🔼The name Gershom: Summary
- Stranger There, Stranger Is His Name
- Exile, Expelled
- From (1) the verb גור (gur I), to abide as a stranger, and (2) the noun שם (shem), name or renown, or שם (sham), there.
- From the verb גרש (garash), to drive or cast out.
🔼The name Gershom in the Bible
There are four Gershoms mentioned in the Bible:
- A son of Levi who is called Gershom in 1 Chronicles 6:16 is called Gershon in Genesis 46:11. He is the founder of the Gershonites, and they became a priestly sub caste in Israel (Numbers 3:21).
- The father of a false priest in service of some Danites (Judges 18:30).
- A man among the Babylonian returnees (Ezra 8:2).
- The first-born son of Moses and Zipporah. His younger brother of is called Eliezer (Exodus 2:22).
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Gershom
When Zipporah gives birth to her first child, Moses calls him Gershom "for he said, 'I have been a גר (ger) in a foreign land.'" (Exodus 2:22).
If we assume that the author of Exodus 2:22 (Moses himself, according to tradition) wants to indicate that the name Gershom is based on the Hebrew word גר, then we should conclude that the name Gershom consists of two segments. The first segment comes from the verb גור (gur I), meaning to abide, gather, dwell, be a stranger:
The verb גרר (garar) means to drag or drag away, mostly in a circular or repetitive motion. Noun גרה (gera) means cud, or food that's dragged back up, chewed again and sent back down. The identical noun גרה (gera) denotes a unit of weight that served as currency. Noun גרגר (gargar) means berry and the plural noun גרגרות (gargerot) means neck, probably after their signature wagging motion.
The verb גרה (gara) means to strive or agitate strife, obviously not by means of one singular assault but rather by repeated provocations and withdrawals. Noun תגרה (tigra) means contention or opposition. Noun גרון (garon) is a second word for neck.
Verb גור (gur) means the same as the previous: to quarrel or stir up strife. Nouns גור (gor) and גור (gur) both denote lion cubs. Perhaps young male lions were named after the verb גור (gur) because they are expelled from the pride and are forced to roam adjacent territories.
The verb גור (gur), namely — or a second and identical verb — is also often used to describe to itinerate or temporary abide. Noun גר (ger) describes an itinerant; a stranger or foreigner. Noun גרות (gerut) may describe a lodging place for foreign travelers but may also be part of the name Geruth Chimham. Noun מגור (magor) means dwelling place or itineration. Nouns מגורה (megura) and ממגרות (mammegurot) describes storehouses, or places were goods were temporarily stored on their way to the market.
Perhaps a third identical verb גור (gur) means to dread, but perhaps it describes dread that is built up over time and from many little threats and suspicions. Nouns מגור (magor) and מגורה (megora) mean fear or terror, but note that the former is identical to the word meaning dwelling place, mentioned above. The verb יגר (yagor) appears to be a by-form of this third verb גור (gur), and also means to dread. The adverb יגור (yagor) means fearing.
The second part of the name Gershom may either be שם (sham) meaning there, or it is שם (shem), meaning name:
The noun שם (shem) means name, but the ancients saw one's name as summary of the deeds and traits this person was known for (e.g. He Who Slew Many In The Great War). That means that when Man named the animals (Genesis 2:19), he didn't call them Tom, Dick or Harry but rather consciously reckoned his fellow creatures for their essential natures (which in turn cemented his own).
In case one had no claim to fame, one would be prone to acquire a name that commemorated not one's own deeds but rather some worthy event (e.g. The Great War). Such a person's name would have the function of reminding other people of that memorable event, without in the least suggesting to embody it. Very often people would be named after traits of God (Yah's Grace, El's Wrath), which meant that the bearer was known to proclaim these traits rather than claim to be the embodiment of them.
Since the Creator's invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature can be clearly seen, being understood through what has been made (Romans 1:20), knowing the "Name of God" is the same thing as understanding the whole of creation, which in turn means that a true desire for righteousness leads to science rather than to religion.
Then there is the identical adverb שם (sham), which means here, there, hither or thither. These two words may have accidentally evolved into the same form, but perhaps this adverb served as a sort of pronoun by which an otherwise unnamed or unspecified location was named.
The name Gershom may mean Stranger There (as proposed by Alfred Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names), but it may also mean Stranger Is His Name.
On the other hand, the writer of Exodus 2:22 merely says that the boy was named such-and-such because his father was a so-and-so. There is no law that demands that the such-and-such should be etymologically akin the so-and-so. For all we know Moses might have been expressing his gladness for having finally settled, or grief for having been expelled from his familiar homeland.
A verb that may have been on Moses' mind is גרש (garash), meaning to drive or cast out:
The verb גרש (garash) means to drive away or expel. Noun גרושה (gerusha) means expulsion. Noun מגרש (migrash) denotes lands and secondary villages surrounding a city; the outliers. Noun גרש (geresh) means produce, perhaps because they pertain to the urban outliers, or else because veggies are things thrust up out of the ground.
Taking the name Gershom from the latter root would render it the meaning of Exile (as proposed by NOBSE Study Bible Name List).