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Are the names Akiva and Ya'akov related?

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Another name probably related to these is עוקבא Ukva (borne by several people in the Amoraic and Geonic eras).

This site lists only one proto-Semitic root עקב (although, as usual, the various descendant languages extend it in different senses). So it's most probable that Akiva is indeed based on the same root as Yaakov, and means something like "heel-grabber" or "follower" or something similar.

It's also worth noting that Targum Yerushalmi to Deut. 25:9 (cited in Jastrow's dictionary) uses the word עקיבא with the meaning of "heel."

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They are related mystically. Arizal states that Akiva was a gilgul of Yakov Avinu. One of his supports are the similarity in name. Additional point he makes is : both married a woman named Rachel.

He says that Yakov needed to atone for the 22 years he was away from his father Yitzchak. Akiva accomplished this by serving his Rebbe, Nachum Ish Gamzu, for 22 years.

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Barry, welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for bringing in this interesting source! Please consider clicking "register," above, to create an account. That will give you full access to mi.yodeya's features and allow you to take full credit for your contributions. – Isaac Moses Mar 16 '10 at 15:16
Duly registered. Great site BTW. – Barry Mar 16 '10 at 15:55
Thanks on both counts! – Isaac Moses Mar 17 '10 at 16:01
do you have a citation for the Arizal's statement? – Menachem Oct 24 '11 at 4:06
Sha'ar Hagilgulim chapter 67 – AEML Feb 1 '13 at 19:22

I'd strongly assume so (both spelled with the root עקב ). There's also the Mishnaic name "Akavia" עקביה, most likely also related.

Note also that Rabbi Akiva's first love is named Rachel -- as was the Biblical Ya'akov's.

The Mishna is full of nicknames and derived names (e.g. Yosef -> Yosei -> Issi); R' Avigdor Miller is quoted as saying that even the less-Hebraic-sounding names of the Gemara (Ashi?) were nicknames or derivatives of Hebrew names.

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How do we know that עקב in both instances is the same root without external evidence? What does the observation that they both married Rachels imply? Not to attack you, just wondering if you can recommend any sources of further information on the topic. – WAF Feb 26 '10 at 18:30

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