🔼The name Zipporah: Summary
- Bird, Goat, Crown, Doom
- From the verb צפר (sapar), to pierce, shriek or leap.
🔼The name Zipporah in the Bible
Zipporah is the first wife of Moses and daughter of Reuel (=Jethro), a Midianite priest. We don't know much about Zipporah, except that she had six sisters who remain unnamed (Exodus 2:21), and would give birth to her sons Gershom and Eliezer She also plays a key role in the enigmatic scene in which YHWH seeks to put Moses to death (Exodus 4:24). She takes a flint, circumcises Gershom and calls her husband a blood-groom. After that YHWH leaves Moses alone.
🔼Etymology of the name Zipporah
The name Zipporah comes from either of the verbs צפר (sapar):
The most fundamental meaning of the unused verb צפר (sapar) appears to be to skewer or pierce through, whether by fear, a shrieking sound or a sharp point. From this verb comes the often used noun צפור (sippor), which is a common word for bird and appears to refer to birds' signature piercing shrieks.
Then there is the noun צפירה (sepira), which apparently denoted a kind of head gear, like a crown or diadem, but which also served as a symbol for looming doom. Noun צפרן (sipporen) means finger nail or stylus point.
However, there is another verb in cognate languages, which is identical to the previous and which means to leap. From it stem the noun צפיר (sapir), which describes a kind of goat, and צפרדע (separdea'), which means frog.
The name Zipporah may mean any of the above, but is most commonly interpreted to mean Bird (and so does NOBSE Study Bible Name List). Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads the more distinctive Little Bird, possibly to indicate that Zipporah doesn't necessarily mean bird in the sense of eagle or ostrich.
Note that the form צפרה occurs only once as regular word, namely in Ezekiel 7:10, where it presents a bit of a challenge to translators, who usually translate it with Doom.