There are several cases where we are told a person had their name changed by God:
- Abram had his name changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:3 – 6). At the same time, his wife Sarai had her name changed to Sarah (Genesis 17:15 – 16).
- Jacob had his name changed to Israel (Genesis 32:26 – 30; 35:9 – 10).
- Solomon was called Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord) because God loved him (2 Samuel 12:24 – 25), though it is not clear that God had his name changed and he was always afterwards called Solomon.
- Pashur was called “Terror on Every Side” by God (Jeremiah 20:1 – 6).
Each of these name changes were done for a reason: because the new name meant something important about what God would make that person. Abraham meant “father of many nations”, and God changed his name because that was exactly what he was promising: that Abraham would be a father of many nations. While Sarah means the same as Sarai (“princess”) it seems that the name change was connected with the same promise: that she would be a mother of many nations, and a princess as a result. Israel meant “He strives with God”, and was as a result of Jacob fighting with the angel and succeeding in getting a blessing. Jedidiah means “beloved of the Lord”, and was given because God loved him. Pashur was called “Terror on Every Side” because that was how he was going to feel when he was punished for prophesying falsely.
There are also a number of people who were given new names by other people (such as Joshua and Peter), as well as people who were given names which meant something by God (such as Jesus and John the Baptist). There was a reward promised for believers, which was to be given a new name (Revelation 2:17). I assume that part of the meaning of this is that the new name shows that they have changed from what they were.1
1. Sheryl, another of the BibleQ team, adds:
Those found worthy at the judgment, will be given a new name reflecting the culmination of their salvation. Jesus says in the Revelation:
To the one who conquers … I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’ [Rev 2:17]
And in Rev 3:12:
The one who conquers, … I will write on him the name of my God, … and my own new name.
What is this new name the saints will receive? I suspect Romans 9:26 may give us a clue:
“… there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.'”
This would tie in with Galatians 3:26-29:
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. … And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
In Scripture, there are two classes of people – those that serve God and those that serve sin. Those who believe in Jesus and have put on Christ, will become children of God and have a new name. These believers have been called and chosen by God.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (13) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [John 1:12-13]
That which, in this age, is in the process of being established, in the age to come (at the judgement seat) will be established for the world to see. The believers will publicly be known as the sons of God. This is a wonderful hope.