🔼The name Hermes: Summary
- (New) Declaration, Border Crosser
- From the verb ερμηνευω (hermeneuo), to interpret, explain or translate.
🔼The name Hermes in the Bible
The name Hermes occurs twice in the Bible, not counting the similar name Hermas. At the conclusion of his letter to the Romans, Paul sends greetings to, among others, a man named Hermes and one named Hermas (Romans 16:14). One of them became Saint Hermes, the martyred bishop of Salano in Dalmatia, but it's not clear whether this was the Hermes or the Hermas mentioned by Paul. While speaking of the bishop of Dalmatia, early sources faithfully refer to Paul's passage in his letter to the Romans, but some point to Hermes whereas others speak of Hermas. It's probably a lasting mystery.
Hermes was a common name in the Roman empire, especially among slaves. But all of them most likely derived their name from the Greek deity Hermes, who is mentioned in Acts 14:12, where the people of Lystra begin to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, "because he was the chief speaker".
The Greek deity Hermes was the son of Zeus and Maia, one of the seven Pleiades, and his defining qualities of swiftness and cunning made him the god of crossing boundaries and transitions. He moved freely between the realm of the gods and that of man, delivered messages and escorted souls to the afterlife. He was the patron of travelers, talkers and thieves on account of his traversing borders unhindered. In Rome he was known as Mercury.
Another proverbially famous Hermes was Hermes Trismegistos, or Hermes Thrice Great, the author of the Hermetica and purported coiner of the phrase: "as above, so below," which is a truth that Jesus ascribed to the Father's will: "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10, also see Hebrews 8:5).
🔼Etymology of the name Hermes
The name Hermes appears to have to do with the similar Greek noun ερμης (hermes), which was a kind of border- or crossroads marker in the form of a human head atop a square pillar. Often this pillar was adorned with an apotropaic carving of male genitalia. Some scholars believe that the name Hermes was derived from the border marker, but others believe it was the other way around. The direct etymology of the noun ερμης (hermes) is missing in action, which is odd since there are quite a few Greek words that start with ερμη (herme).
The Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell and Scott lists a proper noun ερμη (herme), which they say is a variant of the noun εζοδος (hezodos; a comparable couple exists as εριμη and εζιθμη), meaning a going out, an outlet, a closing (of an argument). In his Lexicon to Pindar, William Slater submits that the name of Hermes was sometimes spelled with an α as Ερμας. This is significant because the word ερμα (herma) denotes the ballast that keeps ships upright when docked. Metaphorically, this word may denote a city's ability to keep its "head above water" and it is used to describe that which maintains a certain condition, or even a rock on which a ship may dash. The verb ερμαζω (hermazo) means to steady or support, and the adjective ερμασις (hermasis) means supporting. Also because, according to Liddell and Scott, Ερμαν (Herman) is a variant of Ερμης (Hermes), it's conceivable that ερμε (herme) and ερμα (herma) sit at the heart of the following words:
The verb ερμηνευω (hermeneuo) means to interpret, explain or translate, and emphasizes the crossing of borders (i.e. between language areas or schools of thought). It's obviously related to hermeneutics, or the branch of knowledge that deals with theories of interpretation.
The name Hermes can be explained in all kinds of ways. Most sources reflect it back on the human-headed border marker, but that's like saying that the name Stanley means "knife". It's more probable that the name Hermes reflects expression where no one has expressed before. Or in the words of YHWH via Isaiah: "Behold, I will do something new; now it will spring forth. Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness; rivers in the desert (Isaiah 44:19)".
The name Hermes means (New) Declaration or (Supporting) Message, or even simply Border Crosser.