Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 4th column, he looks at the history of the name Nathaniel.
Nathaniel is the modern form of a Hebrew name meaning “gift of God.” Ten minor Old Testament characters bear the name, spelled “Nethanael”. In the New Testament’s Gospel of John, Nathanael is one of Jesus’s 12 disciples. In the other three gospels, one of the disciples is Bartholomew (“son of Talmai”). Since the ninth century, Christians have believed Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same person.
In medieval England, the disciple was almost always called St. Bartholomew, and men named Nathanael hardly existed. After the Protestant reformation, parents searching the Bible for new names took it up.
The connection with Nathan is reinforced by many Nathaniels born since 1990 using Nate as their nickname instead of Nat or Natty, common in earlier generations. Nathaniel Turner (1800-1831) led Nat Turner’s Rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, the most famous slave insurrection before the Civil War. Lithographer Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) founded famous printmakers Currier & Ives.