🔼The name Ruth: Summary
- Friend, Associate
- Vision, View
- From the noun רע (rea'), friend or companion.
- From the noun ראות (re'ut), a looking or understanding.
🔼The name Ruth in the Bible
Ruth was the Moabite wife of Mahlon, son of Elimelech and Naomi of Bethlehem. Their other son, Chilion, married Orpah, also of Moab. When the men die, Ruth and Naomi move back to Bethlehem, where Ruth marries Boaz. In order to do so, Boaz appeals to the Leviratic Law, which dictates that when a man dies childless, his brother is to marry his widow and sire children in the name of the deceased man (Ruth 4:10, Deuteronomy 25:5).
Ruth and Boaz become the parents of Obed, the grandparents of Jesse and the great-grandparents of David, the great king of Israel, and finally the ancestors of Jesus the Nazarene (Matthew 1:5, Ruth is spelled Ρουθ, Rhouth in Greek). Strictly speaking, therefore, Jesus was not only a son-by-law of Joseph, he was also a son-by-law of Mahlon and not of Boaz.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Ruth
There's no such word in Hebrew as רות (rut), and scholars don't agree where it may come from. One theory leads to the rich root-group רעה (ra'a):
Most broadly, the root רעע (ra'a') describes compartmentalization: to break some continuum apart into separated elements. Human minds are designed to be nodes of a much greater network of exchange, and must continuously interact to maintain a liquidity of wisdom — hence the noun רע (rea'), meaning friend or companion (and hence too the story of the Tower of Babel).
All wealth requires liquidity and that requires units of economy to go around. This explains why "evil" — רע, ra', evil — is not the opposite of "good" but instrumental to it: hence the perfect Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the heart of perfect Paradise. Despite popular misconceptions, in the Bible, all רע (rea') comes from God (Isaiah 45:7) and has a specific and wonderful function in any naturally evolving system.
Verb רעה (ra'a I) means to pasture or feed and the participle רעה (ra'a) means shepherd. Nouns רעי (re'i) and מרעה (mir'eh) mean pasture. Noun מרעית (mar'it) means pasturage.
Verb רעה (ra'a II) means to associate with. Nouns רע (rea'), רעה (re'eh) and מרע (merea') mean friend, associate or "neighbor". Nouns רעיה (ra'ya), רעה (re'a) and רעות (re'ut) describe a female attendant, mate or friend.
There may or not be an unused verb רעה (ra'a III) or else the following belong to the previous: noun רע (rea'), aim or purpose; nouns רעות (re'ut) and רעיון (ra'yon), longing or striving.
Verb רוע (rua') means to produce a sudden burst of sound. Nouns רע (rea') and תרועה (teru'a) describe a collective rallying cry, a war cry.
Scholars who follow this root group see the name Ruth as a feminine derivation of the root רעה (ra'a II), meaning to associate with, or be a friend of. And thus, they say, the name Ruth means (Lady-) Friend or (Lady-) Companion. The learned body behind the NOBSE Study Bible Name List agrees and reads Female Companion for a meaning of the name Ruth.
The valiant Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) proposes a different etymology and goes after the root ראה (ra'a), meaning to see:
The verb ראה (ra'a) means to see, and by extension to understand. It may mean to become visible (of, say, an angel) or to become understandable (of, say, a theory). Noun ראה (ro'eh) means either seer, or prophetic vision, and noun מראה (mar'a) means either vision as means of revelation, or mirror. Nouns ראית (re'ut) and ראות (re'ut) mean a looking. Nouns ראי (ro'i) and מראה (mar'eh) mean sight or appearance. Adjective ראה (ra'eh) means seeing.
Specifically, Jones sees the name Ruth (רות) as a contraction of the noun ראות (re'ut), meaning look. Hence, for a meaning of the name Ruth, Jones reads Beauty but perhaps better would be Vision.
There's no telling whether to an ancient Hebrew audience the name Ruth sounded like Female Friend or Beauty, but all-in-all Ruth is quite a name.