We’re talking about Moses in GD these days. As you know, I’m kind of fascinated by names, and the name “Moses” is an interesting one.
Exodus 2:10 reads as follows:
And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses [Mosheh]: and she said, Because I drew him [meshiythahu] out of the water.
First of all, Moses is the form of the name as it comes to us through the Greek of the Septuagint and New Testament. In Hebrew the name is Mosheh. (Greek lacks the sh sound, and male personal names generally end in -s.) This passage suggests that the name derives from the Hebrew verb mashah “to draw.” But this is problematic in a couple of respects. First, the “she” who does the naming is intentionally left ambiguous, but it was almost certainly the Egyptian princess, who certainly would not have known Hebrew. Second, the form of the name Mosheh would be an active participle on this theory “the one who draws,” and not the passive contemplated by the etymology, “the drawn one.” This is almost certainly a folk etymology, and not the true origin of the name. (Such folk etymologies are quite common in the OT. When the scriptures say a name means X, you can’t simply assume that that’s accurate.)
The logic of the Exodus story, if historically accurate, would seem to require that Moses would have been given an Egyptian name, not a Hebrew one. And in fact, Moses is almost certainly Egyptian in derivation. It seems clear that the name Moses comes from the Egyptian verb msi, meaning to be born or to fashion, form. This was a common element in Egyptian names, such as Amenmose, Ramose and Thutmose. These are compound names called theophoric (“bearing the name of a god”), and mean something like “Amen is born” or “Born of Amen” or “The offspring of Ra” or “The child of Thoth.”
The “mose” element occasionally occurs by itself, in which event it simply means something like “Child” or “Offspring,” and it is possible that that is its meaning here. It seems more likely, however, that originally the name was combined with the name of an Egyptian god. Mose may be a hypocoristic (“shortened”) form (like Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch from the longer form Berechyahu), but more likely the name of the Egyptian god was intentionally removed from his name in the Hebrew tradition, meaning that mose is simply a name fragment. The most likely possibility is that he was named for the Pharaoh of the time, Rameses, but the name of the god Ra was removed from his name in the Hebrew scriptures so as to avoid offending Israelite sensibilities.