🔼The name Shephi: Summary
- Border Guy, Bony Guy
- From the noun שפי (shepi), protruding border mark, from the verb שפה (shapa), to establish a border with protruding marks.
🔼The name Shephi in the Bible
The name Shephi occurs only once in the Bible, although the person named such is mentioned once again as Shepho (שפו).
🔼Etymology of the name Shephi
The name Shephi is identical to (and Shepho is derived from) the noun שפי (shepi), which apparently denoted the conspicuousness of a protruding landmark or bones sticking through skin, from the verb שפה (shapa):
Root ספף (sapap) has to do with creating, marking or temporarily reaching through the border between two essentially distinct realms that nevertheless have a common origin; this border circles around the smaller of the two so that this smaller realm sits within the larger. It's the verb that describes any such formation from the palisade around a tribal territory to the fence around a single house, the skin of a person or even the cellular wall of a eukaryote.
Noun סף (sap) means threshold or sill (and is also the word for a kind of goblin or based bowl). Verb סוף (sup) means to come at an end. Noun סוף (sop) means end. Noun שפה (sapa) denotes the edge of things. Noun סופה (supa) describes a violent storm (perhaps a tornado, in form comparable to a goblin or based bowl).
Noun סוף (sup) refers to reed, which grows at, and thus marks the border between water and dry land. From reed comes papyrus, and books mark the border between the howling outer dark and the enlightened space within. The industrial production of papyrus, of course, was an absolute marvel and a milestone in information technology (easily comparable with the invention of floppies and dish drives in our age).
Verb ספה (sapa) means to sweep away (across the threshold, out the door) and so does verb שפה (shapa). The latter may also mean to skim, to shave or to border-mark by means of a protruding beacon or mark. From the latter comes the verb שפת (shapat), which describes some kind of setting or placing just outside the realm of civilization, and that usually by means of a ring of conspicuous, guiding and protecting fires. Proverbially, both the contagious and the extremely poor, and of course the shepherds, their flocks and wild animals abided on the dark side of these fires. The latter verb also yields noun שפי (shepi), which describes bones sticking through the skin of an emaciated man, or hills that likewise conspicuously mark some border, presumably in an otherwise flat landscape.
Verb שוף (shup) appears to mean to violate in the sense of illicitly entering one's personal space (or body). This verb became associated with the bite of a snake, and the noun שפיפן (shepipon) denotes some sort of snake, presumably one that attacks by darting from its burrow and then swiftly retreating.
For a meaning of the name Shephi, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads High and explains this with "i.e. eminent, illustrious" (probably because of the connection with conspicuous fires, but this misses the point a bit). BDB Theological Dictionary does not offer an interpretation of our name but does list it under the verb שׁפה (shapa I).
Here at Abarim Publications, we would surmise that Shephi owed his name to his remarkable skinniness, or else perhaps he worked for his nation's border patrol, or had elsewise to do with making sure everybody respected certain border markers. The name Shephi means Border Guy or Bony/Skinny.