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The mysterious stranger with whom Jacob wrestled all night would not give his name. [Genesis 32:25-33] The Midrash [Genesis Rabbah 78:4] explains that the reason is that angels do not have fixed names. Their names change depending on what their mission is at the time.

Do you know examples in our Sources of angels going by different names?

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Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 1009:

מה עשה חנמאל דוד ירמיהו השביע מלאכי השרת בשם והורידן מזויינין בכלי זיין על החומות, כיון שראו הכשדים כן ברחו מפני אימתן, עד ששינה להם הקב"ה שמותן והעלן לרקיע, ובקש חנמאל להורידן ולא יכול לפי ששינה הקב"ה שמותן

What did Chanamel, Yirmiyahu's uncle,* do? He beswore the Ministering Angels using G-d's name, and brought them down onto the walls [of Jerusalem] armed with weapons. When the Chaldeans saw this, they ran away in fright. Until G-d changed their names and brought them back up to heaven, and when Chanamel wanted to bring them down again, he couldn't, because G-d had changed their names.

* In Yirmiyah 32:7 he's introduced as Yirmiyahu's cousin (חנמאל בן שלם דדך). Although in v. 12 Yirmiyahu calls him דודי, my uncle; the commentaries there discuss whether there were two people of that name, or whether Chanamel might have been both Yirmiyahu's cousin and uncle, or whether דודי is simply short for בן דודי, my cousin. This Midrash apparently adopts one of the first two possibilities.

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  • Thanks, very relevant. Do you know of a specific name change, with the names spelled out? Nov 24 '20 at 20:36
  • @MauriceMizrahi I think I've seen a different version of this Midrash, where the angels of fire and of water had their names (and functions) interchanged, but I can't find it now (and it's also possible I'm misremembering it). The names of angels reflect their functions, but I doubt it gives the actual names.
    – Meir
    Nov 24 '20 at 23:00
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Sanhedrin 44b refers to a specific angel as having three different names (Rashi says it's Gabriel, which would be a fourth name):

א"ר יוסי ברבי חנינא שלש שמות יש לו פיסקון איטמון סיגרון פיסקון שפוסק דברים כלפי מעלה איטמון שאוטם עונותיהן של ישראל סיגרון כיון שסוגר שוב אינו פותח

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    Very nice! I'll accept it, even though the names don't refer to different missions but different traits. Nov 26 '20 at 13:17

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