🔼The name Samos: Summary
- Joyful Place, Exalted Place
- From שמח (sammah), to be high or rejoice.
🔼The name Samos in the Bible
The name Samos belongs to an island off the west coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), close to Ephesus to its east and roughly on the same latitude as Athens to its west. The island is mentioned in the Bible in Acts 20:15 only. The apostle Paul and company passed Samos on their way to Jerusalem.
In antiquity, the island was renowned for its technological and architectural prowess. In the first century, Samos was celebrated for its Samian pottery and as a clay-based health resort where the rich and famous went to be seen. In 32 BC, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra carried on their affair there (for weeks, the whole of Greece buzzed with reports of the hectic carnival they brought along with them).
Arch-mathematician Pythagoras "of Samos" (570-495 BC) was born on the island. The famous story teller Aesop (620-564 BC) was thought to have been enslaved on Samos. And Aristarchus of Samos was the first to think up the heliocentric universe (in the 3rd century BC).
🔼Etymology of the name Samos
There were quite a few places in antiquity named Samos, but the origin of this name is somewhat obscure.
The geographer Strabo, who lived in Asia Minor and was an early contemporary of Paul (63 BC - 24 AD), lists in his Geography (10.2.17) a number of possible etymologies of our name, including a reference to a people called Saii, who may or may not have been the same as the Sinti, which in turn reminds of the Sinite as mentioned in Genesis 10:17. Otherwise, says Strabo (8.3.19), "they" used to call lofty (υψος, upsos, exalted; see this word's entry in our NT concordance) places Samoi, and later interpreters have connected "they" to the Phoenicians and their word Samoi to a term sama, meaning high. That word in turn comes from a broadly attested Semitic root שמח (sammah), to be high in the sense of to be uplifted or rejoice, such as used in Psalm 97:1: "Let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad!"
The broadly attested root שמח (samah) means to be high or uplifted or simply to be joyful. Adjective שמח (sameah) means joyful or merry. Noun שמחה (simha) means joy or gladness.
Most commentators simply state that the name Samos means "high place" and indeed, Samos is Greece's fifth highest island (at 1434 meter, it comes in just behind Samothrace, 1611 meter, Cephalonia, 1628 meter, Euboea, 1743 meter and Crete, 2456 meter). Still, the Semitic language basin has much more suitable words to describe mere geographic elevation. Instead, it's much more likely that Samos was named after its high culture and the joy and felicity this allowed among its people and neighbors. The name Samos means Exalted Place or Joyful Place.