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What is the etymology of the Biblical name "Ishmael"?

Was this name ever used for any of the Biblical characters before Ishmael, the son of Abraham?

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2 Answers

Genesis 16:15 tells you the origin of the name: Abraham named him that. Rashi explains he did so with divine inspiration, in which case God likely (IMO) implied the same meaning as he had in verse 11: "because God שמע, heard, your pain".

No Ishmaels prior to Abraham's son are listed in the Bible. (That doesn't mean none existed. Most people aren't mentioned in the Bible.)

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Gen 16:11

And the angel of the LORD said unto her: 'Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son; and thou shalt call his name Ishmael, because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.

So etymologically, the name develops from the Hebrew root "sh-m-a" meaning "hear" and e-l, god's name. Those roots, are then combined (in one of many possible ways) to create a name from word/ideas.

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Names indicate origin and invoke reference but don't have meaning. When baby books list "meaning" they are pointing to base words and source material unless the name is independently already a word. –  Danno Mar 1 '13 at 19:16
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And God giving a name makes the naming and the reference meaningful and the name significant but it doesn't change the presence or lack of inherent meaning. –  Danno Mar 1 '13 at 19:17
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