Father of Many

Why did God change Abram’s name?

The name Abram (a variant of Abiram) consists of two parts: ab (אָב), meaning “father,” and rum (רוּם), meaning “exalted” or “lifted up.” You could translate the name as “exalted father,” or “father who is respected and admired.”

When Abram was 90 years old, God appeared to him and reaffirmed promises He had made years before. “Thou shalt be a father of many nations,” He said. “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee” (Genesis 17:4-5).

The etymology of the name Abraham is unclear, but from the context, it is clear that it means “father of many” or “father of a multitude.” (See Abraham on biblehub.com.)

I’ve been pondering this name change today and had the following insight: the name Abram draws attention to the man, while the name Abraham draws attention to his descendants. When we call him Abram, we are emphasizing what a great father he is. When we say Abraham, we are emphasizing what a great family he has.

The name Abraham appears 29 times in the Book of Mormon, often in conjunction with Isaac and Jacob. Nephi and the Savior both used his name in conjunction with God’s promise: “In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (1 Nephi 15:18, 1 Nephi 22:9, 3 Nephi 20:25, 27). This promise isn’t so much about what Abraham can accomplish as it is about what his offspring will accomplish.

How would his approach to parenting change, I wonder, after having something as personal as his name changed to emphasize his children? Would he think differently about his responsibility as a father? Would he think less about being a great dad and more about helping his children grow and excel?

I like the idea that the shift from Abram to Abraham can represent an evolution from self-consciousness to selflessness.

Today, I will focus my attention on the well-being and growth of my children and others I lead. Instead of focusing on my own attributes and skills, I will dedicate my attention to helping them achieve their full potential.

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