Meaning & Etymology of The Name David:
David = Japheth = Reddish Color
If you look up the name "David," the
meaning that is given is usually "Beloved"
or sometimes "Friend." Despite a widespread use
of these associations, they are really little more than educated guesses
that have become standardized.
In this article, I will try to provide both an explanation of the Hebrew origins of the name and
also the previously-unknown pre-Hebrew, pre-King-David origin
of the name! If your name is "David" or are close to someone by
that name, I'm sure you will find this very interesting!
David is of Hebrew origin. The ancient Hebrews had no
vowels in their written words. In "David" the Hebrew consonants are
transliterated as "DWD"
or sometimes "DYWD". This three-consonant word is thought to be the root
not only of the name "David," but also of the following words:
- uncle (DWD)
- aunt (HDD)
- mandrake (DWDY)
- pot/jar (DWD)
- leader "dawidum" (DWDM)
Not only are there many meanings and spellings, there may also be many
alternative pronunciations. And, to make matters worse (i.e., more
interesting), it may be the case that the name did not originate with
the Hebrews; it is actually of a significantly more ancient origin!
DWD first appears in history near the end of the 11th century BC
with the naming of the great and famous King David.
Before this time, however, it is my belief that DWD was actually a common word for a
color! In addition, I am convinced that it
was used as a personal name much earlier than King David. The
name and the color are linked by the fact that the persons
bearing the name possessed this color in their skin and/or hair.
It appears that the very first man to bear this name in recorded
history lived much earlier than King David. He is very well
known, his version of the name is found in the book of Genesis: "Japheth."
How Words Change Across Time and
To reach and understand this conclusion, we have to look at the
way that words change as they pass from one culture to another.
When studying words and names across many different languages
certain transitions among specific groups of sounds are commonly
seen. When one language has no letter/sound for a word that
comes into it from another culture, substitutions are made. For
example, in Germany the name "Weimar" is begun with a "Vee" sound,
but the dog breed that comes from that location is pronounced
with a "double-you" sound: Weimaraner.
In Norway and Denmark, many names end with "Gard"
when it is a place name. In English, we pronounce the same word as "Yard."
Thus, Kierkegaard, means "Church Yard."
This kind of substitution is a well-documented phenomenon and it
occurs very frequently. In fact, most of our vocabulary derives
from words in other languages that are now anglicized or
americanized to sound quite different from the original. In the
the "original" was also likely derived from an even earlier
word. Linguists trace these changes back as far as possible. The
trail ends with a word in a proto-language.
These substitutions are neither random
nor evenly mixed. Whereas some sounds transfer virtually
unchanged, others are very often altered within a small set of
similar sounds. For example,
"TH" can turn into "T" or "SH" very easily.
This forms a family of linked sounds. So, words that
started out like "Tesh" can become "Thesh," "Thet," or "Tet."
Sometimes a set is linked to another set. The SH/TH/T set can be
linked to the T/DT/DJ set by the "T" sound. Also, a word can be transferred
more than once. After a few transfers, a word can become
unrecognizable with regard to
the original word. A linguist has to trace the word back through these
steps one by one to make the connection.
It is probable that the form of the name David that we find in the 10th century
BC, "DWD", has already gone through a few alterations to
arrive at that form.
Regarding the first letter, I suspect that the "D"
sound could have originally come
from a "Y/J/DJ" sound. Try saying "Djavid"
Regarding the second letter, the "W" in "DWD" could have
originally been an "F" or a "V." This is
obviously possible because it has happened an
additional time since King David. The original Hebrew "W"
was transferred into the Latin and then into the English as a "Vee"
That is why we say "David" and not "Dawid." The "W" has
become a "V" in this more recent transfer. So, because we can see that it has
happened recently, this is not only a good example of the kinds
of transitions that typically take place, but it is an instance
of the exact kind of change that has happened to this very name
in the second letter! If you know anyone from India or Germany,
you will note that they have trouble with the English letters W and V.
Germans also have trouble with the English usage of F and V. Try
saying "Dafid" to
Regarding the final letter, which is
the same as the first, in addition to being linked to the
"Y/J/DJ" family of sounds, it is also similar to the "DT/T/TH"
family. This explains the transition from
"T" to "D." Try
saying "Davit" to
To sum up these transfers diagrammatically:
Y/J/DJ is hardened to become D in the first position
F or V becomes W in the second position
DT/T/TH is softened to become D in the third position
Thus, it appears possible that DWD
originated from YFT. Of course, this is without vowels. The
vowels were spoken, but not recorded in texts. To reconstruct
the sound, we can use a neutral vowel sound added equally
between all the letters. Thus, DWD becomes DaWaD, and YFT
becomes "YaFaT." You may now start to recognize the name.
"Japheth," as it is spelled in the typical English Bible, was
the name of Noah's second oldest son as mentioned in Genesis
5:32. "Japheth" is Latinized, however, so it is very helpful to
note that Japheth is YFT in the Hebrew original. So, the first
letter is a Y not a J, "Yah" not "Jah."
Consider another example of a
known transition. Many will know who Confucius is. He is an
influential Chinese philosopher from the 5th century BC. Though
we know him by this name, he himself would not answer to it! His
original name was Kung Fu Tzu. "Confucius" is a completely
Latinized name. This means that it was transferred into Latin,
the language of the Romans, and then into English.
It's original Chinese character was lost. The two versions of
the name are only
vaguely similar now.
Another example, this time involving a Hebrew name, will make for an
even better example. We all know who Joshua is. He has a book
of the Bible named after him. And, we all know who Jesus is.
But, did you know that they have the same name? In Hebrew, there
is no difference between Joshua and Jesus. The Hebrew name sounds like "Yeshua,"
man's name was transferred into English via a different route.
"Joshua" retained most of it's original pronunciation
and Hebrew character, but "Jesus" was fully Latinized before it came
Returning to "David," we see that
a transition between David and Japheth is feasible because there is a bridge between all
the consonants. That is, between "YFT" and "DWD," there are
well-known transition points at each letter position.
This can also be understood intuitively if you allow yourself to
say the two names rapidly and without precision. Try to say
something like, "Djafadt" or "Yayfet." Try varying between the
options for each consonant. You will eventually come to some
raw, basic sound that can be heard either as "David" or
"Japheth." (I hope no one is listening to you!)
The Meaning is the Same
the above isn't convincing on its own. A wise man withholds
judgment for a time because this allows for more evidence to
make itself known.
Thankfully, there is more
evidence! Many scholars think that Japheth originally meant "Fair" or
"light-skinned." He is the ancestor to all Europeans
and Indians. While the Indians are dark, they may not have been
so originally. While the Indians were
surrounded with dark-skinned peoples and also reside in an area
of intense sunlight, the Europeans were more isolated from
intermarriage and lived in colder areas with less sunlight.
These factors likely accentuated the fairness (lack of pigment) of the Europeans
and darkened the complexion of the Indians. In any event,
Japheth is probably the source of the light-skinned mutation and
this was probably visible from his birth. Thus, it was reflected in his
name. It was fairly common to name a child after his/her appearance.
David may have been named after a color too. It should be no
surprise, then, that the first usage of the name "David" also includes
that he had red hair! 1 Samuel 16:12-13 reads,
"So he sent and brought him in.
Now he was ruddy, with
beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance.
And the Lord said, 'Arise, anoint him; for this is he.' Then
Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his
brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon
David from that day forward..."
"Ruddy" = Having a fresh, healthy red
color: a ruddy complexion. Red or reddish. This is either a
reference to red skin or red hair or both. Note that only skin
without much pigment can be seen to blush.
"beautiful eyes" = likely a reference to an
atypical appearance of blue or green eyes rather than the nearly
ubiquitous brown color among Hebrews. Though brown eyes are often beautiful,
they would not have been a feature worth noting in that culture.
Even more, it would be odd to mention the beauty of the eyes of
a young man unless the eyes stood
out in some unusual way. Light-colored eyes are often noted as
special in dark-skinned regions.
So, Japheth probably means "light-colored," and
David probably means "reddish." Both names share nearly the same meaning!
But, the association goes even deeper! Recall the other options
for DWD; they included Pot/Jar and Mandrake.
Pottery is typically a tan or reddish color, just like David's hair and
complexion! And, the mandrake root
is similar in color to earthen-ware pottery. They are both pale
and reddish. Red clay produces red pots. Often, the
mandrake is found in the form of a man's body with it's branches
resembling two arms and two legs. Thus, it looks like a little,
So, it is beginning to look like most of the meanings of "DWD" refer to a light, or
reddish color. This similarity makes a strong case, I think, for
seeing the origin of "David" in "Japheth" and for associating
them both with color. Light or reddish color is the primary
meaning of the word, and the color used as a name is the
Regarding the other definitions, it is likely that these uses of
the word DWD could have
taken on their meanings because of people who bore the name.
King David was a great king, so it makes sense that his life was
the reason why DWD took on the meaning "leader." He was
described as a man after God's own heart whom God loved... thus
he is "beloved." Uncle, and the derivative Aunt, are more
mysterious, but perhaps David is also associated with family
relationships in some way. Many people descended from David due
to his many wives and the unusually large number of wives that
his son Solomon had. The Scriptures do not mention many
children, but they do mention 700 wives and 300 concubines!
Since DWD has five fundamental meanings, it is a very flexible
Humorously, we could imagine a sentence like this actually being
spoken in the 10th century BC! "DWD (reddish boy), go get me the
DWD (reddish pot) with the DWDY (reddish root) in it."
Therefore, in conclusion, the biblical names "Japheth"
and "David" are very similar names in terms of linguistic
principles, by sound and by meaning.
So, I think the origin of "David"
is "Japheth" and I think it means fair, light colored,
etc. And, I think this association was simply lost to history.
Let me know what you think of this theory!
david @ pensgard.com (remove spaces)