
Noun עיר ('ir) is the Bible's common word for city, which constitutes an accumulation of people and goods, usually in the middle of a wide area without remaining trees. Noun עיר ('ayir) came to specifically denote the wild ass, but apparently stems from the more common behavior of standing around in clusters in the middle of a field that's been grazed clean (in other languages this word also denotes gazelles and such).
Verb עור ('awar) means to be or make blind, and blindness occurs most commonly due to a cataract (which looks like a skin forming over the eye, and is due to a cloudy accumulation of protein in the ocular lens). Adjective עור ('iwwer) means blind. Nouns עורון ('iwwaron) and עורת ('awweret) mean blindness.
Verb עור ('ur I) means to rouse oneself — literally to collect and bundle one's feelings. Noun עיר ('ir) means excitement.
Identical verb עור ('ur II) means to be exposed or laid bare. Noun מעור (ma'or) means nakedness and noun מערם (ma'arom) means naked one. Adjectives עירם ('erom), ערם ('erom), ערום ('arom) and ערם ('arom) mean naked. Noun עור ('or) means skin or hide.
Verb ערה ('ara) also means to be naked or bare. Nouns ערה ('ara), מערה (ma'ara) and מער (ma'ar) refer to bare or exposed places. Nouns ערוה ('erwa) and עריה ('erya) mean nakedness or exposure. Noun תער (ta'ar) denotes a thing that makes bare: a razor or sheath of a sword.
It's by no means certain from which root our name derives. Er is identical in spelling to the name Ar, which is thought to mean City. Still, BDB Theological Dictionary lists it under the root עור ('ur I), and NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names derive our name of that same root (albeit give it the meaning of being alert):
For a meaning of the name Er, NOBSE reads Watching, and Jones has Watcher.
It's doubtful that a Hebrew audience would render this name these or similar same meanings. Perhaps Er was a bit of a bouncy kid and his name indeed has to do with the verb עור, meaning to be aroused (and not being watchful). There are several names that are thought to mean Wild Ass (Jair II, Arad, Arod) and it's much more probable that Er was known as just that.