I’m Naming my Baby Koheleth

Every week or so, Penny and I hear some name, perhaps in a movie, perhaps from history, and we muse over why we didn’t name our child with that name. For example, recently we saw a show that featured the actress Perdita Weeks. We had already enjoyed both the name and the acting of Perdita’s sister Honeysuckle Weeks, but now comes Perdita. They also have a brother named Rollo, but I don’t recall that we’ve ever seen him on the screen. Why didn’t we name one of our kids with one of those names?

In returning back to some expositional writings, I’m soon going to take up the book of Ecclesiastes, which is also known as Koheleth in certain circles. Why didn’t we name our son Koheleth? I’m not sure.

The word in play here is the one that is often translated as “the preacher” in Ecclesiastes 1:1. And in that verse–sorry if I’m getting ahead of myself–we find that the preacher, Koheleth, must be synonymous with Solomon unless he is a purely invented persona.

The word, always referring back to the author of the book, appears seven times in the pages of Ecclesiastes, and it appears nowhere else in the Bible. Even though all of the seven appearances of this word in English include the article “the”–as in “the preacher”–in six of seven times the Hebrew presents it without the article, only adding it in Ecclesiastes 12:8, which, strangely enough, is virtually identical to the article-free 1:2.

Koheleth, to my my mind, is a title or identifying noun that has been turned into a name. For example, one of my students might refer to me as “Professor” or “Teacher,” as if that were my name. In a church setting, I have heard “the pastor” referred to as “Pastor” or “Preacher” in lieu of his name. Think about it for a moment and you can probably come up with other cases where a noun is turned into a surrogate name: “chef” or “coach” come to mind. We do something similar with words like “boss” or “officer,” but we wouldn’t be likely to say “Boss called a meeting” or “Officer wrote me a ticket.”

Yes, I am pursuing a linguistic rabbit trail here, so I’ll come back to the point, and in reality I’m not sure that I have a point other than to share this bit of trivia. “Koheleth” when used to refer to a text means Ecclesiastes. “Koheleth” when it refers to a person would be Solomon, specifically Solomon as the author of Ecclesiastes.

It is intriguing that Solomon, who served as king until his death, would be referred to by the lesser title of “koheleth.” But I don’t know what conclusion to draw from that. Maybe I should just return to inventing awkward names for my children.