About Names: “From religious beginnings to spy thrillers, Gabriel still a ‘mighty’ name”

A mosaic of the Archangel Gabriel from the Gelati Monastery, Kutaisi, Georgia (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 17th column, he looks at the name Gabriel.

Gabriel’s back in action Tuesday.

“Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” Daniel Silva’s 22nd novel about art restorer and Israeli intelligence operative Gabriel Allon, will be released Tuesday. Since “The Kill Artist” (2000), Silva’s spy thrillers about Allon have been bestsellers. “Portrait” finds Gabriel retired from Israeli service and investigating a multibillion dollar art forgery.

Gabriel is from Hebrew Gavri’el, “God is my strong man.” Gabriel is the archangel who interprets Daniel’s visions in the Old Testament and announces Jesus’ birth to Mary in the New Testament. Traditionally, Gabriel’s expected to be the angel blowing a horn to signal the Last Judgment, though that angel isn’t named in the Bible. Muslims believe Gabriel dictated the Quran to Muhammad.

Silva named his spy Gabriel because of its meaning. In “Prince of Fire” (2005) Allon’s mentor tells him “Your mother named you Gabriel for a reason. Michael is the highest [angel], but you, Gabriel, are the mightiest … You’re the angel of judgment — the Prince of Fire.”

Despite that, Gabriel was less popular with medieval Christians than Michael. In England, 686 churches were dedicated to Michael, but only six to Gabriel.

Gabriel became regularly used in the 17th century, ranking in the lower half of the top 50 names between 1610 and 1689. However, Puritan parents avoided it, believing it was sacrilegious to name children after angels. Instead, Gabriel was taken up by Anglican gentry and others opposed to Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell’s radical Protestant regime (1653-1658).

In the American colonies, German Lutherans and French Huguenots also used Gabriel. Architect Gabriel Manigault (1758-1809) was a son of Peter Manigault of South Carolina, a Huguenot descendant thought to be the wealthiest American at his death in 1773.