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Moses got his name from Pharaoh's daughter:

When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”—Exodus 2:10 (ESV)

The ESV translators note:

2:10 Moses sounds like the Hebrew for draw out

But it seems unlikely that Pharaoh's daughter knew Hebrew. Did Moses originally have an Egyptian name that was later translated into a Hebrew name with the same meaning? Could Moses have lived with an Egyptian name and it was only updated to a Hebrew word when the people of Israel no longer spoke the Egyptian language? Or are we to suppose that Pharaoh's daughter asked Miriam for an appropriate Hebrew name?

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Remember that Pharaoh’s daughter had contact with Moses’ family, and even hired his mother as nursemaid. It’s entirely plausible that she asked the family how to say “I drew him out” in their language and chose an Egyptian name that had a similar sound. –  J. C. Salomon Oct 21 '12 at 0:26
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"Moses" is his Egyptian name. The "midrash shem" noted in 2:10 is an apologetic for this non-Hebrew name. –  Eli Rosencruft Oct 21 '12 at 15:22
    
    
We know from Tradition that Moshe has his jewish name as well! –  Ulrikhe Lukoie Jan 18 at 0:09
    
As many have said Mose means "Son of" in Egyptian. There would have been another part to his name which have referred to him as the son of Hatshepsut, the Egyptian princess who drew him out of the water. When he chose to indentify himself with the hebrews he (Moses) dropped the rest of his Egyptian name. Note other Egyptian names - Ahmose Son of Ah; Thutmose - Son of Thut and Kamose - Son of Ka –  Paul Alexander Mar 15 at 21:56

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I believe your first option is the best but with a little modification. Moses originally had an Egyptian name that sounded almost exactly like a Hebrew name.

The pun involved in the name is elaborate and crosses languages. Names like Tutmose, Ramose, Amenmose are well attested from Egypt. The addition of -mose makes it "born of Amen," "child of Tut," or "shaped by Ra." Obviously, these are names of piety, showing the child's attachment to the patron god. The final "s" on Moses (Hebrew Moshe) comes from Greek which does not allow masculine names to end with a vowel (Yeshua becomes Jesus, Moshe becomes Moses. You will also note that the Hebrew "sh" in both became the Greek "s" as koine Greek does not have the "sh" sound).

An oddity is that the Hebrew name is active (Moshe) instead of passive (Mashuy). One might expect that his being drawn out would result in his name meaning "one who is drawn out" instead of "one who draws out." However, this is a wordplay, not a precise description. The exegete should not try to be more precise than the original author or speaker intends to be.

It would be unlikely (but not impossible) that the princess would know the language of the slaves. However, everything she has already said has been recorded in Hebrew. Most likely, her words were in Egyptian and translated into Hebrew (some might argue that she said little beyond the name and the rest of the phrase was placed in her mouth by later writers, but this seems unlikely).

Having found the child in the Nile, the source of life for Egypt, the princess could easily have seen the child as given by divine providence. It is possible that she gave him a longer name (perhaps Ramose after the sun god or Hapimose after the god of the Nile).

Translating the princess' words allowed for a sophisticated pun. The name brought to mind his later works and the translation was rather free (as it often was in those days). Perhaps she said in Egyptian, "I will call his name 'Mose', for he was born from the water." The the Hebrew pun is natural and requires only a small modification to her words when translating: "I will call his name 'Moses,' for I drew him out of the water."

Where the Egyptian means "born," it sounds very like the Hebrew "drawn out." "The one who draws out" is how Moses has always been remembered (Isa 63:11). The princess drew him from the river to give him physical life. He drew the Israelites out of Egypt through the water and gave them spiritual life.

He was born with a great destiny, and even his name and circumstances of his naming showed that.

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I'm glad I asked. Not only did I get an answer to my original question, you provided a lot of surprising details about Egyptian, Greek and Hebrew. And, of course, you brought out the larger significance of the story as well. This is one of the best answers on the site. –  Jon Ericson Oct 18 '12 at 15:57
    
@JonEricson, thank you. –  Frank Luke Oct 18 '12 at 17:01
    
The active is "Moshet", not "Moshe". The etymology is totally wrong. –  Ron Maimon Nov 4 '12 at 0:40

The etymology given for his name is "Min ha-mayim mashitehu". Which goes along with the active verb: moshet, or the passite constructure mashut, or whatever construction you want with the three consonsants "M""Sh" and "T". The "T" is missing, so it's not Hebrew, and this is clearly made up etymology justifying the name in hindsight, as most of the Hebrew folk etymologies in the Bible.

The name "Moshe" means "child" or "begotten" according to this website. This is reasonable considering the number of ancient Egyptian kingly names that end in a variant of "Moshe". I hazily remember, perhaps falsely, that on a trip to Egypt, the tourguide told us Moshe meant "water", but not being able to find an online source for ancient Egyptial, I will just hope a Coptic speaker comes to this site at some point.

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The root mose had an important role to play in the decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Champollion was examining a cartouche on the Rosetta Stone which should contain the name "Rameses", and recognised a sign he had previously identified with the Greek genethlia, meaning "birthday celebrations". He realised that in Coptic, the root misi or mose means "to be born", and conjectured that the character in question had that pronunciation and meaning. –  Colin Fine Nov 8 '12 at 23:59

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