About Names: “Moses popularity brought on by athletics, pop culture and biblical revivals”

The Finding of Moses by Hendrik de Clerck, Eskenazi Museum of Art (Public domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 19th column, he looks at the name Moses.

Today should be a celebration of bowl haircuts.

Moses Horwitz (1897-1975), known by his stage name Moe Howard, was born 125 years ago today. From 1934 through 1970, he played the irascible leader of The Three Stooges, the world’s most famous slapstick comedy troupe, in more than 200 films. Their 190 Columbia Pictures shorts became television staples, making Moe’s trademark haircut known to millions.

The original Moses is the man who led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt by parting the sea in the Bible’s Book of Exodus. Egypt’s pharaoh ordered Hebrew male infants to be killed. To save him, Moses’ mother put him in a basket floating on the Nile. He was discovered by pharaoh’s daughter, who calls him Moses because she “drew him out” (Hebrew “mashah”) of water.

That derivation isn’t plausible. Why would Pharaoh’s daughter speak Hebrew? Moses is likely from an Egyptian word meaning “born of” or “child of,” found in names of Egyptian Pharaohs Thutmosis and Ramesses, “born of” gods Thoth and Ra. The basket story was probably invented to explain the name after its Egyptian origin was forgotten. That origin, though, makes it credible Moses was a real historical figure raised in Egypt.

Before the Reformation, Moses was primarily a Jewish name. In the 16th century, it was adopted by Puritans, one example being Moses Fletcher (1564-1620), a Pilgrim signer of the Mayflower Compact.

Moses stayed in use among descendants of the Puritans. Two later examples were Moses Cleaveland (1754-1806), a Connecticut Revolutionary War general who founded Cleveland, Ohio; and Moses Beach (1800-1868), founder of the Associated Press and inventor of print syndication.