God Language

In Judaism, God has many names. Some are quite ancient, others not so much. And many stem from the fact that we are not allowed to say God’s true name at all.

In Hebrew, the true name of God is יהוה. As with most Hebrew writings, including the Torah, the vowels are not included, so we don’t actually know how to pronounce it, nor are we supposed to try.

In written English we often just say “YHWH” and pronounce it as “yawed hey vawv hey” (Yōd, Hē, Vav, Hē) or Yahweh (rhymes with “hey”) or even just Yah. The formal euphemism is Adonai (אֲדֹנָי), which translates to “Lords.” (Please note that Christians have several euphemistic names they use which us Jews do not.)

Many other names for God come from this avoidance of the true name. Lord. HaShem (which literally means “The Name”). And more.

For my purposes though, it turns out I have to avoid the whole lot. Why? Because at the point that my story takes place, there are no priests and the name YHWH is not known. There can’t be euphemisms for a word that doesn’t yet exist.

In my draft, I’ve been using a variety of names, including HaShem. After a discussion with Rabbi Irwin Keller, I learned that the timelines are off. While all these names are in use in 1995 where my American characters come from, those characters simply don’t know them. Most have been raised purely secular, with some Christian teaching thrown in either as part of popular culture or through going to church with gentile family members. So they will use “God” and “Lord” but not much else. The Hebrew characters, from 1313 BCE, will have many names for God, but none that stem from use or avoidance of YHWH.

Created for a synagogue. Top line reads, “know before whom you stand,” a common meditative locution in synagogue art. The bottom half of the poster is filled with the kabbalistic prayer, בריך שמיה (“praised is His name”) recited in synagogue when the Torah scroll is taken out of the ark (in the Ashkenazi and Mizrachi traditions). The 42-letter name of God flanks the right and left sides of the Menorah. The names of the four archangels surround the menorah: [clockwise from top-right] Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Gabriel. On the right and left sides of the menorah base are two mystical permutations of two central divine names: YHVH and Adoni. Around the perimeter are a miscellany of Biblical verses that extoll the value of the Torah, God, and Israel. (From the Magnus Collection, Shiviti plaque)

What God names can I use?

El Shaddai. El means “God.” The traditional translation of El Shaddai is “God Almighty” but Reb Irwin suggests a better translation for Shaddai would be “breast” or “nurture.”

El Rachum. Often translated as the Merciful One or the Compassionate One. Reb Irwin’s translation is the Womb God (mother’s mercy, mother love). A related form is Rachamim, mercy. Another potential name for God would be Harachaman, The Merciful One. The Aramaic for Merciful One is Rachamana. Which is the name of a popular worship song in modern times, and one I use in the novel.

El. Though often used with words to indicate a quality of God, it can also be used alone (though it is usually in conjunction with some attribute). Also Eloah, or the more common plural (but grammatically singular) form, Elohim.

Elyon or El Elyon. Supreme or God most high.


Names of God in Judaism, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Fairly comprehensive without much depth into individual names. Appends a long list of less common names, including: Great One (Adir); The Word/The Law (Dibbura or Dibbera); Ehiyeh sh’Ehiyeh – “I Am That I Am”: a modern Hebrew version of “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”; Truth (Emet); the Holy One (HaKadosh); and many more.

The 13 Attributes of Mercy are given to Moses after the Golden Calf is destroyed. While this happens towards the end of the novel, it is reasonable to assume that these names could have been already in common use.

The Lord! The Lord! God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who Cleanses (but does not cleanse completely, recalling the iniquity of parents upon children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generations) (Exodus 34:6-7)

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