In 1st Samuel 25, we read about Abigail's first husband, who is named Nabal. Near the end of the story, she pleads with David to save his life:

My lord should not pay attention to this wicked man Nabal. He simply lives up to his name! His name means ‘fool,’ and he is indeed foolish! But I, your servant, did not see the servants my lord sent.—1st Samuel 25:25 (NET)

So there seem to be three possibilities:

  1. Nabal's parents thought it would be a good idea to name their son Fool. (This is perhaps not as unlikely as it seems.)

  2. Nabal didn't mean fool when it was given as a name. (Perhaps the meaning arose from this story or perhaps it came from another language or dialect.)

  3. His name was unrecorded initially and supplied by a later editor.

How should we read this unusual name?

  • 4
    There is a forth possibility: Nabal is a "nickname" that he was called because of his behaviour (and maybe not to his face).
    – user551
    Apr 27, 2012 at 17:44
  • 3
    Nabal is not the only one is he - doesn't Jacob mean 'deceiver'? Apr 27, 2012 at 18:36
  • @JackDouglas, Yep. Jacob means "trickster, supplanter, heel grabber (one who gets ahead at another's expense)". He was named Heel-grabber because he was born holding onto Esau's heel.
    – Frank Luke
    Apr 27, 2012 at 18:47
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    In cultures like ours it's preferred to give people names with noble or auspicious meanings, but this is not universally the case — in some places and at some times it has been the practice for people to have less positive names. Roman cognomens, though not given names, were often like this (e.g. Claudius 'lame', or Naso 'large-nosed'). In some cultures at least one reason given is to make evil spirits less interested in the child.
    – Muke Tever
    Apr 28, 2012 at 16:32

1 Answer 1


The name was probably "Nevel", meaning "Harp". He was apparently a loyalist to the House of Saul living in Judah, which shows you how successful Saul was in maintain discipline in the kingdom, but which did not endear him to the author of I Samuel, who clearly sides with David and sees Nevel as a traitor to the tribe of Judah and calls him Naval. A Saul loyalist might call this a cheap shot.

  • It also means 'bottle' as Abagail brought two bottles of wine (with other stuff) to appease David's wrath. Is it coincidence that wine is a symbol of grace and she is asking for grace on Nabal's behalf? Bottles of wine = Nabal grace.
    – Bob Jones
    Nov 25, 2017 at 17:34

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