Zeal-of-the-Land Busy

I’m still reading God’s Secretaries, and I’ve arrived at a section in which Nicolson details the umpteen rules the KJV translators were supposed to follow. The second is this:

2. The names of the Profyts and the holie Wryters, with the other Names in the text to be retayned, as near as may be, according as they are vulgarly used.

I agree with that, but it would seem hardly worth saying. Why translate “John” or “Timothy” or, for that matter, “Jesus” with “Ioann,” “Timotheus,” or “Yeshua”?

Well, apparently there was a reason:

Some Puritans maintained that the names of the great figures in the scriptures, all of which signify something—Adam meant “Red Earth,” Timothy “Fear-God”—should be translated. The Geneva Bible, which was an encyclopedia of Calvinist thought, including maps and diagrams, had a list of those meanings at the back and, in imitation of those signifying names, Puritans, particularly in the heartlands of Northamptonshire and the Sussex Weald, had taken to naming their children after moral qualities. Ben Jonson included characters called Tribulation Wholesome, Zeal-of-the-Land Busy and Win-the-fight Littlewit in The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614), and Bancroft himself [Archbishop of Canterbury, in charge of the translation effort] had written about the absurdity of calling your children “The Lord-is-near, More-trial, Reformation, More-fruit, Dust and many other such-like.” These were not invented. Puritan children at Warbleton in Sussex, the heartland of the practice, laboured under the names of Eschew-evil, Lament, No-merit, Sorry-for-sin, Learn-wisdom, Faint-not, Give-thanks, and, the most popular, Sin-deny, which was landed on ten children baptized in the parish between 1586 and 1596.

Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (HarperCollins, 2003), 74.

Eschewing the culture’s accepted canon of names is a way of rejecting that culture and, to some degree, setting up one’s own. In a 17th century England that valued passing on its ways from generation to generation, this was a “half-mad denial of tradition” (p. 74).

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

4 thoughts on “Zeal-of-the-Land Busy”

  1. It was certainly a denial of tradition. Whether or not it was half-mad I’m not knowledgeable enough to say. Those names sound silly to us, but I don’t know enough about the inner workings of that time period to give a responsible judgment.

    I can say that I gave my own child a somewhat less than common name (at least I thought so when I chose it—I subsequently found out that many others have recently chosen it). I did so as a conscious effort to identify myself, if only slightly, with a culture that I wanted to honor, the British-isles culture of my forebears. I’m a bit of an Anglophile, and I’ve got the red hair to prove it.

    His middle name, too, is given in honor of a Britisher, just an American one, Jonathan Edwards.

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