God changes Sarai's name in Genesis 17:15 to Sarah.

15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.

I've found some conflicting information regarding the two names Sarai and Sarah.

For example, Got Questions says:

God changed Abraham’s wife’s name from “Sarai,” meaning “my princess,” to “Sarah,” meaning “mother of nations

Do they get Sarah's name meaning wrong?

The Enduring Word Commentary says:

“Sarai signifies my lady, or my princess, which confines her dominion to one family; but Sarah signifies either a lady or princess, simply and absolutely without restriction, or the princess of a multitude.” (Poole)

The Jewish Encyclopedia seems to more agree with Poole:

She was called originally "Sarai," i.e., "my princess," because she was the princess of her house and of her tribe; later she was called "Sarah" = "princess," because she was recognized generally as such (Ber. 13a; Gen. R. xlvii. 1).

I cannot read Hebrew to find deeper meaning in the names. Could someone explain to me the etymology of their names and confirm, if possible, the meaning of their names?

1 Answer 1


An ancient and accurate explanation comes from the Talmud, which the OP cited from the Jewish Encyclopedia, which also agrees with Poole. The longer passage quoted below explains that naming principle applied to Sarah was also applied to Abraham. In both cases they graduated from the level of authority over a certain people to the level of universality.

Berakhot 13a

What is the meaning of changing Abram’s name to Abraham?.. The Gemara explains: Initially he became a father, a minister, and prominent person, only to (the nation of) Aram, so he was called Abram, father [av] of Aram; and ultimately with God’s blessing he became the father of the entire world, so he was called Abraham, father of the masses [av hamon], as it is stated: “I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). Similarly, what is the meaning of changing Sarai’s name to Sarah? The same concept applies to Sarai as to Abram... The Gemara explains: Initially she was a princess only to her nation: 'My princess' [Sarai], but ultimately she became Sarah, a general term indicating that she was princess for the entire world.

Source critics explain the name change as resulting two different oral traditions, eventually recorded in writing. In the first she is called Sarai, in the second Sarah. Whether that is true or not the basic meaning of the two names is the same - princess - but "Sarah" is carries a more general meaning than "Sarai."

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